Valentine’s Day too saucy for conservative Indonesians

Love is in the air across the Western world this Valentine’s Day – but the custom has few fans among conservatives in Indonesia, with a local district warning youngsters against celebrating the holiday.

Ade Yasin, the chief of Bogor district near Jakarta, said local youths should not follow their counterparts in the West, the news website Metropolitan.id reported on Thursday. 

“Valentine’s Day celebrations are not part of our culture, so I call on the public not get involved in any activities related to Valentine’s Day,” Ade was quoted as saying.  

The head of the Bogor Council of Muslim Scholars, Mukri Aji, said Valentine’s Day celebrations often promote promiscuity. 

“What is wrong with it is pre-marital sex, prostitution and rampant LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] behaviour, which are violations of Islamic tenets,” he said. 

He warned promiscuity could lead to diseases such as HIV/AIDS or unwanted pregnancies.

Sex out of marriage is seen as unacceptable by many in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.

Valentine’s Day celebrations were banned in several Indonesian cities last year.

But for Huzaemah Yanggo, the head of the fatwa division at the Indonesian Council of Muslim Scholars, Muslims are allowed to celebrate Valentine’s Day, as long as they do not engage in illicit behaviour.

“We as Muslims must show love and we don’t need Valentine’s Day to express our love, for example to our parents,” she said. 

“But as long as it doesn’t violate religious teachings, it should be no problem to celebrate it,” she said.

Instagram takes down gay Muslim comics after Indonesian request

 Instagram has taken down an account that featured comic strips about a Muslim gay man’s daily struggles after Indonesia demanded its removal, the government said Wednesday.

Indonesia’s Communication and Information Technology Ministry said it had sent a letter to Instagram requesting that the account, called @alpantuni, be taken down for lewd content. 

“Instagram complied with the ministry’s request,” the ministry said in a statement. 

Communication Minister Rudiantara had warned that Instagram could be blocked if it ignored the demand.

The account featured 10 comic strips carrying Indonesian text, including one depicting two men having sex. It was accessible until around midnight on Tuesday.

Another post showed the character named Alpantuni being abused by other people for his sexuality.

Instagram could not be immediately reached for comment. 

Homosexuality is not a crime in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, except in Aceh province where Sharia law is in force.

But the gay community have been under increased pressure since 2016 following homophobic rhetoric from officials and conservative Muslim groups amid growing advocacy for sexual minorities. 

In recent years, police have occasionally raided places frequented by gay people and briefly detained them on suspicion of engaging in prostitution and pornographic acts.

Last year, the city of Pariaman in the devoutly Muslim West Sumatra province passed a by-law that imposes a fine of 70 dollars for “homosexual and transgender activities.” 

Leaders in several Indonesian cities have also said they were considering issuing by laws banning homosexual activities.

Papua police apologise for using snake during interrogation

Police in Indonesia’s Papua province have apologised after interrogators used a snake during an attempt to extract a confession from a suspected mobile phone thief, a spokesman said Monday. 

A video circulating online showed police in Jayawijaya district wrapping a snake around the neck of the suspect as they questioned him. 

A policeman could be heard asking the suspect: “How many times have you stolen a cellphone?”.

The man cowered and screamed in fear.  

“Many people saw his action but he didn’t confess, and that made the officer angry,” Papuan police spokesman Suryadi Diaz said.  

“The method is wrong and we have apologized,” he said, adding that one officer had been disciplined.  

Suryadi said the snake was tame and had been kept as a pet at the Jayawijaya police station for some time to scare drunkards, who often caused trouble in the neighbourhood. 

“They usually fled after they saw the snake,” he said. 

A lawyer who advocates for human rights in Papua, Veronica Koman, said police often used snakes while interrogating Papuans, including those arrested for suspected separatist activities.

“Inhumane treatment against Papuans is regularly reported,” Koman said.

“When this snake video surfaced, many Papuans, particularly activists who have been in and out of jail for political reasons, said that they have long known that snakes are being used by police and military,” she said.

A low-level separatist conflict has been taking place in Papua, a predominantly-Melanesian region, since the 1960s.

Security forces have been accused of human rights abuses while conducting counter-insurgency operations. 

