The National Police have issued a telegram urging every regional police department to participate in the effort to maintain control over any protests surrounding the final deliberation of the controversial omnibus bill on job creation.
The telegram, issued on Friday under the name of National Police chief Gen. Idham Azis, lists a number of instructions on the monitoring of dissent, including by carrying out “cyber patrols” on social media and “media management” to propagate negative sentiment regarding workers’ strikes and public protests in a bid to discourage public support and participation.
“Create a counter-narrative against issues that discredit the government,” said one of the provisions of the telegram, a copy of which made the rounds on social media on Monday.
Furthermore, the police have also called for early intelligence gathering to detect opposition within labor groups and the general public to prevent mass protests, claiming that such events could lead to “anarchy” and “social conflicts” in regions across the country.
National Police spokesperson Argo Yuwono confirmed the authenticity of the internal document, saying that it was issued with the people’s best interests in mind, given the inherent health risks of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“Yes, the telegram [was issued],” Argo said in a written statement published on the National Police’s official website on Monday.
“As chief Idham has said, public safety constitutes the highest law amid the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Although the right to publicly voice one’s aspirations is guaranteed under the 1998 Law on freedom of speech, Argo said public activities such as mass protests would most likely attract large crowds and increase the risk of virus transmission among the public.
“Therefore, the National Police prohibit demonstrations or any activities that could attract crowds, in order to curb the spread of COVID-19,” Argo said.
In regard to the cyber patrols, he said such an initiative was crucial to prevent the spread of disinformation.
Social media users have raised concerns over state authoritarianism as the digital copy of the telegram has made the rounds on various platforms, with many expressing fears for their right to voice their opinion on the controversy.
As of the time of writing, the hashtag #BatalkanOmnibusLaw (cancel the omnibus law) was trending on Twitter.
In response to the latest turn of events, the head of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation’s (YLBHI) advocacy division, M. Isnur, called on President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Idham to respect the 1945 Constitution, which guarantees free speech.
He pointed to the police’s hypocrisy in using the pretext of the current health crisis to prevent mass protests against the bill, while also being lenient toward crowds in public spaces, such as offices.
“The police have never charged any business owners or state officials who still require their employees to work at the office under Article 93 of the Quarantine Law,” Isnur said in a statement as quoted by kompas.com.
Labor unions and civil rights groups across the country have pledged to stage large-scale protests and strikes from Monday to Thursday to voice their opposition to the contentious omnibus bill on job creation after lawmakers and the government agreed on Sunday to pass the bill into law.
The House of Representatives plans to pass the bill in Monday’s plenary session.