Cyber Terror, the Academic Anti-corruption Movement and Indonesian Democratic Regression.

AuthorWijayanto, Fiona Suwana

As the world's third-largest democracy, Indonesia has been touted as a role model for democratization. (1) However, much of the recent literature suggests that Indonesia's democratic gains have been gradually reversed, a situation which has been variously described in terms of "democratic setbacks", (2) "democratic regression", (3) "democratic deconsolidation", (4) "democratic decline", (5) "democratic backsliding", (6) "democratic recession" (7) and the "recession of democracy". (8) Eve Warburton and Thomas Power define democratic decline as a slow process characterized by a situation in which political actors slowly turn away from democratic values and institutions. (9) Although this decline does not always lead to authoritarianism, democratic decline can lead to mixed political regimes that are neither fully democratic nor fully dictatorial, such as illiberal democracies or competitive authoritarian systems. Two of the most important indicators of the decline of Indonesian democracy are the narrowing of the public space and the ongoing erosion of civil liberties. (10)

In the first 15 years following reformasi, from 1998 to 2013, Indonesian democracy showed substantial progress in areas such as freedom of expression and association, freedom of the press, and political rights and participation. However, the US-based democracy watchdog Freedom House started to warn of Indonesia's democratic backsliding in 2014, downgrading the country from "Free" to "Partly Free". (11) In 2019, it dropped Indonesia's freedom score from 62 to 61 due to the increased curtailment of civil liberties and political rights. (12)

The relationship between the Internet and democracy is not static, but influenced by social and political contexts. Just as a thoroughly liberal and ideal democracy must be understood as an ongoing process, Internet freedom in Indonesia is also dynamic. Not long ago, the Internet and digital media were powerful tools for activism and mass mobilization. (13) In Indonesia, some researchers have also examined the role of digital media in political activism and participation. (14) In many cases, digital activism has also provided a means for citizens to articulate their voices. Moreover, citizens do not only access information resources through digital media, but they are also able to mobilize information and society to support their activism. Examples of online activism campaigns that targeted the government include Kawal Pemilu, (15) and the For Bali Movement. (16) However, more recently, the Internet has been harnessed as a medium to suppress social activism. While several studies have explained the link between cyber attacks and repression in Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, (17) Myanmar (18) and Malaysia, (19) no studies have explicitly focused on the strategy of using "cyber terror" to further narrow the digital public space and weaken civil society movements. This article analyses how "cyber terror" attacks significantly weakened an academic anti-corruption movement in Indonesia. It relies on in-depth interviews with 16 anti-corruption activists who were members of a national academic movement that campaigned against the bill to revise Law No. 30/2002 in 2019, which would have weakened the Corruption Eradication Commission [Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi, or KPK). It is supplemented by digital ethnography conducted by the article's first and third authors, who observed the online discourse over the revisions to the KPK Law.

The academic anti-corruption movement emerged after the legislative lower house, the People's Representative Council of the Republic of Indonesia [Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat Republik Indonesia, or DPR), sought to pass revisions to the KPK Law in 2019. At its peak, the movement consisted of 2,594 lecturers at 41 universities in 22 out of the country's 34 provinces. In their role as activists, the academics were essential in sustaining the broader, popular anti-corruption movement in 2019, especially after the police killed two student protesters in the city of Kendari. (20) The academic movement proved to be an obstacle for corrupt political actors who were seeking to weaken the KPK. In this regard, the ensuing cyber terror campaign can be considered a reflection of two fundamental problems within the contemporary Indonesian political system: the increasingly corrupt practices of Indonesian politicians on the one hand, and the growing political repression of dissent on the other.

Aside from the introduction and conclusion, our main analysis is presented in five sections. The first outlines the core concept of "cyber terror". The second provides context for the cyber terror attacks perpetrated against civil society activists in Indonesia. The third explains the rise of the academic anti-corruption movement and its underlying motivations. The fourth focuses on the emergence of cyber terror as a response to the academic alliance, its modus operandi, its psychological impact on the academics targeted, and its eventual impact on the movement itself. The final section explains the underlying political interests behind the cyber terror attacks and identifies the kind of groups that conduct these attacks.

