Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Time to demilitarise the Bahasa version of Wikipedia

By Warren Doull

Jokowi, the great hope for Indonesian democracy, was inaugurated as Indonesia’s new president on 20 October 2014. Indonesian pro-democracy groups are now buzzing. They are rightfully requesting he attend to unresolved injustices like Papuan grievances, reconciliation for the 1965 ‘anti-communist’ purges, and the 1997-1998 abductions of political activists.

I have a simpler request, and it’s for Indonesian pro-democracy groups themselves. Bring balance to the Indonesian version of Wikipedia.

Why Wikipedia? It may not always be the most accurate or objective source of information, but it is certainly a popular source of information. Indeed, the Bahasa version of Wikipedia is approaching 1 million articles. So the Indonesian public is not well served if articles about certain retired generals are presented in a one-sided manner in Wikipedia’s Indonesian version.In particular, when it informs the Indonesian public about former generals A.R  Hendropriyono, an adviser to Jokowi,  Sutiyoso, who chairs one of the political parties supporting Jokowi, and new Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu, Wikipedia verges on propaganda.

Wikipedia’s Indonesian language version tells the Indonesian public that, during his early days as a special forces commander, A.R  Hendropriyono “not only paid attention to the welfare of his soldiers, but also to their discipline”. In 1991, Hendropriyono “wisely and methodically moved coffee farmers from a protected forest” in two sub-districts of Lampung province”. It also vaguely notes an incident in Lampung in 1989, when Hendropriyono “succeeded in eliminating potential radicalism that was growing in the Talangsari area” (“berhasil mengeliminasi potensi radikalisme yang tumbuh di kawasan Talangsari”). The entry doesn’t mention accusations that at least 27 and possibly over 100 farmers were killed by Hendropriyono’s soldiers during this incident.
Nor does the article mention Hendropriyono’s suspected involvement in the murder of activist Munir or his organising of funding for pro-integration militias who murdered over 1000 civilians in East Timor in 1999. The only hint of his controversial past is a recent revision on 20 August 2014 that vaguely mentions “Hendropriyono is said to have been connected to a number of human rights violations”.

Sutiyoso’s PKPI party missed out on a seat in Jokowi’s new Cabinet but Sutiyoso himself still expects to  ‘assist’ Jokowi’s government in the future. The former general is currently being considered as a candidate to head Indonesia’s National Intelligence Agency (BIN). Sutiyoso also gets flattering treatment from Wikipedia. Sutiyoso, like Jokowi, is a former governor of Jakarta, serving for two periods (1997-2002, 2002-2007). The Wikipedia article praises his efforts to reduce traffic congestion but avoids mention of Sutiyoso’s questionable progress in addressing overcrowding, poor drainage, gangster groups and many other problems.In fact, after ten years with Sutiyoso as Governor of Jakarta, the city was ranked one of the least liveable in the world. The Mercer rankings for 2008 had Jakarta at 146 for liveability, slightly behind Bangalore and Mumbai, ranked 140 and 142 respectively, and far behind Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok, ranked 75 and 109 respectively. 

Sutiyoso has done well to serve as Governor of Jakarta for a decade without being prosecuted for corruption. Perhaps however, the Wikipedia article could mention that Sutiyoso is suspected of being involved in various corruption cases. One suspicious case was alleged bribery of senior PDIP official Roy Janis and Taufik Kiemas, husband of PDIP matron Megawati, in 2000. Later, Sutiyoso’s own deputy recommended he be investigated for corruption over land titles.A se ction in the Wikipedia mentions Sutiyoso’s ‘coffee mornings’ with community leaders in Jakarta,  suggesting he was a popular democrat. The article doesn’t mention that he was hand-picked by Suharto for his first period of governorship and appointed only indirectly, by members of parliament, for the second period. 

He was in fact the last person to gain governorship of Jakarta without direct election. While presenting Sutiyoso as popular, the article omitted to mention that Sutiyoso has, since 2010, been the general chairperson of a political party, PKPI, but that the party received less than 1% of the vote in the 2014 national legislative elections. Sutiyoso has also done well to earlier serve in East Timor and Aceh without being clearly connected to specific human rights violations. He is said to have been in or around East Timor at the time five foreign journalists were murdered in Balibo, though a detailed enquiry in 2007 found no evidence of his direct involvement. 

The Wikipedia article doesn’t mention that Sutiyoso was governor of Jakarta in 1996 when hired thugs attacked an opposition political party’s headquarters in Jakarta in 1996, and when activists were kidnapped and Chinese businesses were looted in Jakarta in May 1998. Since these violations all related to national-level issues, it is unlikely that any of these violations were ordered by Sutiyoso, but as Jakarta’s governor and a senior military figure with strong connections to Kopassus, he may well have known of these violations in advance. More suspicious is that when Munir and other leading social activists criticised Sutiyoso’s handling of floods in Jakarta in 2002, they were physically assaulted by hired thugs. The Bahasa version of Wikipedia that references Sutiyoso might have been more balanced if it had mentioned some of the many queries that have been voiced against him.

