Identifying Hate Speech Trends and Prevention in Indonesia: a Cross-Case Comparison

In: Global Responsibility to Protect
Lina A. Alexandra Head of the Department of International Relations, Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Jakarta, Indonesia

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Alif Satria Associate Research Fellow, International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore, Singapore

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This article provides an analysis on Indonesia’s hate speech phenomenon within the past two decades. It identifies shared characteristics across hate speech campaigns and how state and non-state actors have addressed them. In doing so, the article compares three campaigns targeting: the Ahmadiyya (2005–2011), Shi’a (2006–2012) and Jakarta’s Chinese Christian Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (2016–2017). It finds that despite their unique dynamics, each campaign shared several commonalities. They were enabled by rising religious conservatism, sustained support from politicians, and competition for socio-economic capital; their framing strategy similarly used a threat-to-survival narrative, leveraged state regulations, and involved amplifying their voices through online spaces; and they had similar long-term impact which, despite an absence of mass violence, normalised the deprivation of vulnerable minorities’ fundamental rights.

1 Introduction1

Mass atrocities and violence in Indonesia have significantly decreased in the last two decades. Indeed, Indonesia was particularly violent between the 1960s and late 1990s. Throughout the New Order period (1966–1998), for instance, a significant part of Indonesia’s counter-insurgency strategy involved the wilful use of indiscriminate state violence. This occurred in the cases of the 1965 Communist Purge, the 1969 Integration of Papua, and the 1975 Invasion of East Timor.2 During its democratic transition in the late 1990s, exacerbated by various factors including the 1997 economic crisis, rising political competition, and a large security vacuum, Indonesia also experienced numerous large-scale conflicts. These include the separatist conflict in Aceh, communal violence in Central Kalimantan, and religious conflict in Maluku.3 Notably, state-led violence and conflicts of similar scale are no longer present.

However, while Indonesia’s large-scale violence has indeed decreased, other forms of small-scale violence and rights violations still occur.4 In 2014, the National Violence Monitoring System (nvms) dataset found that large-scale conflicts have been replaced by three forms of violence.5 First, is ethno-religious based violence, which accounted for 26 per cent of violent conflict between 2004 and 2012 and manifested in various violent skirmishes between tribes in Papua, village rivalries across Java, and low-level vigilante violence between various religious communities. Second, resource-related violence involving traditional communities, local governments, and various palm oil plantation, logging, and mining companies whose investments have increased since the early 2000s. Third, election-related violence that occurred throughout Indonesia’s various provinces, but more significantly in post-conflict areas such as Aceh and Papua.

In addition to various forms of small-scale violence, Indonesia also still sees multiple acts of intolerance and discrimination which, although may not result in direct loss of life or injuries, can and do limit important non-derogable rights of vulnerable minorities. For example, in the past couple of decades Indonesia has consistently sustained a number of national-level regulations governing religious rights – the 1965 Blasphemy Law, the 2006 Joint Ministerial Decree on House of Worship, and the 2008 Joint Ministerial Decree on Ahmadiyya.6 In practice, various hard-line religious organisations at the grassroots level have used these regulations as a pretext to deny the construction of minority religious groups’ houses of worship, jail leaders of minority religious sects, and even, in practice, outright deny some religious minorities their right to worship.7

One form of intolerant and discriminatory act that has increased in the wake of Indonesia’s post-conflict landscape, is hate speech campaigns targeting vulnerable minorities. While hate speech is not a new phenomenon in Indonesia (e.g. hate speech against Chinese Indonesians was used to mobilise mobs during the anti-Chinese May 1998 riots),8 there have been significant developments on how individuals use hate speech as an instrument to dehumanise their opposition and settle conflicts. In the past two decades, Indonesia has seen several significant hate speech campaigns involving serious practices of violence and systemic discrimination against minority groups – including campaigns targeting Christian Catholic communities in Bogor in 2011, Shi’is in Sampang in 2012, the Chinese Christian Jakarta Governor in 2017, and ethnic Papuans in August 2019.

This article aims to provide an analysis of common patterns found across hate speech campaigns in Indonesia in the past two decades. To do this, the article compares three notable campaigns: one targeting the Islam sect of Ahmadiyya (2005–2011), one targeting Shi’a Muslims (2006–2012), and one targeting Jakarta’s ethnic Chinese, Christian Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama alias Ahok (2016–2017). It examines their overall dynamics and identifies common characteristics that all three campaigns share – enabling factors, framing strategies, and long-term impact. Additionally, the study also investigates how the state has responded to hate speech. It provides a list of key regulations and institutions, their shortcomings, and how civil society initiatives have filled this gap.

It finds that despite their unique individual dynamics, all three campaigns had important similarities: they were commonly enabled by a rise in religious conservatism, support from politicians, and tense inter-group competition for socio-economic capital; they had framing strategies which similarly used a threat-to-survival narrative, leveraged state regulations, and involved the use of online spaces; and they had similar long-term impact which, despite not resulting in mass violence, ultimately normalised the violation of vulnerable minorities’ fundamental rights. It also finds that while current government measures against hate speech exist, they are still insufficient due to existing regulatory loopholes, discriminatory implementation of hate speech regulations, and the state’s misuse of hate speech laws to curtail criticism in the name of restoring public order.

The article is organized as follows. Section 2 provides a literature review and methodology, including a discussion of case study selection. Section 3 explains the dynamics of the three hate speech campaigns, including a short history of each of the targeted groups. Section 4 identifies common enabling factors, content framing, and the long-term impact of the three campaigns. Section 5 highlights government efforts and the role of civil society groups to address hate speech. The last section provides a conclusion and further discussions on the implications of these findings for government policy and civil society activities.

2 Methodology

The study of hate speech in Indonesia is not new. However, most studies only analyse hate speech dynamics within a single case study, which limits their findings’ overall generalisability. Muhammad As’ad’s study on the religious freedom of Ahmadiyya, for example, showed how Indonesia’s creation of the Joint Ministerial Decree on Ahmadiyya in 2008, with support from fatwas of the Indonesian Ulama Council (mui), has emboldened groups to vilify Ahmadiyya congregations throughout the country.9 A report by Indonesia’s Commission for Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS) provided a detailed account of how Shi’is in Sampang, Madura, were persecuted, attacked, and forcefully relocated by Sunni mobs – processes which were either preceded or accompanied by hate speech from local politicians, ulema, and religious organisations.10 Another study by Winarni, Agussalim, and Bagir on the 2017 Defend Islam Rallies also detailed how hate speech narratives were ‘fabricated’ and ‘framed’ to insinuate demands for the jailing of Ahok.11

When studies do utilise multiple case studies of hate speech campaigns, their main analysis tends to focus on issues that are tangential to hate speech but not hate speech itself – limiting the amount of insight that is extrapolated to identify generalisable patterns of hate speech campaigns in Indonesia. Panggabean and Ali-Fauzi’s study on the policing of religious conflict, for example, discusses various instances of sectarian conflicts such as anti-Ahmadiyya tension in Cikeusik and anti-Shi’a tension in Sampang where hate speech was prevalent. While their main case studies were hate speech campaigns, the study itself mainly explained why some policing succeeds and why some fails.12 Similarly, Ahnaf et al.’s study on religious conflicts in Sampang, Bekasi, and Kupang also included cases where hate speech was used. That said, their main analysis focuses not on hate speech but the role of political opportunity structures in escalating these religious conflicts.13

This article aims to fill this gap in the current literature surrounding hate speech in Indonesia and understand what are the general characteristics of hate speech campaigns in Indonesia? And what have governments and civil society actors done to respond to it? In answering these questions, this study analyses the dynamics, contexts, and forms of several Indonesian hate speech campaigns using a cross-case study comparison method. In selecting the case studies, this study will limit its observations to three hate speech campaigns: the campaign targeting the Islamic sect of Ahmadiyya in 2005–2011; the campaign against Shi’a Muslims, 2006–2012; and the campaign targeting Jakarta’s Chinese Christian Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama alias Ahok, 2016–2017. These cases were selected due to the damage these hate speech campaigns caused. In all these cases, the targeted vulnerable minority were eventually subjected to violence, the threat of violence, and various regulations that limited their ability to exercise their constitutional rights as citizens.

3 Episodes of Hate Speech Campaigns in Indonesia

The three hate speech campaigns progressed through notably similar phases. First is an initial triggering phase. This involves instigators framing vulnerable minorities’ innocuous and routine activities as a new, unprecedented act of blasphemy. When left unattended, these acts enter a second, escalation phase. This phase sees hate speech intensify as the campaign experiences at least one of three events: the transformation of speech to violence, the politicisation of hate speech by politicians, and the organisation of disparate hate speech actors into one movement. These campaigns, however, do not end with the use of violence or mass demonstration. Instead, they enter a third, normalisation phase when society increasingly accepts the hate speech narratives. This phase is often characterised by the issuance of a legal ruling and/or regulation from a government body that limits the rights of the victims of hate speech (see Figure 1).

