Politician accused of racism after posting meme of Anies Baswedan in traditional Papuan clothing

Ruhut Sitompul. Photo: Instagram/@ruhutp.sitompul
Ruhut Sitompul. Photo: Instagram/@ruhutp.sitompul

Indonesian netizens are outraged and mortified, with many of them calling for the prosecution of politician Ruhut Sitompul over what they say was a racist meme featuring Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan.

The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) politician, who is a vocal critic of Anies, raised his trolling game in a tweet dated May 11. In it, Ruhut appeared to mock the sentiment shared by many native Betawi people of Jakarta that Anies is a hard-working governor.

For no immediately apparent reason, Ruhut’s tweet came with a meme depicting Anies’ face imposed on that of a bare-chested man in traditional Papuan clothing.

Netizens were quick to accuse Ruhut of racism and are calling for his prosecution for hate speech under the Information and Electronic Transactions Act (UU ITE). The hashtag #RuhutLanggarUUITE (Ruhut violated UU ITE) is the top trending topic on Twitter in Indonesia today.

The Jakarta Metro Police today said that it has received a formal hate speech complaint from a group of Papuan youths against Ruhut, and has pledged to analyze the issue before possibly pressing charges against the politician.

Ruhut said he is untroubled by the threat of prosecution, maintaining that he did not intend to mock any race.

He said that the tweet merely alludes to the fact that Anies, who is widely considered to be a major contender in the 2024 presidential election, likes to accustom himself with each region’s traditional clothing during his visits.

“In Yogyakarta, he becomes a Yogyakartan. In Central Java, he becomes someone from Banyuwangi. So people say he’s a true Indonesian,” Ruhut said.

“Why [is the tweet seen] as an insult? There is no insult. They (Anies supporters) are the ones who like to insult others.”

Anies has not issued a statement about Ruhut’s tweet.

Under UU ITE, online hate speech is punishable by up to six years in prison. 

It should be noted that this is not the first time Ruhut is in hot water over political discourse. In 2010, the lawyer-turned soap opera star-turned politician who represented the Democratic Party at the time, called fellow politician Gayus Lumbuun (who at the time represented PDI-P) a “jerk” and telling him to “shut up” during a parliamentary meeting to discuss a massive corruption scandal.

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