More than 250 Bangladesh migrants found crammed inside Indonesian shops

At least 252 “starving” people who identified themselves as Bangladeshi were found in cramped conditions in two shops in Indonesia’s North Sumatra province, an immigration official said Thursday. 

The migrants were “were starving and making a commotion” when found in the provincial capital Medan on Wednesday, North Sumatra immigration chief Icon Siregar said. 

It was not clear if the migrants had come to Indonesia legally or illegally, but told authorities they were looking for work in Malaysia.

He added that it was not clear how long they had been in the buildings.  

“They may have come legally by boat and are waiting to be taken to Malaysia,” he said. “We are still looking for their travel documents.”  

The migrants have been taken to an immigration detention centre in Medan. 

In recent years, boats carrying members of the persecuted Rohingya community in Myanmar have become stranded on Sumatra on their way to a third country.

Since violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in 2012, tens of thousands of Rohingya have left the country by boat. Hundreds of thousands have fled across the border in the last 18 months to Bangladesh, where they are confined to camps.

Russia denies meddling in Indonesian election

Russia on Monday denied involvement in attempts to influence the outcome of Indonesia’s upcoming election, after incumbent President Joko Widodo accused the campaign of opposition candidate Prabowo Subianto of spreading “Russian propaganda.”

The Russian embassy in Jakarta said the accusations of Russian involvement – levelled by Jokowi during a campaign stop in Surabaya on Saturday – had “no basis in reality.” 

“We would like to underline that our principled position is that we don’t interfere in the domestic affairs and electoral processes of other countries, including Indonesia as our close friend and important partner,” the embassy said via Twitter.

During the campaign stop, Jokowi claimed that “there is a campaign team that is spreading what is called Russian propaganda, which involves incessant streams of lies and slander.” 

He was alluding to the controversy in the United States about the supposed Russian interference in the 2016 election using a propaganda model called “the firehose of falsehood.”

Jokowi faces former general Prabowo in the April 17 presidential election in a repeat of the vote five years ago, which the president won by a narrow margin. 

The opposition says the president has a dismal economic record after nearly five years in office and that he is too cozy with China.   

Jokowi has picked conservative Islamic cleric Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate in a move seen by some as an attempt to bolster his religious credentials amid accusations that he is hostile to Muslim political aspirations. 

Staying on the Job Eases the Pain, Cancer-Stricken Indonesian Official Says

The information chief of Indonesia’s National Disaster Management Agency was upbeat on Monday as he described the details of a personal disaster – his battle with an advanced lung cancer.

In a country where volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, floods and forest fires are frequent, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho’s job is considered stressful enough even for a healthy person.

But Sutopo has insisted on carrying on with his day-to-day duties, fielding phone calls and text messages from reporters, as well as hammering out lengthy press releases – often from a hospital while undergoing chemotherapy.

“When I work I forget all the pain, even more so when my press conferences are attended by many journalists,” Sutopo told BenarNews during a visit to his spacious office in Central Jakarta.

His desk is stacked with paperwork and books with themes ranging from disaster management to religion.

“But when I don’t do anything, just sitting, I feel excruciating pain. I can hardly sleep at night,” said Sutopo, who has lost 20 kilos (44 pounds) in less than a year.

Diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in January, doctors said Sutopo, 49, could survive up to three years with treatment. The diagnosis shocked the man who has led a healthy lifestyle, including abstaining from smoking.

“The first thing in my mind was my two children,” he said.

“But I have come to terms with it. What I’m experiencing now has been ordained by God. I just have to live with it,” said Sutopo, a devout Muslim. “I hope that any good deed that I’m doing will be rewarded in the hereafter.”

Sutopo said the cancer had spread to the bones in his back. He has to undergo a regular procedure to remove fluid and blood from his lungs.

“It’s extremely painful,” he said.

On the job

The year 2018 has been an especially busy one for Sutopo, as earthquakes devastated parts of Lombok and Sulawesi islands between July and September, killing more than 3,500 people.

He has had to write press releases and update his social media feeds from his hospital bed.

“I have written about 500 press releases this year, so it’s more than one press release a day,” he said.

