Pit Schultz on Mon, 1 Jun 1998 20:58:37 +0200 (MET DST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Indonesia revolt was Net driven


Indonesia revolt was Net driven
By David L. Marcus, Globe Staff, 05/23/98

WASHINGTON - As rebellions broke out across Indonesia this month,
protesters did not have tanks or guns. But they had a powerful tool that
wasn't available during the country's previous uprisings: the Internet.

Bypassing the government-controlled television and radio stations,
dissidents shared information about protests by e-mail, inundated news
groups with stories of President Suharto's corruption, and used chat
groups to exchange tips about resisting troops. In a country made up of
thousands of islands, where phone calls are expensive, the electronic
messages reached key organizers.

''This was the first revolution using the Internet,'' said W. Scott
Thompson, an associate professor of international politics at the
Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Thompson, like
many academics who follow developments in Indonesia, kept track of the
dissidents' communications with one another from thousands of miles

New technologies have changed the ways the world learns about a
fast-changing political crisis. As Chinese troops quashed a democracy
movement in Tiananmen Square in 1989, the dissidents communicated with
the outside world by fax, and TV networks used satellites to send out
chilling footage. The same year, thanks to West German television, many
East Germans learned that the Berlin Wall was being toppled.

Details of a Russian coup in 1991 spread by fax and a primitive version
of the Internet, and a year later CNN sent images of a military uprising
in Thailand around the world.

Thanks to the Internet, Thompson said, Indonesian activists circumvented
press censorship. In one chat group, he said, participants circulated
inspiring accounts of the 1986 ''peoples' power'' rebellion in the

Some of the messages simply gave encouragement. Last week, in an America
Online chat group about Asia, a correspondent nicknamed ''Asia Son''
urged Indonesians to keep denouncing President Suharto's corruption and
cronyism. ''One or two people saying that [are] easily dragged away and
silenced,'' Asia Son wrote. ''One or two million doing it is not so

The same day, in broken English, another correspondent urged looters not
to pick on Indonesia's ethnic Chinese minority: ''Why are they always
the victim when there is a riot? ... All they do is make a honest
living. They work hard and when you worked hard you deserve success.''

As Indonesia heated up this week, Abigail Abrash, an Asia specialist at
the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights in Washington,
stayed in constant touch with friends in Jakarta and other Indonesian
cities. She sent them summaries of the American news coverage of the
uprisings. Abrash received front-line reports from students occuping
Indonesia's parliament building. From what she read, it seemed that
someone brought a laptop inside and went on line while surrounded by
armed troops.

''In a country that's as far-flung as Indonesia, the Net has meant that
people have been able to communicate at a time like this,'' she said.

In Indonesia, with more than 17,000 islands, calling from one place to
another costs as much as $1.50 a minute, a considerable amount in a
country reeling from a recession. The Internet often costs much less. On
a trip by boat two years ago, Abrash was amazed to find that even remote
towns in Indonesian Borneo were ''wired.''

In the past few years, dissidents in Burma, Nigeria, Cuba, China, and
other countries have relied on the Internet, but access there is
restricted to relatively few professors, researchers, high-level
government workers, and employees of multinational businesses. In
Indonesia, the Internet is especially popular among students - the group
that took to the streets and was instrumental in forcing Suharto to
resign Thursday.

''With the Internet, people in the country can get information out for
support, and they can also use the network to communicate with each
other in the country and build a body of knowledge about activities in
the country,'' said Stephen Hansen, a human rights specialist for the
American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington.

Diana Lady Dougan, chairwoman of International Communications Studies at
the Brookings Institution in Washington, said some of the Internet's
advocates tend to overemphasize its significance in Indonesia. ''The Net
was an escalating factor there, but I don't think it changed the
outcome,'' she said. ''It fast-forwarded things.''

Indonesian activists suspect that their phones are tapped, and some
worry that their e-mail is monitored, too. Several have developed
systems of encryption with their American colleagues, but they refused
to describe their methods.

On Thursday, the Internet enabled human-rights groups in Indonesia to
warn colleagues in Europe and the United States that military troops
threatened to imprison Muchtar Pakpahan, a hospitalized dissident.

The US groups contacted Capitol Hill, where Representative Bernard
Sanders, a Vermont Independent; Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat;
Christopher Smith, a New Jersey Republican; and seven others wrote to
Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright asking for help.

Soon after, the US Embassy in Jakarta sent a representative to
Pakpahan's hospital room as a signal of support. ''The responsiveness is
unbelievable - we have people on the ground who e-mail information, then
we can react right away,'' said Brendan Smith, a legislative aide to

Yesterday, troops took away Pakpahan, but at least the US Embassy was a
witness, Smith said. Congressmen are continuing to protest.

Radio Free Asia, which the US government has used to broadcast
pro-democracy messages, can be heard in China, Laos, Vietnam, and Burma,
but not in Indonesia, long regarded as pro-American. Catharin Dalpino,
who was the State Department's top officer for democracy, said the US
government needs to more aggressively use interactive technologies such
as the Internet while relying less on traditional media such as radio.

''Nowadays, a so-called democracy program should lead to something
instead of people just sitting in their living rooms saying, `Oh, that's
interesting,''' said Dalpino.

This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on 05/23/98.
#  distributed via nettime-l : no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a closed moderated mailinglist for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: majordomo@desk.nl and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  URL: http://www.desk.nl/~nettime/  contact: nettime-owner@desk.nl