Eka Nugraha Putra
For the past few weeks, several murals, located in several cities in Indonesia, went viral after the messages were considered unlawful for various reasons. These ranged from painting a mural without a permit to painting content considered to be defamation to a state symbol (the President). The mural incidents became viral not only due to the message in them - “God I’m Hungry” and “404: Not Found” on Jokowi’s face - but also due to how the law enforcement agency reacted to those street art pieces.
According to how the police and the government reacted to the viral murals, it seems like there are two big concerns regarding the murals. The first one is the disorder, evident in the statement from Faldo Maldini, a special staff member of the Indonesian Minister of State Secretary. Faldo said that the mural was drawn without permission.
This is what happened, not only in Tangerang, where the police eventually decided that there were no criminal act elements in the mural’s creation, but also in Pasuruan, East Java. The mural in Pasuruan said, "Forced to be Healthy in a Sick Country". A few days after going viral, the mural was erased due to the provocative message and the idea that it disturbed the public order, according to the local police.
On another mural in Ciledug, it was written “The Real Plague is Famine.” This mural was also erased due to the reason that it was created without any permit and it violated ethics.
The police must keep the public order, and the way they respond to the murals might seem reasonable. However, the real question is: could a mural lead to potential crime?
The Broken Window theory, a criminological theory introduced by James Wilson and George Kelling, indeed explains that anti-social behaviour and civil disorder could encourage more serious crimes. The murals might show disorder in regards to urban planning, and they were also seen as a form of disorder by the government, yet the message in the aforementioned murals were expressing restlessness. Instead of provocation, those were the true concerns of the public in this pandemic. A study in Chicago, conducted by Robert Sampson and Stephen Raudenbush in 2001, analyzed the link between disorder and serious crime. Although the study mentioned the assumption of social and physical order and the connection to the broken window theory in crime control policy, the researchers found that disorder does not directly promote crime. Interestingly, another study entitled “The Effect of Murals on Personal Crime and Fear of Crime”, conducted in Malaysia back in 2016, found that the art of murals is believed to prevent crime. Since crimes occur in the back alleys or unused areas, the existence of murals provides a sense of safety for the citizens, as the areas with murals tend to be more active and reduce the potential occurrence of crime.
Crime and disorder stem from structural poverty, which, in the context of the pandemic, is occurring even more acutely.
According to the data by the Central Statistics Agency (Badan Pusat Statistik-BPS) that was released earlier this year, the poor population in Indonesia increased by 27.55 million people (10.19 %) in September 2020. The number increased from 1.13 million people (0.41 %) at the pandemic’s onset in March 2020 and 2.76 million people (0.97 %) in September 2019.
The BPS researchers also said that the significant spike in the poor population was affected by the lax policies in place since the first case of COVID-19 in Indonesia, and the country would need a long time to recover from such circumstances.
Unfortunately, the government still focusing on what they called “civilized” criticisms. Thus, the second concern surrounding the murals is about defamation, instead of conveying the real message of the art. Expressing something through art is still considered to run against the moral values of the public, even defaming the President.
While the President has stated a few times that he is open to criticism, the opposite facts have occurred. With the murals, it is becoming clear that our space to express our concern is getting tighter and tighter.
In February, when he was encouraging the amendment of the ITE Law known for curbing free speech, President Jokowi said that he asked people to be more active in criticizing the government. The President emphasized that criticisms will result in better public service. The same message was also projected in June, after the viral poster "Jokowi: King of Lip Service" circulated, but this time the President reminded everyone that a polite manner is required while giving criticisms.
All those statements contradict how the President's administration has reacted. The “404: Not Found” mural was eventually free of criminal charges, but the initial actions indicated that there were attempts to curb citizens’ rights to express themselves.
The police said that the “404: Not Found” mural is defaming the President as the state symbol. There are two incorrect facts about this statement: first, according to Article 1 Section 3 the State Flag, Language, Emblem and National Anthem Law Number 24 of 2009, the Indonesian state emblem is the Garuda Pancasila, not the President. Second, the laws of defamation towards the President are no longer constitutional, according to the Constitutional Court judicial decision made in 2006. In the same judicial decision, the Court also suggested that Article 207 in the Criminal Code should become a complaint-based crime instead of a general crime.
In a related event to the “404: Not Found” mural controversy, an artist in Tuban, who posted on his Facebook that he will produce “404: Not Found” shirts, has been arrested. Before he was eventually freed, local police stated that his Facebook post was allegedly a form of online hate speech.
An online post about mass production of the "404: Not Found" shirt was considered hate speech, while the mural itself was accused of projecting defamation towards the President. This shows the inconsistency of determining free speech and its limitations. Even after the Joint Decree that signed by the Ministry of Communication and Information, the General Attorney and National Police Chief of the ITE Law Guidelines (SKB UU ITE), determining free speech limitations has still been a problem for law enforcement agencies. This has affirmed that total revisions to the draconian laws, including the ITE Law, should be undertaken.
With the problems rampant in the policies enacted to cope with the COVID-19 situation, those murals have come to make much more sense. If there is disorder, it is how the government treats the pandemic lightly and makes people voice their concerns in this way. The mural was chosen so that people can raise the issue: the Internet is no longer a safe place since the ITE Law amendment plan only resulted in guidelines rather than a total revision, which spurred the government to form the virtual police.
The initial reaction reemerges debates surrounding censorship and banning expression with an unclear scope, as in the the new order (orde baru) era. Among all things, what is more ironic about these mural “incidents” is that it raises the question: where should people complain? Neither internet nor the streets are allowable places to complain, and even the “God I’m Hungry” mural, a message to God, is considered problematic. It seems like we no longer have a place to complain!
Badan Pusat Statistik, Profil Kemiskinan di Indonesia September 2020, No. 16/02/Th. XXIV, 15 Februari 2021.
Robert J. Sampson and Stephen W. Raudenbush, Disorder in Urban Neighborhoods-Does It Lead to Crime?, National Institute of Justice Research in Brief, Feburary 2001. The Indonesian Constitutional Court 013-022/PUU-IV/2006. State Flag, Language, Emblem and National Anthem Law Number 24 of 2009.
Siti Rasidah Md Sakip, Azrul Bahaluddin, Khalilah Hassan, The Effect of Mural on Personal Crime and Fear of Crime, ASEAN-Turkey ASLI (Annual Serial Landmark International) Conferences on Quality of Life 2016.