Jakarta grapples with spectre of anti-Chinese riots

Updated On: Nov 04, 2005

Jakarta – Even as the shadow of a major terrorist attack continues to loom large, the Indonesian capital is bracing itself for another kind of major trouble: Racial riots. The latest fear was sparked by a flurry of anonymous text messages sent to many ethnic Chinese Indonesians in Jakarta, threatening them with brutal murders and rapes after the Hari Raya Aidilfitri holidays. The messages, which had been circulating for a week, were sent from unregistered cellular pre-paid numbers.

     In a sign of how seriously his government is taking the hate messages, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has ordered his security agencies to step in and investigate. 
     "Such slanderous, hate-filled SMS messages cannot be tolerated … The President has urged police to investigate and take action," said presidential spokesman Andi Mallarangeng on Nov 2.   
     The senders of the hate messages can be charged with spreading malicious rumours and disrupting public order.    However, Mr Andi conceded that the police and the National Intelligence Body (BIN) might face an uphill task in tracing the senders since the pre-paid cellphone cards were not registered.
    The lengthy text message, peppered with vulgarities, accused the Chinese Indonesians of being "robbers of Indonesians' money" and the "number one enemy of the Muslims". The SMS then goes on to threaten the Chinese with death and rape after the Aidilfitri holidays, which end next Tuesday. It closes with the phrase "God is Great".
     One Chinese Indonesian, Ms Lanny, said of the SMS: "It reminded me of those flyers and email containing similar warnings that were circulating months before the May 1998 riots. We didn't take it seriously then, but it happened." At least 500 people died in the riots.
     Mr Din Syamsuddin, chairman of Indonesia's second-largest Muslim group Muhammadiyah, held a meeting with the Chinese and Christian leaders on Nov 1 in a bid to calm the worried community. 
     He said: "I am certain this is a provocative attempt to disrupt religious harmony and the nation's unity. We called on the nation not to be provoked."
     Chinese Indonesians make up less than five per cent of Indonesia's mostly-Muslim's 224 million people. However, the Chinese control more than half of the country’s economy – making them an easy target of resentment during hard times.  

* Chinese Indonesians get hate text messages (The Straits Times, Nov 3)