The Bahasa version referencing new Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu is unusually short and only slightly less biased. It informs Indonesians that Ryacudu was a ‘direct and firm general’, who was praised for his performance as Kostrad (Armed Forces Strategic Reserves ) commander in the final days of the Gus Dur Presidency in July 2001. Some researchers have a different interpretation of Ryacudu’s performance as Kostrad commander. They attest that by positioning his forces around the Presidential Palace and nearby National Monument while reformist president Gus Dur was being impeached by Indonesia’s national parliament, Ryacudu was supporting the impeachment. This seems a reasonable interpretation, given that the immediate benefactor of Gus Dur’s resignation, Megawati, appointed Ryacudu as Army Chief of Staff in 2002 and has no doubt played a role in his recent appointment as Defence Minister. More damning is Ryacudu’s hard line stance in other parts of Indonesia. The Wikipedia article does not mention that Ryacudu is on record praising as a ‘hero’ the killer of Theys Eluay, a leading Papuan politician who called for Papuan independence. Nor does it explore Ryacudu’s shady human rights background in Aceh.

Some Indonesians may be unconcerned if the military gets a green light for continuing human rights abuses, but might still be interested to note the view that Ryacadu was one of the main stumbling blocks to the peace process in Aceh. Even former President Yudoyono seems to have regarded Ryacudu as an impediment to peace. With Ryacudu making comments like “Dialogue for a thousand years hasn’t brought results” and “Fundamentally, there is no dialogue,” Yudoyono decided it was time to remove him from the senior position, Army Chief of Staff, that the previous president had given him. As one scholar noted, following Ryacudu’s demotion, “Nowhere was Ryacudu’s absence more perceptible than in Aceh, where the government brokered a peace deal with the separatist movement GAM (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, Free Aceh Movement) in August 2005.”

In contrast, in covering better known Indonesian military figures, like Suharto, Prabowo and Wiranto, the Bahasa version of Wikipedia is balanced. The English version of Wikipedia is far less detailed in its information about Hendropriyono and Sutiyoso, but also less glowing in its praise. An English Wikipedia article on Ryacudu doesn’t yet exist. In the case of Hendropriyono, Sutiyoso and Ryacudu, the history (‘versi terdahulu’) tab of each Wikipedia Bahasa page reveals there has been much minor editing this year, and many different editors seem to have been involved. However there has been very little debate over substantive issues, such as whether specific events or accusations are included, or whether particular terminology is too strong. Besides being used as a propaganda vehicle for certain retired Indonesian generals, the Bahasa version of Wikipedia also contains more general propaganda.

Balibo in East Timor has been in the international news lately because the Australian Federal Police just dropped a five-year investigation into the October 1975 murders of five foreign journalists in Balibo. The Bahasa version of Wikipedia has an entry that mentions the murders of the five journalists in October 1975, though it states they were killed ‘before’ the Indonesian invasion instead of ‘during’ the Indonesian invasion. This is to maintain the Suharto-era myth that the Indonesian invasion occurred in December 1975, after representatives of four East Timorese political parties on 30 November 1975 signed a written request for Indonesian intervention. 

This myth is stated more explicitly in the Indonesian Wikipedia’s general entry on East Timor. In contradiction, a number of Indonesian military personnel have admitted they were fighting in East Timor well over a month before the 30 Nov 1975 request for Indonesian intervention. Sutiyoso himself said his forces were in Batugede, another town in East Timor, at the time of the murders, and before that he is said to have led an attack on a police station in Suai, another town in East Timor. This means the request for intervention was actually just a media stunt. Even the name of this written request, ‘the Balibo Declaration’, is mythical because in fact it was signed in Bali, 1000 km to the west of Balibo. 

But if Indonesians are trying to understand the East Timorese experience of Indonesia, the Wikipedia Bahasa version offers plenty more that will confuse them. They are told, “The population wanted to integrate with Indonesia because they had the same culture as their brothers in West Timor.” They are not told that most of the population actually fled to the hills in fear of the Indonesian invasion. A separate Wikipedia Bahasa article says the pro-independence Fretilin party massacred around 60,000 civilians in the months Sept-Nov 1975, whereas the English version notes that East Timor’s civil war lasted only three weeks and killed only around 2000 people in total. Confusing? A related Wikipedia article on ‘Timor Leste' refers to fighting in 1976-1980 and 1999 as internal conflict among Timorese. No wonder many Indonesians were surprised in 1999 when 79.6 % of voters in East Timor rejected integration with Indonesia!

The English version of Wikipedia is more balanced (or arguably too critical, from an Indonesian military point of view) about what it terms the ‘occupation’ rather than ‘integration’ or ‘colonisation’ of East Timor. The Bahasa version of Wikipedia similarly offers a distorted view of the Papuan Independence Organisation (OPM). OPM, Indonesians are told, ‘rejects economic development and modernity’. The same opening paragraph explains that OPM received funds from terrorist groups in Libya and China. The second paragraph notes that the organisation is traitorous. Indonesians would come away from this article with a very limited understanding of the Papuan Independence Organisation. In contrast, the English Wikipedia description of OPM, and even a separate Bahasa Wikipedia article on conflict in Papua in general, are far more balanced. 

This article does not judge whether Hendropriyono or other former generals are worthy of wielding influence under Jokowi. Nor does it judge whether separatist movements are right or wrong. But as democracy develops in Indonesia, Indonesians are seeking balanced information on political affairs. Perhaps the Bahasa version of Wikipedia, as it approaches one million articles written, will see increasing debate between Suharto era ‘black and white’ versions of history and a newer, more ‘shades of grey’ version of history.

Warren Doull (pseudonym) has lived and worked extensively in Indonesia and Timor Leste, including for the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor in 2002. Warren's article originally appeared in the Asia Sentinel 6 November.

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