JAKARTA, April 23 (Reuters) - Indonesian police said on Thursday they had detained an activist accused of broadcasting messages to instigate violence and hatred, but rights groups said they believed he had been framed by someone who hijacked his WhatsApp account.
Ravio Patra, an Indonesian researcher with the UK-based Westminster Foundation for Democracy, was detained on Wednesday night on suspicion of “broadcasting messages to instigate violence and/or spread hatred,” Jakarta police spokesman Yusri Yunus told a streamed news conference.
Yunus said Patra had not been charged and declined further comment because he said it was an ongoing investigation. He did not respond when asked to address the accusation that Patra had been framed.
Patra could not be reached for comment. Lawyer Muhammad Arsyad said investigators had not allowed him access to represent Patra. The Westminster Foundation for Democracy could not immediately be reached for comment.
A joint statement issued by 11 rights groups said Patra had told activists before he was detained that he had lost access to his WhatsApp account for five hours on Wednesday, during which time messages were sent from it to unknown contacts reading: “CRISIS HAS ALREADY BURNED! LET’S UNITE AND BURN ON 30 APRIL FOR THE MASS LOOTING NATIONALLY, ALL STORES ARE FOR US TO LOOT!”.
Reuters saw an image of the message that had been captured from the screen of one of the recipients, who had subsequently sent it to Patra before his arrest.
Two sources at Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, told Reuters that Patra’s WhatsApp account had been found on Wednesday to be “compromised”, possibly in a targeted attack. They declined to provide specific details.
A WhatsApp spokeswoman said: “While we can’t comment on specific users, our primary concern is for the security and safety of our users.”
Activists urged police to release Patra and investigate who was behind the alleged hacking. Their statement was jointly issued by groups including Amnesty International Indonesia and the Legal Aid Foundation.
“We see and believe that the motive for spreading these fake messages is to frame Ravio, as if he was the provocateur attempting to create riots,” Damar Juniarto, executive director of Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet), said in the statement
They did not accuse any specific individual or group.
The statement noted Patra, 27, had been critical of the government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak and of its actions in the easternmost province of Papua, where the army has fought a low-level separatist insurgency for decades.
On social media platforms and local websites, Patra had criticised the government for an insufficient response to the coronavirus. Officials have repeatedly rejected this, saying they have taken appropriate measures.
Patra had also accused the government of a lack of transparency around projects in Papua. The government has also rejected these assertions.
Government offices did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Patra’s views. (Reporting by Gayatri Suroyo and Agustinus Beo Da Costa in Jakarta and Jack Stubbs in London Editing by Ed Davies and Matthew Tostevin)