Jakarta. More than 50 years after the 1965 anti-communist purge, Indonesia has seen a reemergence of communist symbolism and debate through social media, pushing authorities to take serious action in preventing the propagation of communist ideas in the country.
The National Police spokesman Brig. Gen. Boy Rafli Amar said law enforcers are aware of the growing phenomenon and reminded the public that anyone found propagating the forbidden ideology — communism, marxism and leninism — by law could face a maximum 12-years imprisonment sentence.
“Feel free to express [yourself], but please be aware what is prohibited,” Boy told reporters on Wednesday (11/05) at the National Police headquarters.
He called on Indonesian citizens not to forward any communist propagation materials to others.
“We already get the data ... We are monitoring it, we prevent it [from spreading] because it can cause anxiety and conflict,” Boy said.
Communism has not just become a hot topic in the local social media recently, which has triggered some serious debate among netizens, but has also led to some arrests of merchandisers found selling attributes like clothing and toys resembling communist symbols.
On Monday, police arrested the owner and an employee of a store in Blok M, a major business and shopping quarter in South Jakarta, for selling a t-shirt featuring the hammer-and-sickle symbol that resembles by the long-disbanded and prohibited Indonesian Communist Party, known as PKI.
The t-shirt is a memorabilia of metal band KREATOR.
Police have not been able to prove if the shop-owner was deliberately distributing banned attributes and the owner told local media they were not aware that the t-shirt featured the restricted symbol.
The banning and disbanding of events hosted by education and media institutions which discuss issues related to communism has left many on social media wondering if authorities are overreacting.
Student dialogues and even documentary film screening have been the victims of such worries by the authorities and even non-government organizations proclaiming themselves to be the guardian of Indonesia’s philosophical foundation of Pancasila.
On Wednesday, members of the radical Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) disbanded a "Sekolah Marx" or "School of Marx" event hosted by the Student Press Association of Daunjati Institut Seni Budaya Indonesia (ISBI) in Bandung, West Java.
The incident was triggered by a discussion with the theme "Understanding Arts Through Karl Marx's Mind," during which an FPI member involved in the debate shouted "the unitary state of the Indonesian republic is a dead price," according to local media reports.
Last week, police raided a house party celebrating World Press Freedom Day at the Alliance of Independent Journalists, or AJI, office in Yogyakarta, as the party was to be followed by a screening of a documentary film on exiled communist writers.
Negotiations for proceeding with the party turned ugly with more threats coming after members of the so-called Children of Military and Police Veterans Forum (FKPPI) arrived at the AJI office and began shouting slogans and dispersing the crowd.
No arrests were made during either incident.
Last year, a group of civic organization members assaulted a motorist for wearing a communist pin and received death threats — while police officers stood by without intervening.
Wednesday’s Bandung incident caught the attention of Bandung mayor Ridwan Kamil who condemned FPI’s disruption in an educational discussion.
“That’s not allowed [disbandment]. It’s a campus. It’s not any different from other ideologies. I too learned about Marx, Manuel Castels and the like,” he said in his tweet.
Ulil Abshar Abdalla, the founder of the Liberal Islam Network, disputed the idea that communism is on the rise in Indonesia.
tidak dibenarkan. itu adalah kampus. tidak ada bedanya seperti ilmu2 lain. saya jg belajar Marx, Manuel Castels dkk. https://t.co/vVqr9g5S3q— ridwan kamil (@ridwankamil) May 11, 2016
“It’s impossible for communist forces to rise in Indonesia. The hammer-and-sickle symbol is simply a fashion statement,” he said in his tweet.
Di Indonesia sendiri, sudah tak mungkin bangkit kekuatan politik komunis. Yg suka pasang ikon palu arit itu hanya "fashion" aja. — Ulil Abshar-Abdalla (@ulil) May 11, 2016
Home Affairs Minister Tjahjo Kumolo called the public to be cautious with the suspected new style of communist propaganda, with the recent cases of spreading pictures of the hammer-and-sickle not just in social media, but also in pins, clothing and hats.
“It needs to be cautiously monitored. If it is let go [just like that], it can be dangerous,” he said, as quoted by Cnnindonesia.com.
Still, he wondered if a third-party group had become involved in flaming the issue.
National Police Chief Gen. Badrodin Haiti had previously told local media that, as per the 1999 Law on threats to state security: “any persons violating the law in the public, be it verbal, written and or through any mediums, spreading or promoting the teaching of communism/Marxism/Lenin will be sentenced to 12 years in prison.”
Police will not abuse the law, he said, and will carefully investigate potential cases before continuing with charges.
Communism, an antithesis of capitalism, was once popular in Indonesia before the 1965-66 massacre, which was triggered by a coup attempt blamed on communist supporters.
International agencies have suggested a campaign of mass killings began after the country's second president, Suharto, took power. The campaign targeted communists and alleged leftists around the country, leaving a death toll believed to be anywhere from 500,000 to 1.2 million.
During his decades long rule, Suharto continued propaganda against the evils of communism through pop culture and education. After he was toppled in 1998, Indonesia held on to its Pancasila ideology and communism remains a taboo subject.
Writing by Muhamad Al Azhari, edited by Erin Cook