Woman in Aceh arrested for allegedly writing FB comment in support of Surabaya church bombings

Police in Surabaya following the terrorist attacks on 3 churches in May 2018. PHOTO: Juni Kriswanto / AFP
Police in Surabaya following the terrorist attacks on 3 churches in May 2018. PHOTO: Juni Kriswanto / AFP

With tensions and fears running high in Indonesia following the terrorist attacks in East Java on Sunday and Monday, authorities have been urging the public to report hoaxes and hate speech online, especially those relating to the attacks.

A 37-year-old housewife in Banda Aceh, identified by police by her initials WF, was arrested last night for allegedly posting a comment on Facebook supporting the horrific church bombings that took place in Surabaya on Sunday morning.

“The perpetrators allegedly committed SARA (an acronym for hate speech about race, religion or ethnicity) through Facebook and was then secured by Aceh police officers on Monday, May 14, at around 11:45 pm,” Aceh Police spokesperson Misbahul Munauwar told Detik today.

According to police, WF had posted something regarding last week’s riot at the Mobile Brigade Command Center (Mako Brimob) detention center. Another Facebook user then commented on her post with news about the bomb blast at the Santa Maria Church in Surabaya.

Police say WF replied to that with a comment by writing, “It is halal to spill the blood of infidels”.

Authorities said they received a report about WF’s comment and then conducted an investigation leading to her arrest in the Banda Raya subdistrict of Banda Aceh on Monday night. They are currently still investigating the case.

WF was arrested for violating Indonesia’s Information and Electronic Transactions Act (UU ITE), which criminalizes any electronic media communication that could be considered defamatory, slanderous or hate speech. The law carries a maximum punishment of four years.

While what WF allegedly wrote was vile, many activists have criticized both UU ITE and Indonesia’s blasphemy law for being a huge danger to free speech in Indonesia.

Many netizens have reacted to horror of the suicide bomb attacks, which were undertaken by three families including their young children, by starting to question the role of religion in terrorism. It’s an incredibly important discussion, but one that only seems possible now in the wake of the attacks, since there has always been a very real danger that bringing up such matters could lead to charges of blasphemy or hate speech. Now would also be a great time to question where the limits of free speech in Indonesia should truly lie.

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