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Indonesian police arrest activist for inciting unrest

Ravio Patra says his phone was hacked to send a message calling for nationwide riots

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Indonesian police arrest activist for inciting unrest

Indonesian police arrested Ravio Patra, a public policy researcher, on April 22 in Jakarta. (Photo courtesy of SAFEnet) 

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Indonesian police have arrested an outspoken pro-democracy activist for allegedly broadcasting a message from his WhatsApp account calling for riots across the country.

Ravio Patra, a local researcher for the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD), a UK based public body dedicated to supporting democracy around the world, was arrested in Jakarta on April 22.

Rights groups, however, said the activist was being framed and that his WhatsApp account had been hacked.  

Police spokesman Brig. Gen. Argo Yuwono confirmed Patra’s arrest, saying he was facing possible incitement charges. “We are exploring Ravio's digital footprint to find out whether his WhatsApp was hacked," Kompas.com quoted Yuwono as saying.

A coalition of human rights groups, the Coalition to Reject Criminalization and Case Fabrication, said Patra was being framed.

In a joint statement issued on April 23, they claimed Patra was arrested because he had accused the government of mismanagement and a lack of transparency in its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He had also accused a presidential adviser, Bili Mabrasar, of “conflict of interest” with regards to government projects, the coalition said.

According to the Southeast Asian Freedom Network or SAFEnet, one of the coalition members, Patra had told the group he was being set up.

Eight hours before his arrest, Patra informed the group that someone had just hacked his WhatsApp account, SAFEnet director Damar Juniarto told reporters.

"When he tried to turn on WhatsApp, he said a message popped up, ‘You've registered your number on another phone,’” Juniarto said.

Before his arrest Patra had been receiving calls from unknown sources, including calls from US and Malaysian numbers, he said.

However, when those numbers were tracked using an application, they turned out to belong to local police officers, the SAFEnet director said. "We strongly suspect they had found a way to take over Ravio’s WhatsApp account.”

Juniarto said after his strange activity, a provocative message was sent to unknown numbers which read: "Crisis, it's time to burn! Come and gather together on April 30 for a national looting action. All stores near you are free for looting."

He said it all smelled of a plot targeting Patra.

As well as contacting SAFEnet before his arrest, Patra also sought legal advice from the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute and the National Human Rights Commission, the rights coalition said.

It called on President Joko Widodo and police chief Gen. Idham Azis to drop any charges against Patra, release him and bring those behind the alleged plot to justice.

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