Indonesia restricts social media to end riots

Indonesia has restricted access to Facebook and WhatsApp after rioting broke out in Jakarta in the wake of the presidential election results.

Blocking social media was deemed necessary to limit the spread of “fake news” inciting riots in which at least eight people have died and more than 700 been injured since Tuesday night.

Wiranto, Indonesia’s security and communications minister, said deliberate misinformation about the security forces was being spread on WhatsApp.

One hoax story on the messaging app said undercover Chinese soldiers were posing as riot police and another claimed the police were shooting protesters inside mosques.

Wiranto said photo and video sharing would be restricted on the apps, although users could still send text and voice messages.

Jakarta’s governor Anies Baswedan said three teenagers had been killed and 737 people injured in the rioting which started in the central neighbourhood of Tanah Abang. The state news agency, Antara, reported that three hospitals had treated more than 350 people injured in the riots.

Supporters of the unsuccessful candidate, Prabowo Subianto, say President Joko Widodo is controlled by the ethnic-Chinese community and wants overly close relations with China.

Prabowo tweeted a video urging his supporters to disperse peacefully.

“I beg you to return to your homes to rest, avoid any actions that would break the law,” the defeated candidate said in a video that ironically could no longer be viewed because of the official restrictions.

The former general, who also lost to Widodo in 2014, said he planned to challenge the election result in the constitutional court.

Several political parties have filed lawsuits over the April 24 elections but none of the claims relates to the presidential election with the court receiving 10 lawsuits challenging the legislative election filed from the Prosperous Justice Party, National Awakening Party and Hanura Party.

Around 300 arrests have been reported in the capital and national police spokesman Muhammad Iqbal said envelopes stuffed with cash had been found on some of those searched, suggesting rioters were being bribed.

“This is not a spontaneous incident, this is something by design. There are indications that the mobs are paid and bent on causing chaos,” he said.

The authorities reported that Jakarta had returned to normal yesterday (Thursday) as staff in orange overalls cleared away the debris.

Elsewhere rioters burned down a police station on the island of Madura, northeast of Java, and two police posts were burned in Pontianak on Borneo, the Indonesian media reported.

Islamist sentiment has been rising in the capital. Picture credit: Wikimedia