Indonesia: Animal Activist Detained for Critical Facebook Post

Singky Soewadji

Notable animal rights campaigner Singky Soewadji was detained after a two year investigation into a letter published on Facebook in 2014. In it, he accused multiple members of the Indonesia Zoo Association of corruption in removing 420 animals from Surabaya zoo. The zoo, which itself has come under much criticism in recent years, has come to be known as the ‘Zoo of Death’.

In the heartfelt letter to Dr. Ir. Siti Nurbaya Grill, Minister for Environment and Forests, Mr Soewadji laid out in detail what he felt to be irregularities with the recent animal transfers. He expressed his belief that, amongst other infractions of government regulations (No.8 / 1999 on the Use of Wild Plants and Animals), animals had been moved without the express permission of the president, as required, or exchanged for goods and money, contrary to article 33.

Soewadji’s letter was reported to the government by the Indonesia Zoo Association, and he has now been detained under Indonesia’s Electronic Information and Transaction law, which deals with potentially slanderous or defamatory material. Officials have said that he will remain detained until the 14th of September to help ‘facilitate investigations’. If convicted, Soewadji faces up to five years in prison.

In statements regarding his arrest, Mr Soewadji was quoted as saying:

“It’s not like I’m arrested for committing a crime, but because I am standing for what’s right… I am fighting for the truth”

In two 2014 cases similar to Mr Soewadji’s, a blogger and a criminologist were threatened with police action for accusing prominent officials of corruption. In the case of the blogger, this ended in a one-year probationary sentence.

According to the Freedom House’s Freedom of the Net Report for the year 2015, Indonesia is marked ‘Partly Free’. Social media apps and political/social content are reported to be blocked, including the video-sharing platform Vimeo that was officially blocked in May 2015. Under a Ministerial Regulation on ‘negative content’, websites can easily be blocked by officials. Additionally, bloggers are being subjected to arrests. Reportedly, at least five bloggers were jailed in Indonesia under the state’s Information and Electronic Transactions Law.

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