University lecturer, allegedly a member of the Muslim Cyber Army, arrested for sharing fake news about muezzin’s murder

Photo illustration
Photo illustration

As of late, the Indonesian government has been cracking down hard on internet hoaxes by arresting a number of people accused of making them up or sharing them. Following Sunday’s arrest of four people belonging to the WhatsApp group The Family MCA (aka the Muslim Cyber Army), on Monday night police arrested a university lecturer for sharing fake item about the murder of a muezzin (the man who calls Muslims to prayer from the minaret of a mosque). Police say there is evidence that she is also a part of the Muslim Cyber Army group.

The 40-year-old lecturer, identified by her initials TAW, is from the Sleman Regency of Central Java and reportedly teaches at Universitas Islam Indonesia (UII) in Yogyakarta, but she was arrested in North Jakarta on Monday night by officers from both the Jakarta police force as well as officers from Majalengka, West Java.

The involvement of the Majalengka Police was due to the nature of the hoax that TAW allegedly shared on Facebook. It involved the murder of a muezzin in Majalengka by a man who TAW’s post accused of pretending to be mentally ill.

The post referred to an actual murder that did take place in Majalengka recently, but the victim in that case was not a muezzin and he is believed to have been killed by a group of people during a robbery.

According to the police, TAW’s Facebook post quickly went viral and was shared around 7,000 times.

“From our investigation of the suspect, we suspect she was the first person to post and distribute the hoax ,” said Majalengka police chief Noviana Tursanurohmad as quoted by Liputan 6.

Noviana also said TAW admitted to never checking the veracity of her post before spreading it on social media.

Jakarta Police said that evidence found on TAW’s gadgets showed that she was also a member of the Muslim Cyber Army group.

TAW will be charged under the Law on Electronic Transactions and Information (UU ITE) for spreading information online that could cause hatred towards certain people or social groups, as well as two other laws concerning hate speech and the spread of misinformation. She could face up to six years in prison if convicted.

The four members of the Family MCA that were arrested on Sunday were also charged with spreading fake news to incite hatred, including hoax stories about the supposed resurgence of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), the kidnapping of ulemas (Islamic scholars) across the country, and defamatory content aimed at the president and his administration.

In recent weeks, cyber crime directorate have also gone after other people for sharing hoaxes. Last week, a high school teacher in Banten, West Java, was arrested for sharing fake news about communists coming to kill ulemas. Before that, a 23-year-old who was arrested for sharing fake news about a homeless man who was beaten up for being a suspected communist, as well as a 37-year-old housewife who shared a hoax about President Joko Widodo’s political party, PDI-P, including an edited photo of a billboard saying PDI-P didn’t care about Muslims.

Although the hoaxes in question might indeed be dangerous, many rights activist still worry the government is going too far in arresting people for simply sharing fake news online. But it is clear that Jokowi’s administration sees arresting sharers as an important deterrent to the spread of hoaxes. The revised criminal code currently under discussion in the House of Representatives also includes a law that would potentially make sharing a fake news item a crime in and of itself that could be punished by up to six years in prison, which critics say would be a huge threat to free speech.

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