Figure 1
Figure 1

Phases of Hate Speech Campaigns in Indonesia

Citation: Global Responsibility to Protect 15, 2-3 (2023) ; 10.1163/1875984X-20230005

3.1 Hate Speech against Ahmadiyya (2005–2011)

The Ahmadiyya have lived in Indonesia for almost a century. Its preachers first arrived in Indonesia in 1924 and began creating religious organisations to represent the community in 1935.14 Between then and the early 2000s, there was very little recorded hate speech against the Ahmadiyya. In fact, major Sunni Islamic organisations in Indonesia were originally friendly towards them due to the community leaders’ shared family ties.15 While mui did issue a fatwa in 1980 and 1984 stating that Ahmadiyya was not part of Islam, it was not followed by virulent vilification and violence against Ahmadiyya communities.16 Instead, Ahmadiyya and mainstream Sunni organisations during this time attempted to resolve their differences through peaceful, public, and written debates.17

The hate speech campaign towards the Ahmadiyya community began in Bogor around mid-2005. The trigger to this campaign was an annual meeting by the Jamaah Ahmadiyya Indonesia (jai) on 8 July.18 The next day, protesters led by the Islamic Research and Study Institute (lppi) held a demonstration in front of jai’s building – shouting that Ahmadis were deviants, holding swords, and demanding that local governments ban them.19 One week later, a leader of the Islamic Defenders Front (fpi) led 3,000 people to jai’s headquarters and threatened to burn the building down if Ahmadis did not evacuate the premises. Despite the Ahmadis evacuating, fpi members came in and burnt down several buildings. The police took no action to prevent the destruction, and in the following days, Bogor’s local government issued a statement letter that forbade any activities of jai in its district.20

What began as a local issue in Bogor quickly escalated into a national issue that impacted Ahmadiyya communities across Indonesia. In late July 2005, the mui (re)issued a fatwa declaring Ahmadiyya to be ‘outside [of] Islam’ and urged the government to stop the dissemination of Ahmadiyya teachings along with its activities.21 Responding to mui’s demands, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (sby) ordered the Team of the Coordinating Board for Monitoring Mystical Beliefs in Society (Bakorpakem) in 2006 to investigate whether Ahmadiyya is indeed ‘outside of Islam’. After many discussions with Islamic organisations, including fpi and lppi members, in 2008 Bakorpakem concluded that Ahmadiyya deviated from Islam and recommended that the government warn jai to cease its actions or be dissolved.22

In June 2008, the government issued a Joint Decree between the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the Attorney General, and the Ministry of Home Affairs which effectively banned the Ahmadiyya.23 Afterwards, hate speech to Ahmadiyya throughout Indonesia was increasingly normalised as various local actors used this Joint Decree to justify more explicit demands to ban their local branch of jai. In Bekasi, Islamist organisations used the Joint Decree to pressure the mayor to enforce an anti-Ahmadiyya regulation. In April 2011, the local police forcefully closed Ahmadiyya mosques in Bekasi.24 In Cikeusik, the Joint Ministerial Decree was used by local ulema to revitalise an extended campaign to expel the local Ahmadiyya community.25 In February 2011, after a chain of text messages were distributed stating ‘the blood of the Ahmadiyya were halal’, a mob of 1,000 attacked Cikeusik’s Ahmadiyya community, burnt down dozens of houses, and killed three members.26 By the end of 2011, around half of Indonesia’s provinces had issued regulations or statements that functionally banned the Ahmadiyya.27

3.2 Hate Speech against Shi’a (2006–2012)

The Shi’a community in Sampang, Madura, has lived and socialised in the district since the late 1970s – long before hate speech was ever targeted against them. The creation of a Shi’a community began when a well-respected Sunni Ulema, Kiai Makmun, converted to Shi’ism after he heard of the Iranian revolution’s success.28 In the mid-1980s, Makmun sent his two sons, Tajul Muluk and Rois Hukama, to Shi’a madrassas outside of Madura. One of his sons, Muluk, went to Saudi Arabia after he finished his studies and returned to Sampang in 1999 where he began proselytising and establishing a local Shi’a madrassa, namely the Misbahul Huda.29 By 2004 there were around 30 Shi’a followers in Sampang, and by 2011, this number grew to 120 families.30 Importantly, no recorded violence and/or threats were ever lobbied towards Makmun or the Shi’a community in Sampang during this period.

The Sampang Shi’a community only became the target of hate speech from various Sunni ulema and organisations in 2006. The trigger for this hate speech was the death of Muluk’s father – a well-respected elder in the area. That year, a local Sunni ulema named Abuya Ali organised a meeting with other Sampang ulema to ‘clarify allegations of heresy over Muluk’s Shi’a teachings’.31 They concluded that Shi’ism is a dangerous and deviant sect of Islam and thus it is best for Muluk and his followers to repent to ‘prevent physical and ideological clashes’.32 Hate speech against Shi’is further intensified in 2009 when Sampang’s Department of Religion and local branches of Bakorpakem, mui, and Nahdlatul Ulama (nu) forced Muluk to sign a joint letter agreeing that he was forbidden to conduct rituals and da’wa. This joint letter also carried veiled threats – stating that Bakorpakem, mui, and nu were ready to subdue possible ‘societal unrest and anarchy’ only if Muluk abided by the joint letter.33

Beginning in 2011, hate speech against Shi’is escalated into physical altercations and overt threats of violence. In February, thousands of protestors destroyed the road to Karang Gayam village where Muluk and his followers, in violation of the joint letter Muluk was forced to sign, were holding an event. The protestors demanded Muluk halt all Shi’a activities and relocate away from Sampang.34 In April, the incumbent governor who was running for re-election in the next year held a meeting with various Sunni ulema and agreed to expel Muluk from Sampang.35 While Muluk did relocate to Malang in July, local ulema were not satisfied as his madrassa, Misbahul Huda, was still operating.36 In December, an anti-Shi’a mob led by Rois Hukama, Muluk’s own brother, marched to the house of a Shi’a follower, barricaded the whole family inside, and set the house on fire.37 A week later, a mob of 500 came to Karang Gayam to set the Misbahul Huda, Muluk’s house, and several other Shi’a houses on fire.38 In the aftermath, the police evacuated 250 Shi’a followers to a nearby sports stadium where they lived for the next two weeks.39

Since 2012, hate speech was normalised in Sampang as locals increasingly viewed Shi’is as ‘a disease that must be removed’.40 An mui Sampang representative analogised that Shi’is in Sampang are akin to diabetes that has affected a limb of a person’s body – ‘if not cut off, [the disease] would spread everywhere. And what would be left?’41 Throughout the year, local ulema still campaigned to expel Shi’a further away from Sampang. In March 2012, Muluk was arrested under the 1965 Blasphemy Law and jailed for two years. In August 2012, 500 people stormed a Shi’a village brandishing machetes and throwing Molotov cocktails, which prompted the government to devise a lasting solution to the Sunni-Shi’a tension. One proposal was a plan to transmigrate all Shi’a in Madura to another location.42 In June 2013, the local Sampang government forcefully migrated the Shi’is to an overcrowded housing complex in Sidoarjo, East Java.43

3.3 Hate Speech against Ahok (2016–2017)

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama alias Ahok is Jakarta’s first-ever ethnic Chinese and Christian Governor. He was originally elected in 2012 as the Deputy Governor to Joko Widodo, alias Jokowi, but took over governorship of Indonesia’s capital two years later when Jokowi participated in and won the 2014 presidential election.44 Shortly after Ahok was sworn in as Jakarta’s Governor, the fpi began leading a series of demonstrations arguing that ‘there should not be any leader who is a non-Muslim’.45 This culminated in December 2014, when fpi unilaterally appointed a ‘real’ Jakarta Governor, a Muslim and head of the Jakarta People Movement, Fahrurrozi.46 Despite these demonstrations, however, no organised and sustained campaign of hate speech targeted Ahok during this time.

Such a sustained practice of hate speech targeting Ahok only began in 2016 as he ran for re-election in the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial election.47 In late September 2016, Ahok gave a speech to public officials in Kepulauan Seribu where he briefly mentioned a verse in the Quran, Al-Maidah 51.48 At the time, no one in the audience problematised the speech.49 A week later, a video of Ahok’s speech was edited and uploaded online with the caption of ‘Blasphemy Against Religion?’ – giving the impression that Ahok was accusing Muslim voters that the Quran had fooled them.50 Immediately after the video went viral, an fpi ulema reported Ahok to the police for blasphemy and on 11 October the mui issued an edict stating that Ahok had committed blasphemy.51 One month later, masses protested in front of Jakarta’s city hall chanting ‘Kill Ahok! Kill Ahok!’ arguing that Ahok insulted the Quran and therefore insulted Islam.52

Hate speech against Ahok escalated in November 2016 with the organising of the 4 November (411) and the 2 December (212) demonstrations. Both demonstrations were organised by the National Movement to Defend Fatwas of the Indonesian Ulama Council (gnpf mui), which was led by fpi leader Habib Rizieq, and garnered large numbers of participants from various Islamic organisations – 200,000 during the former and 525,000 during the latter.53 Throughout these protests, participants were heard calling Ahok ‘infidel’ and demanding the government to ‘drag Ahok to court’.54 Both demonstrations were supported by notable political actors such as the former leader of the National Mandate Party (pan) Amien Rais, member of Gerindra Party Fadli Zon, and member of the Social Justice Party (pks) Fahri Hamzah.55 The demonstrations even saw the support of Prabowo Subianto, the leader of the Gerindra Party, who frequently met with a gnpf mui coordinator to discuss the ‘necessity’ of the demonstrations.56

Ultimately, hate speech against Ahok achieved what its instigators wanted. Ahok was tried and, in May 2017, jailed for blasphemy for two years.57 The whole process of the trial was notably marred with irregularities. The court bypassed important procedures to expedite the case and provided a harsher sentence than what the prosecutor demanded.58 Most importantly, the court’s ruling agreed with Rizieq’s interpretation that Ahok’s speech blasphemed the Quran – giving credence to the reason why hate speech was levied against Ahok.59 Additionally, partly because of the hate speech that framed Ahok as a blasphemer, Ahok lost his re-election bid despite his high approval rating. A survey conducted in February 2017 found that although 70 per cent of voters approved of Ahok’s performance, more than half of them would not vote for him because they felt he had offended Islam.60

4 The Generalisable Patterns of Hate Speech in Indonesia

While initial reading of these campaigns would suggest that each of them possessed unique dynamics, a closer look shows that all three had common enabling factors, framing strategies, and lasting impacts. The subsections below will explain these commonalities in detail.

