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Virus forces Indonesian rights protest to move online

Weekly Jakarta gathering to seek justice for alleged abuses falls victim to social distancing restrictions

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Virus forces Indonesian rights protest to move online

Rights activists and victims of rights abuses stage their weekly protest outside the presidential palace in Jakarta in 2018. (Photo: Konradus Epa/UCA News)

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Covid-19 social distancing rules have forced rights activists and victims of alleged abuses committed by Indonesian authorities to shift their weekly campaign for justice from outside the presidential palace in Jakarta to the internet, organizers say. 

Organizers of the Kaminsan movement, as they are known, said they have been mounting the protests outside the Indonesian president’s residence each week for the last 13 years but were forced to move online because of restrictions on public gatherings.

Their new platforms to try and hold authorities to account for what they said were a string of rights abuses committed in the past and present are on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

Ahmad Sajali, a social media administrator, said that every Thursday messages and pictures about the alleged abuses are posted on the group’s official Twitter account and followers are invited to post messages of support targeting the official Twitter account of President Joko Widodo.

"The fight against human rights violations will never stop, even amid the pandemic," he told UCA News.

Maria Katharina Sumarsih, one of the protesters, said the Covid-19 pandemic will not stop her from seeking justice for her son, Benardinus Irawan, who was among 17 people killed during an anti-Suharto protest at Atma Jaya Catholic University in November 1998.

A year later, 11 more people were killed and over 200 injured in another protest in the same location.

“Sentiment over these incidents and other cases remains powerful,” she told UCA News.

Attorney-General Sanitiar Burhanuddin recently came under fire for denying the two tragedies were serious human rights violations.

Protesters condemned the comments, saying they illustrated the government’s unwillingness to address abuses despite repeated pledges that it would do so.  

Bedjo Untung, coordinator of the 1965 Murder Victims Research Foundation, a group that seeks justice for victims of an anti-communist purge that allegedly claimed more than 500,000 lives, said the cries of the dead will not be silenced.

“Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, we will continue our fight by whatever means so that these violations and others are not ignored,” he said.

Beka Ulung Hapsara, from the National Commission of Human Rights (Komnas HAM), backed the protesters' move to go online.

“It’s a wise move because the protesters’ message can reach a wider audience,” he said. “We can learn from their determination to seek justice and encourage more to fight with them and for those who are treated unfairly by the state.”

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