What is Cyber Terror and How Does it Affect its Targets?

The concept of "cyber terror" has been developed over more than a decade. Initially the term referred to the traditional terror attacks carried out on crucial technological infrastructure to create extreme adverse effects, such as manipulating food and drug manufacturing, sabotaging power plants to create explosions or interfering with air traffic control. (21) However, more recently, some academics have broadened the definition to include digital attacks in the pursuit of certain social and political goals that leaves a detrimental psychological impact on their targets. (22)

This evolving notion of cyber terror attacks emphasizes the political and/or ideological motivations underlying the attacks, and the intention to provoke fear and intimidate their targets. (23) As Gabriel Weimann argues, cyber terror attacks must include "a 'terrorist' component", in the sense that the "attacks must instill terror as commonly understood (that is, result in death and/or large-scale destruction)" and "have a political motivation". (24) Myriam Dunn Cavelty echoed these themes in defining cyber terror as "cyber-incidents ... mounted by sub-national terrorist groups... aimed at parts of the information infrastructure, instill terror by effects that are sufficiently destructive or disruptive to generate fear, and must have a political, religious, or ideological motivation". (25)

More importantly, Eric Luiijf argues for an expansive understanding of cyber terrorism, identifying it in terms of any "deliberate act or threat with illegal actions--either by a single person or in conspiracy--against the integrity, confidentiality and/or availability of information, and of information processing systems and networks" resulting in:

one or more of the following consequences: suffering, serious injuries, or death of people; serious psychological effects to people and the population; serious, societal disruptive economic loss; serious breach of ecological safety; serious breach of the social and political stability and cohesion. (26) For Luiijf, a digital attack can be considered as "cyber terror" if it inflicts serious psychological effects on the population or harms socio-political stability and cohesion, even if no one was killed. This study follows Luiijf's definition when identifying cyber terror attacks and explaining how they have been perpetrated against Indonesian academics. (27) In addition, it also subscribes to the aforementioned literature in viewing cyber terror as digital attacks which carry a political agenda.

Cyber Terror and the Narrowing of Digital Public Space in Indonesia

The study of cyber terror attacks against anti-corruption activists from academia in the KPK case is crucial in the context of the narrowing of digital public space in Indonesia. Though the Internet was initially heralded as an effective platform for civil society to advance civil and political rights, there has been a narrowing of the digital space in Indonesia in recent years. Four developments have contributed to this outcome.

The first is the criminalization of online activism and criticism of the government under the Information and Electronic Transactions (ITE) Law, which was enacted in 2008. The Indonesian advocacy organization SAFEnet has noted that 287 criminal cases have been brought against citizens, journalists and activists under the law between 2008 and 2019, with 24 cases in 2019 alone. (28)

The second is the government's decision to suspend Internet access in the name of security in 2019. The first suspension was in the aftermath of the May 2019 presidential elections. From 22 to 24 May, the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology (KOMINFO) blocked online connectivity to prevent the spread of fake news and avoid unrest, following civil protests against the election results. (29) However, even though the demonstrations mainly occurred in fakarta, the suspension was implemented across Indonesia. The second suspension occurred in August 2019 in Papua and West Papua, on the pretext of reducing the then-escalating separatist tensions in those provinces. A month later, another Internet block was imposed in the Papuan cities of Wamena and Jayapura from 23 to 29 September in a move to stem the spread of hoaxes and civil unrest. (30)

The third is online censorship in the form of government-mandated closures of certain websites without legal due process. Soon after KOMINFO promulgated this policy in early 2019, thousands of sites deemed to contain pirated material were closed. (31) Previously, the government had also closed dozens of websites that were considered to contain provocative or radical content. (32) Unfortunately, these...

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