4.1 Common Enabling Factors of Hate Speech

4.1.1 Religious Paradigm Shift

The first common factor enabling all three hate speech campaigns is the rise of a conservative and legal-formalistic understanding of Islam among Indonesia’s Muslim population. Notably, all three hate speech campaigns occurred only after Indonesia experienced what van Bruinessen termed a ‘conservative turn’ – the increasing normalisation and acceptance of conservative interpretations of Islam. While the beginning of such a ‘turn’ was never specified, its manifestation became prominent in 2005 when Indonesia’s major Islamic organisations such as nu and Muhammadiyah began sidelining ‘liberal’ views.61 For example, in Muhammadiyah’s 2005 national congress, none of the organisation’s progressive leaders were re-elected to their board.62 This was because most of the congress’ participants held largely conservative religious leanings. While progressive thinkers within the organisation still existed, they were a minority.

Another notable marker of this conservative turn is the increased number of controversial fatwas the mui issued, such as their 2005 fatwa that declared secularism, pluralism, and religious liberalism to be incompatible with Islam.63 Similar to Muhammadiyah, the turn in mui’s leaning can be attributed to the increasing number and influence of conservative leaders within the mui body. This includes ulema such as Amin Djamaluddin and Abu Deedat who had been active in anti-Christianisation and anti-apostasy movements. Additionally, this shift is also caused by the mui’s need to juxtapose itself against a liberal President Abdurrahman Wahid who wanted to limit mui’s access to government funds.64 Hence, in arguing against President Wahid for the sustainment of their economic capital, the mui body attracted ulema who also opposed President Wahid for his religious leanings.

Scholars from nu refer to this conservative turn as the ‘paradigmatic shift’ – the increase of Muslim masses who changed from having a substantive-inclusive paradigm of Islam to a formal-legalistic one.65 While this shift has been observed since the early 1990s, it started to manifest in behavioural change in the late 2000s.66 Those who adopt the substantive-inclusive paradigm place an emphasis on Islam’s substantive value which focuses on the creation of an inclusive ukhuwah (brotherhood) among fellow Muslims, citizens, and humans.67 In practice, this substantive-inclusive paradigm prioritises the actualisation of Islamic teachings through implementation of Islamic norms, thus emphasising the need to develop grassroots cultural movements as opposed to political movements to practise Islam.

Within the formal-legalistic paradigm, which has gained traction in the past three decades, the emphasis of Islam is located within the strict interpretations of Islamic texts. As some nu scholars pointed out, if interpreted in this way, such interpretations could push Muslims to believe that Islam is the only and most correct religion – inadvertently portraying non-Muslims as ‘enemies’.68 Additionally, this paradigm also emphasises the belief that to protect the sanctity of Islam and fully practise Islam as a whole (kaffah) there needs to be a formalisation of Islamic religious rules within the state body. Consequently, those who carry this paradigm commonly demand the state to legalise and formalise Islam through the creation of bylaws or regulations.

4.1.2 Political Actors’ Support

The second common factor that enabled hate speech campaigns in Indonesia is the prevalence of support from political actors. Notably, all three campaigns were aided by politicians who had electoral incentives to court the support from participating ulema and Islamic organisations. This aid came in various forms, ranging from amplifying the campaign’s hateful rhetoric in their own political platforms, providing operational logistics such as meeting venues or transportation, to initiating bureaucratic procedures which accommodate the policy changes demanded of the campaign. By providing such support, politicians ultimately legitimise these instigator’s credibility and thus embolden their will to continue using hate speech – escalating and normalising hate speech in the process.

In the case of the Ahmadiyya, for example, the reason why hate speech against them only intensified in 2005 was in large part due to sby’s support of mui’s 2005 anti-Ahmadiyya fatwa. In July 2005, sby lent this fatwa credence by opening mui’s National Congress where he told the participants that:

We open our hearts and minds to receiving the thoughts, recommendations, and fatwas from the mui and ulama [Islamic scholars] at any time, either directly to me or the minister of religious affairs or to other branches of government. We want to place mui in a central role in matters regarding the Islamic faith.69

Additionally, sby also legitimised the fatwa by mobilising the government’s institutional resources to accommodate what the fatwa demanded. Responding to the fatwa’s demand for the government to ban Ahmadiyya activities, sby ordered Bakorpakem to further investigate with mui and fpi leaders whether the Ahmadiyya are deviants. The result of the investigation ultimately supported the claims of Ahmadiyya’s deviance and was used as the basis to its eventual ban.70

A key factor in sby’s decision to support mui was his desire to maintain the coalition of Islamic parties that helped him get elected in 2004. Maintaining the support of these Islamic parties throughout his presidential term was particularly important because sby’s political party, Partai Demokrat, was relatively new and could not independently fulfil the necessary vote percentage to propose a candidate in the 2009 election.71 Additionally, courting them as coalition partners would prevent them from becoming potential sources of electoral competition in their own right.72 Moreover, polls and opinion surveys in 2008 showed that sby was losing ground to his one major political rival, former President Megawati Soekarnoputri. Supporting mui’s fatwa became a strategic political calculation that would help him secure the following election.

Similarly, in the Shi’a case, hate speech only intensified between 2006 and 2012 because during this period ulema were given rhetorical and institutional support from local politicians that aimed to court their support in upcoming elections. Particularly important was the support from then Governor of Sampang, Noer Tjahja. Tjahja was keen on supporting Sampang’s Sunni ulema because he was running for re-election in Sampang’s 2012 local election. Courting support from Sunni ulema became a vital strategy to offset Tjahja’s disadvantage as a non-ulema candidate vis-à-vis his rival candidates who did have ulema backgrounds.73

Tjahja’s support of local ulema’s hate speech against Shi’a came in several forms. First, he emboldened the ulema by agreeing to provide a special budget to realise their demand to re-enrol Shi’a children from Shi’a madrassas to Sunni madrassas.74 Second, Tjahja helped Sunni ulema spread their message by overtly using hate speech against Shi’is himself. For example, during a speech celebrating Maulid in February 2012, Tjahja explicitly stated:

If there is a deviant sect here, get rid of them! Get rid of them! I will take responsibility! … This is just like a market, if it doesn’t sell well here, just close the stall… Pak Yusuf [Head of Strategy in Sampang Police] … if they come here please arrest them. If you come here, don’t look after it, get rid of it! … In fact, I can’t stand [this problem] anymore, I swear to Allah, ask Kiai Rois [Hukama] … If I become regent again, [the problem] will be over!75

Third, Tjahja also supported Sunni ulema by pressuring local police to arrest Muluk in March 2012. Amnesty International notes that the local police were initially reluctant to charge Muluk but proceeded to do so after Tjahja pressured them.76

In the case of Ahok, one important reason why hate speech against him gained as much traction as it did was that political actors accommodated the demands of its instigators. This accommodation came in the form of politicians participating in the large demonstrations. For example, as noted above, the 411 and 212 demonstrations saw the participation and overt support of important political actors including Amien Rais, Fahri Hamzah, and Prabowo Subianto.77 For these political actors, supporting the Islamist organisations who were conducting hate speech was seen as necessary to court support for their respective party’s candidate who ran against Ahok in the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial election. Amien Rais even explicitly stated that the Al-Maidah 51 speech provides ‘a momentum given by Allah to the Muslims’ to defeat Ahok in the gubernatorial election.78

Most important to these accommodations, however, was the central government’s decision to give an audience to leaders of gnpf mui. Notably, after the 411 demonstrations, Rizieq and other rally leaders were given an audience with Vice President Jusuf Kalla and other senior ministers. During the meeting, the gnpf mui representative demanded Ahok be detained and, under pressure, the Vice President promised that there would be a decision on Ahok within two weeks.79 Another crucial event occurred when President Jokowi along with, among others, his Vice President, Minister of Religious Affairs, and Minister of Politics and Security, attended the Friday prayer sermon that was held at the end of the 212 demonstrations.80 Although the accommodation by the central government was indeed helpful in diffusing the demonstration and preventing political backlash against President Jokowi, it also lent credibility to the instigators of hate speech.81

4.1.3 Competition for Socio-economic Capital

The third factor that enabled hate speech campaigns is the increased competition between religious groups over access to existing socio-economic capital.82 Evidently, in the three cases, hate speech only began after the instigators perceived that their influence over the local community, which in turn determines the group’s social capital and access to financial donations, was challenged by minorities’ growing social influence or active opposition and criticism of the instigators. While the content of their hate speech suggests that these instigators were only motivated by irreconcilable religious values, the fact that many of these instigators had managed to live side by side with their target for years prior to the campaign – despite their differences – suggests that this was not the case.