A network of local disaster agency officials and volunteers across the country have helped Sutopo by sending information on casualties, aid needs and photos and videos from disaster zones.

“Many of the 3,000 reporters on my list told me that the information I gave them was more than they expected. I try to give them as much information as possible, including videos and photos, so they don’t have to ask more questions,” he said.

Sutopo has an undergraduate degree in geography from Gadjah Mada University and a doctorate in environmental management from the Bogor Agricultural University, but had no background in communications or the media when he took the job.

He started off as a civil servant at the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology, where he did research on hydrology and artificial rain. In 2010, Sutopo was assigned to the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) as director of disaster risk mitigation, before taking the job as its head of information and public relations.

Warding off fake news

Apart from battling cancer, Sutopo said he often had to contend with sifting out fake content disseminated via social media.

Sutopo’s Twitter feed regularly debunks hoaxes and fake news circulating online about disasters, including videos of old volcanic eruptions being passed off as new, and chain messages that warn of impending earthquakes.

“As more and more Indonesians have access to the internet, fake news and hoaxes have become more prevalent in recent years,” he said. “They used to spread only via text messages, but now they become viral via WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook.”

Following a series of eruptions of the Mount Agung volcano on Bali island last year, alerts were raised to the highest level, leading many to put off traveling to Bali, where the economy depends on tourism.

“What I did was post photos showing people doing yoga or pre-wedding photos with erupting Mount Agung in the background, to show that Bali was safe, and only a small area was off-limits,” he said.

“People were scared because media reports made it as if that the whole of Bali was affected by the eruptions,” he said.

However, the internet and social media have also made it easier for him to spread awareness about disaster management, he said.

“Social media has been very effective in amplifying my messages,” said Sutopo, who has written several books about disaster management.

‘Undying spirit’

Sutopo recently benefitted from social media when he met one of his favorite singers.

Twitter users began using the hashtag #SutopoMeetRaisa to draw attention to his wish to meet the Indonesian pop star. The Jakarta Post reported that the pair met recently in a building where Sutopo had gone to do an interview and Raisa was promoting her new song.

Raisa told him to stay healthy and keep inspiring people, Sutopo told the newspaper.

Weeks earlier, Raisa responded to the hashtag with a tweet of her own, the Post reported.

“My Twitter today has #RaisaMeetSutopo all over it. I’ve read all the stories in your tweets, friends, and it made me feel like I’ve known Pak Sutopo for a long time. He’s loved by many. Keep your spirit and keep on inspiring, Pak Sutopo :)”

Sutopo also has the support of Indonesia’s leader.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo called him an inspiration to the nation.

“I appreciate Mr Sutopo’s dedication. And I was made aware about his condition today. His dedication to his work is extraordinary,” Jokowi told reporters after a meeting with Sutopo in October.

“It’s really inspiring to us all that while he is in ill health, he has an undying spirit to do the work that he has been doing for years,” Jokowi said.

The story was first published on BenarNews 

Families of ill-fated Lion Air victims still hope for miracle as DNA tests underway

Toni Priyono Adhi still keeps alive his hopes that his daughter Puspita Eka Putri will pick up her phone and answer his calls, although deep down he knows that it is very unlikely.

Putri, who celebrated her 24th birthday in Oct 26, was one of the 189 people on board the Lion Air JT610 flight from Jakarta bound for Pangkal Pinang in Bangka Island which crashed Monday morning into the sea off Karawang in West Java, about 75 kilometers from Jakarta.

“I just keep praying for a miracle. We keep trying to call her and call out her name in case she replies,” Adhi told journalists at the police hospital in East Jakarta where body parts plucked from the crash site were taken and families of the victims are submitting ante mortem data for identification.

Adhi said it was Putri’s first business trip with a beauty products company, that she joined for a month. Her mother, who identified herself as Nuke, said it was Putri’s first flight by herself.

“We always took flights together. I always picked her up in her campus when she was in college. My daughter, she was really beautiful. God had entrusted her to me,” said a visibily shaken Nuke as she held up her daugther’s picture and kissed it.

