What We Know About Indonesia's Treason Arrests

Indonesian police detained 10 people on treason, and related charges, in the past 24 hours. Here's everything we know.

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Dec 2 2016, 8:23am

Photo by Renaldo Gabriel

Indonesian police detained 10 people on treason, and related charges, over the past 24 hours as more than 100,000 Muslims took to the streets in the second massive protest over allegations that embattled Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama committed blasphemy to take place in the capital in less than a month.

The arrests were first leaked on social media early Friday morning by controversial rock star Ahmad Dhani—who was among those detained. A former political activist, one of the daughters of founding president Sukarno, and two retired generals were among eight people allegedly arrested for makar—a charge variously meaning treason or rebellion. Two others were arrested for violating the country's telecommunications law, according to initial reports in local media. None have been named a suspect, which is the equivalent of being charged with a crime in Indonesia.

"They have been arrested and interrogated at Mako Brimob Kelapa Dua," said Sr. Comr. Rikwanto, a spokesman for the National Police. "Jakarta Police investigators are holding them there for further investigation."

The eight stand accused of treason stemming from two distinct incidents, said the police. Some were detained for defaming national leaders—a statement directed at Ahmad Dhani—and others for allegedly trying to overthrow the government.

All were detained before the start of Friday's demonstrations, but, so far, police have not made any statements directly tying the treason arrests to the ongoing movement to oust the Jakarta governor, a man known as Ahok, before this February's coming gubernatorial election.

Who was arrested?

The National Police released a list of those arrested early Friday. It confirmed the names on an identical list that was making rounds on social media and messaging apps earlier that day.

Those arrested include:

For treason:

  • Ahmad Dhani, a controversial rock star, who was charged with treason for defaming President Joko Widodo at the November 4th demonstration. According to a video of the rally, the rock star insulted the president by saying "I want to call him a dog, but I am not allowed. I want to call him a pig, but I am not allowed ..."
  • Firza Husain is an activist with close links to the family of former President Suharto. He is the head of the group "Solidarity for Cendana's Family." He was arrested alongside Ahmad Dhani at Central Jakarta's Sari Pan Pacific Hotel.
  • Sri Bintang Pamungkas is an activist with roots in the 1998 student movement that toppled former President Suharto. The activist, a member of a group called "People Power 2016," were reportedly planning to occupy the DPR building. Sri Bintang and "People Power 2016" announced the plans on Wednesday, allegedly hoping to direct Friday's rally back to the DPR complex in Senayan. He demanded the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) hold a special meeting to impeach the president.
  • Rachmawati Soekarnoputri is the daughter of founding father Sukarno and the sister of Megawati Soekarnoputri, the head of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P)—the country's ruling party. Rachmawati urged protestors to occupy the House of Representatives (DPR) to demand that the country revert the constitution back to the initial form drafted in 1945. This move would make it easier to impeach a sitting president. Her press conference was held one day after Sri Bintang made a similar announcement.
  • Adityawarman is a retired Army general and member of the Crescent Star Party (PBB).
  • Kivlan Zein is another retired Army general. Kivlan told Indonesian Muslims to ignore the treason allegations and attend Friday's rally during a meeting with the Muslim Students' Association (HMI) earlier this week.
  • Ratna Sarumpaet is an actress, activist and the mother Atiqah Hasiholan. She is part of the "Save Indonesia Movement" (GSI) that recently held a press conference slamming the government for trying to stifle citizen's right to protest with threats of treason. She told Indonesian Muslims to take to the streets on Friday.
  • Eko was arrested at his house in South Bekasi.

Under the telcom law:

  • Rizal Kobar is another activist who was allegedly involved in the mobilizing support for Friday's rally. He was charged with violating the country's telecommunications law.
  • Jamran was also charged with violating the telecommunications law.

What is happening here?

Together, the detained are a motley crew of individuals and groups with different aims, but a shared common goal of occupying the DPR and forcing the MPR to hold a meeting to impeach the president, a man popularly known as Jokowi. The group includes Sukarno's daughter, a man close to the family of Suharto—the man who helped overthrow Sukarno—and activists involved in the protests that toppled Suharto as well.

The president declined to comment on the matter when asked during his meeting with protestors before Friday prayers.

President Joko Widodo and VP Jusuf Kalla visit Friday's protest. Image via Twitter (Stela nau)

The Indonesian police warned of an alleged plot to occupy the House of Representatives, with the country's top brass calling it a possible attempt to overthrow the government. The police issued a warning letter last week reading "in a public protest, crimes against the state and acts of treason against the president and vice president are prohibited."

Most of those who were detained have consistently, and publicly, opposed Jokowi since he took office more than two years ago. Some where early supporters of Prabowo Subianto's rival presidential bid, but others were not. The two men, Prabowo and Jokowi, met two times in very public attempts to cool rising tensions before and after the first large anti-Ahok protest.

Prabowo criticized the police over the arrests on Friday, accusing law enforcement of "going too far" with the treason charges. He previously chastised anyone thinking of committing treason in televised interview with Kompas TV.

"You can snatch power, but then what's going to happen next?" Prabowo said on the talkshow Rosiana Silalahi. "You want to lead the country without being legitimate? If treason becomes a habit, it will only lead to a bad political environment."

But I thought the protests were about Ahok?

The protests are about Ahok. But they are, in some ways, also about something a lot bigger. Ahok has been charged with blasphemy over a video where he questions an interpretation of the Quran that forbids Muslims for voting for a non-Muslim leader.

That video, which was spread widely online, enflamed tensions among the capital's lower-income residents over Ahok's evictions policy. But it also captured the attention of a much wider audience of Indonesian Muslims who took offense to the words of Ahok—a Christian and a member of the country's ethnic Chinese community. The first protest, which was led by hardline Islamists, numbered more than 100,000. Early estimates say that Friday's protest was a larger, but more peaceful affair.


The November 4th rally was marred by violence as protestors clashed with police outside near Jalan Medan Merdeka. A large contingent of the protestors ended up in Senayan, camping for the night outside the DPR building. Other, smaller groups, looted a convenience store and attacked motorists in a neighborhood with a sizable Chinese Indonesian population.

Jokowi called a late-night press conference at the Presidential Palace, where he accused "political actors" of taking a role in orchestrating the protest. The president declined to specify who these "political actors" were or what ends they hoped to achieve.

Ahok was charged with blasphemy after that demonstration. The police tried to head off a second protest, effectively derailing attempts to rally on November 25, before hardliners joined forced with the labor movement to hold today's protest. The protestors continued to call for Ahok's immediate arrest.

Observers believe that the movement against Ahok is an attempt to strike a blow against Jokowi. The two men campaigned together when Jokowi won the 2012 Jakarta's governor's race and some experts believe that these attempts to oust Ahok or destroy his campaign ahead of the February 2017 vote are part of a bigger movement against the president himself.

So what's the penalty for treason?

Death. But that's unlikely. The only people to ever be executed for treason were those involved in the 1965 coup attempt by the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). The law is typically used against Papuan independence activists, and most recently, against the leaders of a controversial Islamic sect. Most of those charged with treason in Papua—where raising the banned "Morning Star" flag is an arrest-able offense—are sentenced to five-to-ten years.

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