In the case of the Ahmadiyya, for example, a rise in virulent hate speech against them was almost directly preceded by a perceived challenge to the social influence of traditional Sunni leaders in Bogor. This perception arises because of the Ahmadiyya organisation’s growing membership within the area.83 Accounts from new members noted that Ahmadiyya’s appeal came from their ability to provide a close-knit sense of shared belonging to its members which in turn enabled them to implement vital redistributive socio-economic activities. This ultimately means that joining the Ahmadiyya faith is often accompanied by overt development of their villages.84 For instance, in Manis Lor village, West Java, acceptance of Ahmadiyya preachers was quickly accompanied by efforts to build houses for new members.85

While at first the Ahmadiyya community grew slowly, their presence became particularly salient in 2000 when Khalifa al Masih, Ahmadiyya’s international leader, visited Indonesia and was received by then President Abdurrahman Wahid. Upon al Masih’s return to the United Kingdom, he said he ‘was convinced that Indonesia would have the largest Ahmadiyya community in the world by the end of the new century’.86 This reaffirmed local ulema’s observations of Ahmadiyya’s accelerating growth in places like Bogor, prompting them to mobilise against Ahmadiyya via the use of hate speech and violence. Similar dynamics also occurred in Cikeusik where local ulema started targeting Ahmadiyya with hate speech because of their fear that, despite the small numbers of Ahmadiyya in the area, jai would potentially be able to recruit poor villagers through material rewards.87

Similarly, hate speech against Shi’is in Sampang was also preceded by the significant growth of Shi’a followers. Since Muluk returned to Sampang from Saudi Arabia in 1999, the number of Shi’a followers in Sampang grew rapidly to an extent that the local Sunni ulema could not ignore.88 In three years, hundreds of villagers became followers of Muluk which, while not amounting to a significant percentage of the population, was a significant acceleration of follower growth compared to the previous two decades of Shi’a membership under Muluk’s father, Kiai Makmun.89 Evidently, local Sunni ulema’s primary demand to the local government was to take back children of Shi’a families who were studying in Shi’a madrassas across Java and enrol them in madrassas led by Sunni ulema.90 As one of them noted, the ulema:

already envisioned the future problem: one Muluk and there is already such a confusion. In ten years from now when people who were schooled at yapi and Pekalongan come back, what would happen then?91

Additionally, hate speech against Shi’is in Sampang was also preceded by a more vocal Muluk. Unlike Kiai Makmun’s activities, Muluk’s sermons introduced new norms that directly threatened the traditional rituals that had become a lynchpin of traditional Sunni ulema’s social and economic influence over Sampang communities. Particularly important was Muluk’s criticism of Sunni ulema’’ Maulid practice.92 Traditionally, during the whole Maulid month, Sunni ulema would move from one house to another as they are invited to give sermons and bless each family’s Maulid celebration event. Many Sunni ulema argue that this institutionalised religious practice is an important means to maintain strong personal interaction with their followers.93 Notably, this practice is also an important means for Sunni ulema to secure economic income, as each family is expected to give the ulema an envelope with money for their sermons, commonly ranging from idr 150,000 to idr 500,000 per envelope.94

Muluk was particularly vocal against this practice. He criticised the Sunni ulema for taking money from the poor in exchange for blessings during Maulid and insisted that such practice be stopped.95 Alternatively, Muluk proposed that Maulid should be celebrated communally in one place – at the mosque. In doing so, families can be relieved of their burdens to individually host celebrations and pay Sunni ulema, allowing them to save more for other important needs.96 By making such criticism, Muluk directly challenged and threatened an important traditional mechanism that upholds Sunni ulema’s social influence and economic well-being.

In the case of Ahok, hate speech was levied against him because his governance limited Islamist organisations’ access towards formal patronage with the local government.97 Since Ahok was appointed as Governor in 2014, the Jakarta government has been increasingly strict against this – largely because of Ahok’s vocal opposition to Islamist organisations. For example, in November 2014, Ahok explicitly called for the Ministry of Law and Human Rights to ban the fpi across Indonesia – hoping that other governors follow suit. He stated in a city hall meeting that,

I have prepared an official letter to the Legal Bureau to send it to the Ministry of Law and Human Rights. I recommend that based on the law, fpi mass organizations be disbanded throughout Indonesia.98

Additionally, Ahok’s governance also planned to stop a crucial financial source of Islamist organisations. In September 2014, Ahok stated that his government would no longer fund mass organisations, including Islamist organisations, through grants and social assistance under Jakarta’s government budget. Specifically, he stated that:

We have agreed that we no longer want to finance mass organizations just to support us. I would rather not be re-elected (to be governor), rather than having to finance (mass organizations).99

More broadly, however, ever since Jokowi’s electoral victory in 2014 Islamist organisations have also been losing access to the lenience of and support from Indonesia’s central government. Under the previous administration, the central government actively supported the legitimacy and logistical needs of Islamic organisations by providing them funds and legal protections.100 For example, sby endorsed and accelerated the deliberation of the anti-pornography bill that, through its Article 21, opened the door for ‘society’ to participate in the law’s implementation – effectively giving legal protection for Islamist organisations if they wanted to ‘enforce’ the law.101 Moreover, starting from 2004, sby provided mui an annual stipend of idr 3 billion and legitimised their role in issuing halal certifications.102

Jokowi’s administration, however, was sceptical of mixing religion and politics. As Jokowi consolidated his parliamentary coalitions and increased his popularity rating in mid-2016, Islamist organisations became fearful that Jokowi’s non-accommodation would continue to a second term.103 By attacking Ahok, who was closely associated with Jokowi, Islamist organisations believed they could rally support against Jokowi’s administration as well. The administration themselves also realised this as they ‘quickly decided that Ahok must be charged and prosecuted expeditiously to lessen the risk of far worse unrest and limit the political blowback against the president’.104

4.2 Common Framing Strategies of Hate Speech in Indonesia

4.2.1 Threat to Survival Narrative

In addition to having common enabling factors, hate speech campaigns in Indonesia also have common strategies in how they frame their hateful narratives. The first common strategy is to frame their hate speech within a ‘threat to survival’ narrative. In all three cases, instigators consistently preceded hateful speech with a portrayal that the vulnerable minorities they target are threatening the survival of the major religious and/or cultural norm. By portraying themselves as the original victims, hate speech instigators are able to justify overt forms of hate speech and call for violence as self-defence – despite doing so in ‘a force far greater than any measurable harm instigated by the original expression’ they claim the vulnerable minorities to have done.105

In the hate speech campaign against the Ahmadiyya, instigators initially portrayed the Ahmadis as a threat to Islam. For example, in Bogor, demonstrations against Ahmadiyya were filled with speeches emphasising how Ahmadiyya wanted to ‘hijack’ and destroy Islam which forced ‘good’ Muslims to exterminate them.106 In Lombok, the Ahmadis were often framed as the enemy of the Islamic faith because they insulted the Prophet Muhammad by recognising Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as a prophet – hence forcing ‘true’ Muslims in Lombok to defend their faith.107 Notably, these offence-taking hate speech narratives were quickly followed by a call for violence as Islamists were able to effectively justify more overtly provocative statements.108 For example, those statements made in fpi rallies and YouTube videos advocating that Muslims ‘must make war on Ahmadiyya, kill [them] wherever they are’.109

The hate speech campaign against Shi’is in Sampang was framed in similar narratives. Particularly prominent was the narrative that Shi’is were heretics who, by subscribing to their belief, theologically threaten the sanctity of the Prophet Muhammad along with his wives and companions.110 More than threatening the sanctity of Islam, however, hate speech against Shi’is also portrayed them as threats to good behaviour in society. For example, Sampang ulema argued that Shi’a promote free sex in the name of nikah mut’ah (temporal marriage contract) framing them as aggressors to the region’s conservative norms.111 Another commonly repeated narrative was that Shi’is are teaching its followers to be liars and hypocrites through its taqiyah (conceal) doctrine.112 This was the narrative that ulema used to explain why Muluk constantly violated his agreement with the local government to stop Shi’a rituals and da’wa.

Hate speech against Ahok was also framed in similar narratives – that Ahok is a non-Muslim who, by commenting on Al-Maidah 51, has insulted the sanctity of Islam and provoked Muslims to respond.113 This narrative was most evident during the 411 and 212 rallies where interviews with its participants found that a significant majority of them participated as a means to ‘defend their faith against insult’ – referring to Ahok’s comments on Al-Maidah 51 – even though most of them did not know the specific details of the case.114 Aside from emphasising Ahok’s religious identity and comment, however, hate speech against Ahok also targeted Ahok’s ethnic identity as a Chinese – appealing to longstanding historical narratives that Chinese Indonesians are a foreign threat to Indonesia’s indigenous ethnicities.115 In the 411 rallies, ulema were heard calling for Muslims to ‘Crush the Chinese!’ and on online platforms, many pejoratively referred to Ahok as ‘Chinese infidel’ or ‘Chinese pig’.116

4.2.2 Leveraging State Regulations

The second common framing strategy used by instigators is to leverage existing laws and government regulations into their ‘threat-to-survival’ narratives. Commonly, this is done by framing vulnerable minorities not only as threats to the majority but also as offenders of particular regulations, thus giving its instigators’ provoked reactions legal legitimacy. This is largely made possible because regulations surrounding speech violations in Indonesia, such as but not limited to blasphemy, defamation, and hate speech, still lack clear definitions. As will be discussed in more detail below, it is this lack of clear definitions that then gives room for various actors to liberally argue that the religious expression of minorities is a blasphemy to the religious belief of the majority.117

In the hate speech campaign against the Ahmadiyya, its instigators constantly leveraged the government’s 1965 Blasphemy Law. For example, between 2005 and 2008 when the mui, fpi, and lppi met with Bakorpakem to advocate for the banning of Ahmadiyya, they explicitly used a 1994 and 1996 legal request that lppi sent to the Supreme Court and the Attorney General to outlaw Ahmadiyya. Notably, these legal requests were based on the 1965 Blasphemy Law.118 When Bakorpakem issued its final assessment on Ahmadiyya and advised the government to ban their activities, its content strongly resembled lppi’s legal requests and made effort to explicitly mention that its assessments were following Indonesia’s 1965 Blasphemy Law.119 Accordingly, when the Joint Ministerial Decree to ban jai activities was issued it was also rooted in the 1965 Blasphemy Law – it was issued as a necessary measure to prevent the misuse and disgracing of Islam.120