IMG_20181030_134635
Nuke showed the photo of her daughter, Puspita Eka Putri at the police hospital in East Jakarta where she and her husband submitted ante mortem data for Putri’s identification on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018. (Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata)

Imbalo Sakti remembers her brother-in-law, Capt. Musa Effendi as a kind-hearted man whom the family members looked up to.

Sakti said that Effendi, who worked as a portmaster in Muntok port on the western part of Bangka Island, was on his way for a meeting in Pangkal Pinang.

“He had traveled from Medan, North Sumatra, where he had attended a Quran recital in his hometown to give thanks for he and his wife’s safe return from the Hajj two months ago,” Sakti said.

Since there is no direct flight from Medan to Pangkal Pinang, which are about 1,000 kilometers apart, he had to fly to Jakarta and take a connecting flight to Pangkal Pinang.

“My daddy has been posted in Bangka Island for two years. He spent the night at a transit hotel in Jakarta’s airport and took the morning flight to Pangkal Pinang,” Effendi’s daughter Dwi Ratna said.

Anugrah Satria, a frequent Lion Air flyer, said he met Alfiani Hidayatul Solikah during his flights and became friends with the 19-year-old flight attendant.

“It was her first job and it was her wish to become a flight attendant. I met her on one of her first flights as a stewardess on a flight from Jakarta to Yogyakarta,” Satria said.

“She was always nice to passengers, and smiled a lot. She never complained about her job,” Satria said.

The captain pilot of the brand new Boeing 737 MAX 8 plane, which had only 800 flying hours since its initial operation on Aug 15, was an Indian from New Delhi, Bhavye Suneja.

Media reports said he was a trainee pilot with Emirates before joining Lion Air in March 2011.

The Indian Embassy in Jakarta confirmed the pilot’s nationality in a tweet, saying that “most unfortunate that Indian Pilot Bhavye Suneja who was flying JT610 also lost his life…Embassy is in touch with Crisis Center and coordinating for all assistance.”

A number of Indonesian officials were also on board the flight, with the Finance Ministry having lost 21 officials, out of whom 12 were from the tax directorate general, who were on commuting back to their post in Pangkal Pinang.

Finance Minister Sri Mulyani visited police hospital and met with the grief-stricken families of her staff on Monday night to console them.

The ministry’s head of communications, Nufransa Wira Sakti, said in a statement that they were officials at the ministry’s Pangkal Pinang office.

“They were heading back to their work after spending the weekend to attend a ministry event on Oct 27 and to attend a coordination meeting, while also spending the weekend with their families in Jakarta,” Sakti said.

Also among the victims were three police personnel from Bangka Belitung police, three staff from the oil and gas directorate general of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, 10 staff from the State Audit Agency, six regional lawmakers of Bangka Belitung province, and four employees of the state-mining company, PT Timah.

Following the crash, Australia issued a warning to ban all Australian government officials and contractors from flying Lion Air or their subsidiary airlines and the decision will be reviewed when the findings of the crash investigation are clear.

Lion Air2 (1).jpg
Police forensic team lay out debris recovered from Lion Air JT 610 crash site at the Tanjung Priok port on Tuesday, Oct 30, 2018 (Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata)

As of Tuesday afternoon, search efforts to collect debris from the plane are still under way with vessels sailing back and forth to Jakarta’s Tanjung Priok port to drop bags containing plane debris and body parts the search and rescue teams collected from the crash site, while police forensic teams continued sorting out the debris and personal belongings of the passengers on the dock.

The search and rescue agency’s deputy director for operations, Nugroho Budi said they have sent 13 body bags to the police hospital from Tuesday’s operation and found 52 national identity cards.

“The search and rescue team will expand the search area to a radius of 15 nautical miles from the crash site,” Budi said in a press conference.

Head of medical and health of the national police, Arthur Tampi, said the forensic team had examined 24 body bags and identified 87 body parts.

Tampi added that they had not been able to identify any of the victims as they received only body parts and none of the bodies were intact.

“The bodies have deteriorated in pieces and some of the bones were loose. I even saw parts of an infant body in one of the body bags,” Ari Dono, deputy of the national police chief said after an inspection to the police hospital morgue.

The story was first published in Arab News