Similar to the hate speech campaign against Ahmadiyya, the hate speech campaign against Shi’is in Sampang also leveraged the 1965 Blasphemy Law. The mui Sampang branch, for instance, issued a fatwa in January that described Muluk’s teachings as deviant and thus blasphemous to Islam.121 Not long after, various local government bodies including the police, the military, Sampang’s Governor, and the local prosecutor’s office held a series of meetings with local actors, including the mui Sampang branch, after which they concluded that Muluk’s ‘deviant’ teachings could be prosecuted under the 1965 Blasphemy Law.122 On 16 March 2012, the police charged Muluk for blasphemy and by April found him guilty. Unsurprisingly, the main evidence used by the court to indict Muluk was the fatwas that the mui Sampang branch issued which stated that Muluk’s teachings were deviant.123

The hate speech campaign against Ahok also made a constant appeal to Indonesia’s 1965 Blasphemy Law. By portraying Ahok’s speech as an insult to Islam, Islamist groups could argue that Ahok has blasphemed Islam and therefore should be jailed. The mui’s edict, for example, stated that ‘Jakarta Governor’s statement is categorized as (1) insulting the Qur’an and/or (2) insulting ulama which certainly has legal consequences’.124 Indeed it was this edict that became the basis of the 411 and 212 rallies where many, amidst the use of derogatory languages aimed to vilify Ahok, demanded the government to ‘drag Ahok to court’.125 The propagators of anti-Ahok hate speech also formally sued Ahok under the 1965 Blasphemy Law – a court case that Ahok eventually lost.126

4.2.3 Utilising Online Spaces

The third common framing strategy is the pervasive use of online platforms to amplify offline hate speech discourse. This study used CrowdTangle, a public insights tool owned and operated by Facebook, to analyse online discourse on Facebook relating to vulnerable minorities (a brief methodology is provided in Appendix 1).127 There are two important caveats to note. First, due to the limitation of the tool, the study is only able to track trends of ‘insulting phrases’. While insults themselves are understandably not hate speech, they are a crucial component of hate speech in Indonesia as they are, as noted in the case studies above, commonly followed by more violent rhetoric and actions. Second, due to the lack of accessible data on the overall Facebook population in Indonesia, the study could not control for the increase of Indonesian social media users in the past decade. That said, the trends that the tool highlights are still highly indicative.

By using CrowdTangle, this research found that interactions (i.e., Likes, Reactions, Views, Comments, and Shares) on posts containing insulting phrases to Ahmadiyya, Shi’a, and Chinese Indonesians within public Facebook Groups all increased between January 2010 and December 2020. As shown in Figure 2, most interactions to insulting posts occurred in the second half of the decade: 79.2 per cent of the interactions on posts insulting Ahmadiyya, 67.4 per cent of the interactions on posts insulting Shi’is, and 92 per cent of the interactions on posts insulting Chinese Indonesians. While there was a spike of online interactions on posts that insult Shi’is in 2013, largely caused by the decision of the Sampang government to relocate its Shi’a community to East Java,128 the number is not comparable to the overall number of interactions on posts insulting Shi’is since 2016. The highest number of hate speech interactions occurred in 2016 and targeted Chinese Indonesians. This is understandable as the peak coincided with the 2016–2017 hate speech campaign against Ahok. In this campaign, websites and social media reported to have become one of the main platforms where hate speech was spread.129 Multiple posts and comments were found, commonly labelling Ahok and his supporters as ‘infidels’, ‘Chinese infidels’, ‘infidel pig’, and ‘haram infidel’.130

Figure 2
Figure 2

Number of Interactions on Facebook Public Group Posts insulting: a) Ahmadiyya, b) Chinese Indonesians, and c) Shi’is in Indonesia (2010–2020)

Citation: Global Responsibility to Protect 15, 2-3 (2023) ; 10.1163/1875984X-20230005

This pervasiveness of hate speech in social media is partly caused by the inherent nature of the internet. The unprecedented outreach that social media provides to all its users has enabled instigators of hate speech to reach a wider range of audiences and reduce the cost to spread hate speech.131 Additionally, social media’s algorithmic predisposition to suggest contents that its users already consume has isolated users into their virtual enclaves where hate speech is rarely challenged and is thus normalised.132 On the other hand, this pervasiveness is also caused by intentional actions from hate speech instigators to make use of the internet and social media’s algorithm. One prominent example of this is the creation of cyber troops/armies and the use of ‘buzzer’ companies, such as the Saracen Cyber Team, who worked specifically to manipulate public opinion by amplifying an actor’s online narrative through the use of bots online or strategically framed online articles.133 It was found that near the election, hate speech against Ahok was heavily propagated through anti-Ahok websites that were developed just before the election.134

4.3 The Normalisation of Hate

One last commonality that Indonesian hate speech campaigns share is their wide and long-lasting impact on vulnerable minorities’ rights. Notably, all three campaigns were successful in pushing for regulatory and/or legal action from the state. Their successes in institutionalising their demands have given significant credence to their narratives and ultimately normalised hate towards their target vulnerable minorities long after the campaign themselves have ended and far beyond the areas where those campaigns occurred. Importantly, these lasting impacts are rarely violent in nature – no outbreak of mass violence resulting in large-scale casualties of vulnerable minorities have been reported. That, however, does not mean that these impacts are any less damaging. In all these instances, hate speech’s lasting impact had successfully denied vulnerable minorities of their fundamental rights even without needing to resort to violence.

In the aftermath of the Ahmadiyya hate speech campaign, for example, grassroots coalitions in various district/cities have continued to utilise the Joint Decree on Ahmadiyya to limit Ahmadiyya’s access to public service and close their mosques. In Kuningan, West Java, the local government withheld up to 1,400 Ahmadis’ electronic id cards (e-ktp s) since 2012 because they fear backlash from religious organisations who believe that the Ahmadis have ‘violated the joint decree’.135 Up until 2017, Ahmadis in Kuningan still did not have their e-ktp s, preventing many of them from accessing important services such as education, bank loans, and healthcare.136 These attempts to limit Ahmadis’ rights using the Joint Decree continue today. Most recently, in September 2021, the Sintang Muslim Community Alliance demanded the district government of Sintang, West Kalimantan, to close the local Ahmadiyya mosque – arguing that they would ‘take matters into their own hands’ otherwise.137 Although the Vice Regent of Sintang quickly issued the decree, a mob of 70 people burnt down the mosque soon after, arguing that they were ‘acting on behalf of the Joint Decree’.138

The anti-Shi’a campaign also had lasting impact on its target demographic. The most recent report in 2020 noted that the 350-member Shi’a congregation that was forcefully relocated from Sampang to Sidoarjo in 2013 have yet to return.139 As per the report, the community continues to live in an economically precarious condition as the capital and trade they had built up in Sampang are not applicable in Sidoarjo. Most of relocated Shi’is at the time worked as coconut peelers and were paid idr 40,000 (usd 2.50) per day. While they receive government aid, it only amounts to idr 700,000 (usd 44.50) per person – less than half of the standard cost of living in the area.140 Even when some of the Shi’is are willing to ‘repent to Sunnism’ to return to Sampang, the local Sampang community are still unwilling to accept them. Many still remember the incident in 2012 and believe that ‘Tajul Muluk has blasphemed Islam and insulted the local ulema’.141 Additionally, many in Sampang also still believe that, as propagated during the campaign, Shi’is’ ‘repentance to Sunnism are part of their taqiyah [concealing] strategy to lie to the people’.142

Like the others, the anti-Ahok campaign’s lasting impact is also evident. Most notably, by referencing both Ahok’s Chinese identity and appealing its longstanding historical narratives in their hate speech, the campaign has resurfaced old negative stereotypes of Chinese Indonesians that had, for a time, been suppressed in early 2000s.143 A 2018 survey conducted by iseas Yusof Ishak in Indonesia found non-Chinese Indonesians largely harbour negative sentiments towards Chinese Indonesians – that the latter had too much influence in the economy, had irreconcilable differences with other populations, and would make others uncomfortable if they held a leading political position.144 Additionally, the campaign’s success in jailing Ahok had shown how potent this strategy of framing vulnerable minorities as a threat to Islam is in mobilising the masses.145 Indeed such an attempt to frame Chinese Indonesians as scapegoats to mobilise masses occurred during the May protest over the 2019 presidential election results. During the protests, when demonstrators turned violent and were dispersed by the police, many of them tried to mobilise support by sending misinformation that it was police of Chinese Indonesian descent who were ‘shooting into mosques’.146 Fortunately, this attempt was not successful.

5 The Responses to Hate Speech in Indonesia

5.1 Government Responses

To a certain extent, the government has carried out measures, particularly by issuing various regulations and by strengthening the law enforcement capacities to curb hate speech and its incitement. This section aims to examine these measures, especially the extent to which they are effective in dealing with hate speech.

5.1.1 Regulations

Hitherto, Indonesia has no single law that regulates hate speech and its incitements. Instead, there are at least seven laws and two specific regulations issued by the National Police and Ministry for Information and Communication that address hate speech. However, it is important to note that certain regulations are problematic as they are often used by certain groups or individuals, and law enforcement authorities, as a basis to act against minorities or those who are critical of the government. Furthermore, the newer regulation, the Circular Letter from the Chief Police, that aims to provide a specific guideline for police personnel in dealing with hate speech has instead reaffirmed its broader definition which often blurs the difference between hate speech and other types of speech acts that are less threatening. Penal Code (Kitab Undang-undang Hukum Pidana/kuhp)

In this regulation, two articles, Articles 156 and 157, are particularly pertinent to hate speech. Article 156 criminalises the expression of hatred against the government, while Article 157 mentions the sanctions on the action to spread hatred or to show enmity against a specific group. In conjunction with this, the Penal Code Regulation (Law No. 1/1946), Article 14(1) and 14(2) mentions that whoever deliberately spreads fake news to create disorder in society can be sentenced to up to ten years in prison, while the act of negligence to spread certain information which may be fake is liable for a maximum three-year sentence. Most of the newer regulations still refer to the Criminal Code regarding the sentencing requirement.

Nevertheless, in practice, law enforcement authorities often have mixed responses as they categorise other types of speech, particularly insults against state symbols, agencies, or even criticisms towards state leaders, as hate speech. Table 1 lists articles in the Indonesian Penal Code that are often used interchangeably to address hate speech besides Articles 156 and 157 mentioned earlier.

T1 Anti-Blasphemy Law No. 1 of 1965 (Pencegahan Penyalahgunaan dan/atau Penodaan Agama)

The Anti-Blasphemy Law specifically regulates for the prevention of religious misuse and blasphemy. Article 156(a) forbids actions that express feelings or acts which contain enmity, misuse, or blaspheme against a certain religion. This law has long been criticised by civil society, as it was originally formulated to eliminate the so-called ‘deviant’ streams of the five main religions admitted by the government. As has been explained in the earlier section, this law has been repeatedly used by radical Muslims to attack certain Islamic minority sects, such as Ahmadiyya or Shi’a in Indonesia. Human Rights Law No. 39 of 1999

The Human Rights Law broadly addresses several aspects related to hate speech. On one hand, it guarantees freedom of speech as part of fundamental rights although it should be observed according to certain accepted norms. Article 23(2) mentions that every person has the right to have, express, and spread their opinion based on their conscience, either through speech or written while considering the norms of religion, decency, public interest, and the unity of the nation. Then, Article 44 underlines that every person either individually or in a group has the right to share their opinion, request, or complaint to the government to ensure good governance. Concerning hate speech, it can broadly be interpreted from the text of Article 91(1c). When Komnas ham investigates a reported case of human rights violation, the investigation can be suspended if there is evidence that the report was made based on fake data, or with the intention to defame other people or to create social unrest and public insecurity. In other words, if someone reports a case of human rights violation to Komnas ham, and the report happens to be made with bad intention, including to defame or showing enmity, Komnas ham can stop the investigation. Law No. 12 of 2005 on the Ratification of Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

The Law was created as a consequence of Indonesia’s ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 20 (2) of the Law states that all actions that promote hatred based on ethnicity, race, or religion that contain incitements to discriminate, show enmity or violence are forbidden before the law. Law No. 40 of 2008 on the Elimination of Discriminative Acts

As Indonesia ratified the International Covenant on the Elimination of Ethnic and Racial Discrimination, the Law provides a clear framework for the context of the hate speech act to happen. Article 4(b) includes the expression of hate or hatred against people because of their different race or ethnicity in various forms, whether through writings, pictures, speech, attributes, or real acts of torture, murder, rape, and violation of freedom. Article 6 guarantees that the protection of all citizens from discriminative acts is to be provided by the government, local government, and all people. Then, Article 7 stipulates that the government must protect every citizen who faces discrimination and ensure the law enforcement process against every discriminative act. The law also ensures that every citizen is entitled to receive assistance, solution, and fair compensation. Additionally, it also stipulates that the government also has an obligation to promote efforts to eliminate discrimination including revising or withdrawing discriminative regulations.

Based on the Implementation Regulation for this Law, which is pp 56 (2010), the monitoring function is to be carried out by the National Human Rights Institution (Komnas ham) (elaboration from the Law’s Article 8). Komnas ham is mandated to provide recommendations to local governments and the parliament, and whenever there is an indication of criminal activity resulting from the discriminative act, it should also refer to the national police. Law No. 11 of 2008 on Electronic Information and Transaction

This Law was originally aimed to regulate the use of information technology for electronic transactions for trade and economic purposes, particularly to prevent criminal acts involving misuse of digital information. Nonetheless, this law also regulates electronic information as the conduct of hate speech has been increasingly done through various forms of social media.

Article 27(3) defines one of the forbidden acts as to distribute or transmit electronic information that contains insult and defamation. Then, Article 28 expands the scope to include other activities such as deliberately spreading fake news and misleading information, information that aims to invoke hatred and enmity against individuals and groups due to different ethnicities, religions, races, and classes.

What is problematic with this Law is the fact that it has been repeatedly used by the government, especially the law enforcement authorities, to legitimise arrest against individuals or groups who are reported of insulting or defaming state leaders or officials – despite the fact these individuals might not necessarily represent or belong to an organised political opposition. The revision of the Law – Law No. 19 of 2016 – has retained the problematic article although the maximum penalty has been reduced from six to four years as well as a lesser fine relative to the first version in 2008. Even worse, the revision has given the government more power to monitor the public use of social media, particularly those critical views against it. This can be seen from the additional Articles 40(2a) and (2b). Article 40(2a) stipulates that the government must prevent the spread and use of electronic information that includes content banned by the law. Then Article 40(2b) mentions that for prevention purposes, the government has the authority to cut off access and/or command the electronic system operator to block access to electronic information that contains information banned by the Law. Then, the necessity for a law enforcement authority to secure permission from the local district court before conducting search and seizures against suspected activities as stipulated in Article 43(3) has been eliminated, which hence gives more discretion to law enforcement authorities, making the authorities prone to misuse the power to further silence critics of the government.147

The Law is supplemented by the Implementation Regulation No. 71 (2019) which essentially regulates the obligations of different agencies, both government and private sector, related to the provision and monitoring of electronic information and transaction activities to ensure protection for the public. Law No. 7 of 2012 on Social Conflict Management

While acknowledging hate speech as one of the triggers for escalating social or horizontal conflict, the regulation on social conflict management (Law 7/2012) does not mention hate speech as one of the potential elements leading to a conflict that needs to be mitigated. Instead, the Law only delineates that, as part of conflict prevention, every person must develop tolerance, act and respect freedom of worship, respect differences in ethnicity, language, and traditions, recognise and treat human beings according to their dignity, equality among all people without differentiating ethnicity, blood traits, religion, gender, social status, or skin colour. Circular Letter of the Chief Police SE/6/X/2015 on Handling Hate Speech

Compared to the other regulations mentioned above, this is the most direct regulation addressing hate speech. The Circular Letter aims to provide specific guidance for police personnel to have some basic understanding to be able to handle hate speech acts. The letter acknowledges that hate speech can lead to collective hatred, alienation, discrimination, violence, and even ethnic cleansing and genocide. It specifies various forms of hate speech, namely: a) insult; b) defamation; c) blasphemy; d) unpleasant acts; e) provocations; f) incitements; and g) fake news. Furthermore, it also identifies various aspects that make certain individuals or groups become vulnerable targets of hate speech based on tribal affiliation, religion, religious denomination, belief, race, skin colour, ethnicity, gender, disability, and sexual orientation.

Based on the letter, the national police are obliged to undertake various actions to deal with hate speech. Among others, the national police must utilise its intelligence function as part of early warning and early detection; educate people on hate speech and its negative impacts; and cooperate with key figures in society, such as religious leaders, local leaders, and academics. When finding potential for criminal acts, police have to monitor and detect seeds of conflict, approach the alleged perpetrator, mediate between the perpetrator and victims, and find a solution. When preventive action fails, the police need to enforce the law and refer to the Criminal Code (kuhp), particularly using Articles 156 and 157 related to the expression of hatred and enmity against any of the ethnic groups in Indonesia in public, or Articles 310 and 311 related to attacking someone’s dignity or defamation. Ministerial Regulation (Ministry for Communication and Information) 19 (2014)

The Ministerial Regulation 19/2014 regulates that government, through the Ministry for Communication and Information, can block websites that are proven to publish negative content such as pornography and other illegal activities in which hate speech is included. The action can be undertaken from a report submitted by the public, other ministries, the law enforcement authority, judicial institutions, or other relevant government agencies. As mentioned in Article 10c, reports from the public can be categorised as urgent if the cases are related to individual privacy, child pornography, violence, issues of ethnicity, religion, race, or class (Suku, Agama, Ras, dan Antar-Golongan/ sara), or other content that can cause social unrest. Since 2018, the Ministry has planned to develop specific regulations to monitor fake news and hate speech on social media platforms such as Facebook. However, the plan has not materialised until now as the higher implementing regulation that gives a legal framework for this ministerial regulation has not been signed by the President.148

5.1.2 Institutions

Aside from regulations, the initiative to create a better response to curb the spread of hate speech and incitement, especially in social media, has led to the development of a specific directorate within the national police dedicated to dealing with cybercrime. In 2017, the Multimedia Bureau headed by a one-star police general was established with the main function to provide public education regarding the healthy use of social media. Then, for the law enforcement task, in the same year, the sub-directorate for cybercrime, previously under the Directorate for Economic and Special Crimes of the Criminal Investigation Department was elevated to the directorate level, also headed by a one-star general. These cyber police are primarily responsible to investigate cases of online fraud, publications of provocative content, and pornography. In 2019, the directorate launched the website to provide a platform for the public to report any criminal activities on the internet.

5.2 Shortcomings of Government Measures

To a certain extent, government efforts have indicated its responsiveness to deal with hate speech and incitement. Based on the statistics published by the Cyber Patrol ( from January 2015 to October 2020, there were 7,460 cases of the spread of provocative content (in which hate speech is categorised) out of 20,033 cybercrimes reported to the police. This is a particular achievement for Indonesia as it showcases that relevant authorities have allocated sufficient resources to manage a large number of reports on hate speech. That said, however, some problems have arisen from the implementation of government measures to curb hate speech, which to a large extent have challenged the effectiveness of such measures.

The first problem relates to the loopholes created within these various legislations. Some legislation, such as the Blasphemy Law and the ite Law, has been largely criticised as they are prone to be misused by certain individuals or groups, especially against minority ethnic and religious groups and those who are critical to the government. At the same time, in the Indonesian context, the existing laws and regulations have made hate speech rather a ‘catch-all’ concept, particularly that includes acts of insulting or defaming state leaders, public officials, and state institutions. Thus, the broad definition of hate speech has essentially given room to use the regulations as a legal basis to restrict criticisms or complaints, particularly against the government. This is problematic since it does not meet the key criteria for hate speech in which the target or the hearer should be considered as vulnerable or powerless to defend themselves, which then excludes government or state authorities.149

The second issue is the tendency of law enforcement authorities and judicial institutions to act partially or discriminatively as they preferred to process cases of alleged hate speech or incitement reported by members of majority groups, or those which are perceived as insults or threats against state authorities, symbols, or institutions. Meanwhile, cases that targeted minority groups tend to be ignored or watered down. As shown in the case of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the Governor of Jakarta (2014–2017) – famously known as Ahok – he was eventually sentenced to two years jail based on the allegation brought up by the Islamic Defenders Front (Front Pembela Islam/fpi) of doing blasphemy against Islam, as he misquoted the Quranic verse Al-Maidah 51 during his campaign trail in Kepulauan Seribu in 2016. Yet the leader of fpi, Habib Rizieq Shihab, has never been investigated for conducting hate speech despite numerous evidence to be found in his public speech when instigating massive rallies against Ahok.

This partiality of law enforcement authorities and judicial institutions also affects the victims’ rights to remedies. Indeed, Indonesia has several regulations stipulating the victim’s rights to remedy. Article 7b in Law No. 40 of 2008 outlines the rights of citizens to receive assistance, settlement, and remedies to compensate for the loss and suffering from racial and ethnic discriminative acts. Additionally, Article 18 stipulates that perpetrators can receive an extra sentence to provide restitution and rehabilitation of their victims’ rights. Despite these laws, very rarely do victims in the observed cases received remedies, as most of the discriminative acts conducted by the majority group have not been seriously dealt with by the police or brought to the court. For example, there has been no case where fpi members were ever brought to court for hate speech and attacks. When fpi leaders were detained, it was not done because of hate speech but a violation against the social gathering limitation during the covid-19 pandemic.

Third, the ineffectiveness of preventive measures against hate speech and incitement correlates with the fundamental incorrectness of the government mindset in dealing with the issue of discrimination against minority groups, which prioritises the restoration of public order and creation of social harmony instead of protecting all citizens’ constitutional rights. Hate speech, as argued by Gelber, is a manifestation of systemic discrimination against a certain target group, which is different from the individual expression of dislike or insult against another person. Thus, concerning the second point mentioned earlier, fake news, hate speech, and incitements performed by majority groups against the minority, even to the extent that they have manifested into overt violence were often neglected by authorities and not brought to justice for the sake of maintaining public order and social harmony as shown in the examination of the three case studies. With the promotion of tolerance and the need to ensure public order and social harmony, state authorities underline that minorities should understand and be mindful of their activities among the majority, even to the extent of practising the rituals of their religions or beliefs as an expression of their identity. One extreme case, the banning of the Yasmin Indonesian Christian Church (gki Yasmin) in West Java, showed that the will of the majority even prevails over a formal court decision that ruled that the church has a legitimate permit to operate.150 Meanwhile, the initiative to create a specific Act on Protection for Religious Believers is still uncertain. Thus the government’s lack of decisiveness to ensure protection for religious and ethnic minority groups has created fertile ground for hate speech against them to flourish.

Thus, with the tendency of authorities to broaden and often misuse the definition of hate speech, and their partiality when handling hate speech cases based on restoring order and social harmony, there are certainly gaps to fill in. In this case, the role of civil society, the private sector, and media are crucial, which will be elaborated on in the next section.

5.3 The Role of Civil Society Organisations

Recognising the shortcomings of government responses to hate speech, the role of Indonesia’s civil society, especially those that have actively promoted tolerance and fought against fake news, is vital to ensure effective prevention of hate speech. Civil society organisations’ (cso s) recent engagement has become more robust through collaboration with the private sector, particularly to provide public education to the younger generation as hate speech has been increasingly performed, or for the offline ones recorded and made viral, through online social media platforms. cso s have undertaken various initiatives, such as organising discussion forums, training, and other creative ways, such as story-telling and short movies that can be accessed freely.

One form of initiative is the creation of a fact-checking website. This initiative is currently done by a relatively young but very active cso by the name of Masyakarat Anti Fitnah Indonesia (Indonesian Anti-Hoax Society, mafindo). The cso started as an online grassroots movement in 2015 and subsequently became an organisation in 2019. Its main areas to fight against fake news include providing digital literacy education, creating a website – – accessible for the public to check whether certain news is fake or true, and public campaigns to raise awareness about the spread and dangers of fake news.151 mafindo had launched the website as an online platform where people can check whether certain headline news is true or categorised as disinformation/ misinformation.

A second form of initiative involves digital literacy programs which aim to educate internet users of what hate speech and hoaxes are. For example, mafindo along with the Maarif Institute have a program called ‘Tular Nalar’ which aims to provide digital literacy for teachers and students to empower them in detecting disinformation and misinformation as a source of fake news which is often used as the basis for hate speech.152 In October 2020, Google through its corporate social program donated usd 800,000 to finance it. The Centre for the Study of Islam and Democracy (pusad Paramadina), a think-tank institute based in Paramadina University that focuses more on research and academic forum activities, published a guidebook titled ‘Melawan Hasutan Kebencian’ (Fighting against Hate Speech/Incitement) in 2019. The book was published in collaboration with mafindo to educate the public to have a clear understanding of the definition of hate speech and incitement. The Maarif Institute, for example, in collaboration with YouTube Creators for Change initiated a training ‘#1nDONEsia: Cerdas Bermedia Sosial’ (Indonesia: Smart in Using Social Media) which is aimed particularly to educate young people. As the main users of social media, the youth need to be informed of how to be smart in selecting content as they are prone to be exposed to a variety of negative content on online platforms, including hate speech.153

A third form of initiative is the creation of a tolerant anti-hate speech network. This often involves the creation of a discussion forum among civil society that invites key figures who champion tolerance as part of the effort to fight against hate speech. For example, in April 2019, the Nurcholish Madjid Society, Maarif Institute, Wahid Foundation, Jaringan (Network) Gusdurian, and Terang Surabaya Foundation organised ‘Forum Titik Temu’ in Jakarta to discuss the rising trends of intolerance, religious exclusivity, and hate speech. This event was inspired by the ‘Human Brotherhood’ documents launched following the meeting between Islamic religious leaders, the Pope and hundreds of other religious leaders in Abu Dhabi in February 2019.154 In the case of the Shi’is, the Indonesian Council of Ahlu Bayt Association (ijabi) and Ahlu Bayt Indonesia (abi), the two main Shi’a organisations in Indonesia, were crucial in initiating and coordinating a network of religious pluralist ngo s, Sunni intellectuals, and politicians that would later become crucial in preventing future escalations of hate speech and violence to Shi’is.155 After the first attack against Sampang Shi’is in 2011, for example, ijabi and abi with 46 other organisations coordinated to develop fact-finding teams and identify victims. Additionally, after 2012, abi and other ngo s started building communications with the local ulema and strongmen in Madura with the hopes of countering the socio-political influence that hate speech instigators had over them.156

The fourth form of initiative are capacity building programs aimed at empowering policy-makers’ ability to develop anti-hate speech policies. The asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (aphr), for example, has initiated a project on freedom of religion or belief, jointly undertaken with the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief (IPPFoRB). The project aims to strengthen the capacity of parliamentarians and increase a multi-stakeholder partnership to improve the state of freedom of religion or belief in the region. Under the framework of the project, aphr and IPPFoRB have established a Southeast Asia Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief (SEAPFoRB), which is comprised of 34 parliamentarians and politicians from Southeast Asian countries. SEAPFoRB has undertaken various initiatives to address regional issues related to tackling hate speech, mitigating religious tensions, and legislating religious freedom. The last Annual Meeting of SEAPFoRB in Bangkok in November 2020, for example, discussed matters related to atrocity crimes against the Rohingya in Myanmar; the rise of polarisation in Indonesia and its threat to democracy; the use of race and religion in Malaysian politics; and thorough discussion on the challenges for governments in combatting hate speech without violating fundamental freedoms.157

6 Conclusion

Indonesia is no stranger to episodes of hate speech campaigns. In the past two decades, the country has seen three hate speech campaigns which successfully normalised the violation of the rights of various vulnerable minorities – be it through the issuance of a legal ruling in court or a regulation by government ministries. Importantly, while these campaigns occurred in different locations, across different years, and targeted different groups of people, they share similar characteristics. These campaigns were all enabled by the increasingly widespread influence of conservative religious interpretations, the support of politicians incentivised by political and electoral incentives, and the increased competition between religious groups over common socio-economic capital; they all framed hate speech using a threat-to-survival narrative, commonly leveraged state regulations to justify hate, and made sure to utilise online spaces to amplify their demands; and they all had long-term impact which, despite an absence of mass violence, resulted in the sustained deprivation of vulnerable minorities’ fundamental rights.

While Indonesia has implemented several regulations and policies to prevent and address these hate speech campaigns, existing government measures are still very much lacking. The blurred definition surrounding hate speech that allows groups to misuse Indonesia’s various anti-hate speech regulations, the discriminatory application of hate speech laws, and the public-harmony-mindset the government adopts in dealing with hate speech against minorities all have led to government responses against hate speech that unfairly favour the majority instead of protecting the targeted minority groups. Fortunately, civil society initiatives to tackle hate speech are prevalent with varying innovative ways to address hate speech – ranging from programs that aim to provide inputs to the government to programs directly spearheading preventive and educative measures. As always, to prevent is better than to cure.

These findings paint both a grim and a hopeful future for Indonesia’s handling of hate speech. Notably, the escalation of hate speech campaigns in Indonesia requires, to a degree, elements that are in the control of the government. These include elements such as politicians’ political incentives to support hate speech, which can be adjusted by changing existing election regulation; the ambiguity of blasphemy laws that groups can use to justify hate speech, which could be annulled or amended by the court; or the lax responses by the security apparatus during the onset of hate speech campaigns, which could be changed by changing bureaucratic incentives and providing accurate early warning systems. On the one hand, this supports a recent study on violence and vigilantism which grimly highlights how instead of conducting its responsibilities to prevent violation of rights, the government is directly and indirectly complicit in enabling it.158 On the other hand, however, this also highlights the fact that many elements that leads to the escalation of hate speech campaign are the sort that governments can actionably address. Regulations can be made in place to change electoral incentives, clarify definitions of hate speech, and incentivise a quick security response to hate speech. Unfortunately, whether there is the political will to make those changes, however, is a different puzzle to answer altogether.


This research was conducted when the author was a Researcher in the Department of Politics and Social Change, Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Jakarta, Indonesia.


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The jai is a legal religious organisation acknowledged by the government in their Ministry of Home Affairs Decision No. 75/di/vi/2003 in 2003. See more in As’ad, ‘Ahmadiyah’, p. 397.


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These decrees are issued separately by the Ministry of Religion, the Attorney General, and the Ministry of Home Affairs, under the title Keputusan Bersama Menteri Agama No. 3/2008, Jaksa Agung No. kep-033/a/ja/2006, and Menteri Dalam Negeri Republik Indonesia No. 199/2008, respectively. See International Crisis Group, ‘Indonesia’, pp. 1–2.


The regulation that was issued was the Peraturan Walikota No. 40/2011 on The Banning of Ahmadiyya Activities in Bekasi city. See more in Torhild Breidlid, ‘The Legitimization of Violence against the Ahmadiyya Community in Indonesia’, Kawistara, 3(2) 117–226 (2013), p. 171.


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Panggabean and Ali-Fauzi, Policing Religious Conflicts, p. 107.


KontraS Surabaya, ‘Laporan Investigasi’, p. 4.




ibid., p. 5.


ibid., p. 6.


Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (ipac), ‘The Anti-Shi’a Movement in Indonesia’, ipac Report No. 27, April 2016, p. 16; KontraS Surabaya, ‘Laporan Investigasi’, pp. 7–8.


ipac, ‘The Anti-Shi’a Movement’, p. 16.


Rois Hukama proclaimed that he repented from Shi’ism in 2010 and has ever since become a key actor in Sampang’s anti-Shi’a movement. It was speculated that the fallout between Rois Hukama and Tajul Muluk was caused by a family dispute when Tajul Muluk matchmade a girl who Rois Hukama wanted to marry to one of his Shi’a followers. See more in George, Hate Spin, p. 129; Ahnaf et al., Politik Lokal dan Konflik Keagamaan, p. 20.


Panggabean and Fauzi, Policing Religious Conflicts, p. 111.


ibid.; ipac, ‘The Anti-Shi’a Movement’, p. 17; KontraS Surabaya, ‘Laporan Investigasi’, p. 11.


Panggabean and Ali-Fauzi, Policing Religious Conflicts, p. 112.


ibid., p. 113.


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The prosecutor initially only demanded a one-year suspended sentence. See more in Charlotte Setijadi, ‘Ahok’s Downfall and the Rise of Islamist Populsim in Indonesia’, iseas Perspective No. 38, 2017, pp. 2–7.


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It needs to be noted that there is yet to be a consensus among Indonesian scholars on how to categorise Islamic thoughts in Indonesia. See more in M. Syafi’i Anwar, Pemikiran dan Aksi Islam di Indonesia (Jakarta: Paramadina, 1995).


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These Islamic parties include pks, pan, and ppp. See more in International Crisis Group, ‘Indonesia’, p. 9.


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These rivals include Kiai Fannan Hasib and K. H. Jakfar Sodiq. See more in Ahnaf et al., Politik Lokal dan Konflik Keagamaan, pp. 25–26.


ibid., pp. 24–25.


ibid., p. 25.


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Winarni, Agussalim, and Bagir, ‘Memoir of Hate Spin’, p. 144; Vermonte et al., ‘Gerakan “Hibrida”’, p. 11.


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Socio-economic capital is defined as ‘the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance or recognition … [that is] made up of social obligations (‘connections’), which is convertible, in certain conditions, into economic capital and may be institutionalized in the form of a title of nobility’. Pierre Bourdieu, ‘The Forms of Capital’ in J. G. Richardson (ed.), Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education (New York, NY: Greenwood Press, 1986), pp. 241–258.


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Panggabean and Ali-Fauzi, Policing Religious Conflicts, p. 110.


Maulid refers to the day of celebration of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday.


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Panggabean and Ali-Fauzi, Policing Religious Conflicts, pp. 105–106.


ibid.; Miichi and Kayane, ‘The Politics of Religious Pluralism’, p. 55.


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ibid., p. 13




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Budiwanti, ‘Pluralism Collapses’, p. 13


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The taqiyah doctrine is the practice of concealing one’s belief in order to avoid death or persecution. See more in Ahnaf et al., Politik Lokal dan Konflik Keagamaan, p. 23.


Winarni, Agussalim, and Bagir, ‘Memoir of Hate Spin’, p. 146.


Fealy, ‘Bigger than Ahok’; Vermonte et al., ‘Gerakan “Hibrida”’, p. 13.


Fealy, ‘Bigger than Ahok’.


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ibid., p. 157.


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ibid., pp. 18–19.


These fatwas include the Letter of the Leadership of the Indonesian Ulema Council (mui) of Sampang Regency No. A-037/mui/Spg/I/2012 on the Teachings or Sect of Shi’a Imamiya Itsna Asyariyah and the Fatwa of the mui of Sampang Regency No. A-035/mui/Spg/I/2012 on the Teachings Spread by Tajul Muluk in Karang Gayam Village, Omben District, Sampang Regency, Are Heretical and Misleading, Constituting a Blasphemy and Desecration of Islam. See more in Pengadilan Negeri Sampang No. 69/Pid.B/2012/pn.SPg.


Burhani, ‘Plural Islam and Contestation’, p. 145.


Vermonte et al., ‘Gerakan “Hibrida”’, p. 2.


Winarni, Agussalim, and Bagir, ‘Memoir of Hate Spin’, p. 143.


This study uses a conservative set of ‘insulting phrases’ to collect the data. These include phrases such as ‘Ahmadiyah Kafir’, ‘Ahmadiyah Binatang’, ‘Cina Babi’, ‘Cina Tai’, ‘Cina Anjing’, ‘Syiah Kafir’, ‘Syiah Penyakit’, and ‘Syiah Sesat’. These phrases are chosen because they are the most commonly used phrases to reference the three vulnerable minority groups in this study.


Panggabean and Ali-Fauzi, Policing Religious Conflicts, p. 113.


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Lim, ‘Freedom to Hate’, p. 423.


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Appendix 1. Measuring Online Hate Speech

CrowdTangle is a public insights tool owned and operated by Facebook that enables its users to search posts from across Facebook, Instagram, and Reddit. Additionally, CrowdTangle also gathers information on the number of interactions Facebook users have towards the posts. These include the number of Likes, Reactions, Views, Shares, and Comments. Two important caveats need to be noted. First, CrowdTangle only collects data across public accounts and pages within the CrowdTangle database (for example, Facebook Pages, Facebook Public Groups, public Instagram accounts) – hate speech posts on Facebook users’ private accounts will not show up in CrowdTangle search results. Second, CrowdTangle only collects data of posts that are still available on these accounts and pages – posts that are deleted because they violate Facebook’s hate speech guidelines will not show up in CrowdTangle search results.

As a proxy to rudimentarily measure the volume of hate speech content online against Shi’a, Ahmadiyya, and Chinese Indonesians, the study builds a database of ‘insulting posts’ – posts that contain ‘insulting phrases’ – targeted against each respective vulnerable communities on public Facebook groups. Although only searching insulting posts on Facebook is indeed limiting, this endeavour could still provide a generally representative trend of the volume of hate speech online due to the large number of users of Facebook in Indonesia. A survey by We Are Social notes that per January 2020, Facebook is used by 82 per cent of Indonesia’s population.159 This places Facebook as the third most commonly used social media application in Indonesia after WhatsApp and YouTube – two applications which CrowdTangle does not have capacity to search content in.

The study builds these databases through a two-step process. First, the study collects posts on public Facebook groups by using ‘insulting phrases’ (written in Indonesian language) as outlined in Table A1. These ‘insulting phrases’ are selected because they were the most common phrases used as insults during the hate speech campaigns outlined in the qualitative case studies described above. The study also limits the search to find these phrases in posts using Indonesian language and Facebook groups of all membership sizes. Second, the study manually cleaned the dataset by verifying the context in which these ‘insulting phrases’ were posted. To do so, the study looked into the ‘Message’ and ‘Description’ variables of the constructed database and removed observations in which the ‘insulting phrases’ were not contextualised in a hateful narrative. After data cleaning, the study has collected a total of 2,243 posts.


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