A guide to internet censorship in Indonesia – And how to unblock websites with an Indonesia VPN

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Internet access in the world's third largest democracy has improved dramatically over the last few years, shooting from under 30% in 2013 to 53.9% in 2019. Indeed, the sheer size of Indonesia's population means that it now ranks fifth in the world in terms of total internet users. Internet (and mobile phone) use, however, is heavily concentrated in urban areas.

As the second largest Muslim country in the world, it is to be expected that pornography (which is much more broadly defined than it would be in the West) and criticism if Islam is not permitted.

More worrying is the ongoing censorship of content spuriously described as fake news on the grounds of preventing terrorism, and the weaponisation of defamation and blasphemy laws for political ends.

The government also has sweeping surveillance powers and uses an artificial intelligence (AI)-driven system to monitor social media platforms for content violations.

On the plus side, threats and physical violence against those critical of dominant religious groups reduced somewhat in 2018.

Political overview

Indonesia is a republic with a presidential system and 34 provinces, each having its own legislature. Despite some concerns, the last general election in 2014 was by and large considered free and fair.

A new election on 17 April 2019 is imminent at the time of writing this article, but since the fall of the authoritarian Suharto dictatorship in 1998, power has transferred peacefully between parties. Overall, the democratic process in Indonesia works quite well, despite the 2017 General Elections Law effectively shutting new or smaller parties out of the presidential race.

Systemic corruption, however, continues to plague the political process. In April 2018, for example, the former House of Representatives speaker and Golkar party chairman was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment for a $170 million corruption scandal surrounding the implementation of a new ID card system.

Indonesia is an incredibly diverse country, spanning some 17 thousand islands and speaking over 700 languages. Islam, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism are all officially recognized, although atheists are liable to fall foul of blasphemy laws. Perhaps the only surprise, therefore, is that religious and ethnic tensions are not even worse than they are.

Western Papua New Guinea, in particular, is subject to an ongoing conflict where the Indonesian government has been accused of conducting a genocidal campaign in which an estimated 100,000 indigenous inhabitants have been killed.

Security forces are also blamed for using excessive violence during political demonstrations. Where violations are proven, security forces are rarely (or very lightly) punished.

Traditional Indonesian culture continues to view women primarily as wives and mothers, although advances in education and technology mean that more women are moving to the cities and adopting independent lives. Many Muslim districts, however, rigorously uphold the more discriminatory aspects of Sharia law.

The LGBT community is routinely prejudiced against by the authorities and attacked by hardline Islamist groups. Ethnic Chinese, who make up around one percent of the population, also face widespread discrimination.

The mainstream media outlets in Indonesia are largely owned by individuals with highly partisan political interests. In response to this, a vibrant blogosphere has emerged, but an endless stream of high-profile fabricated news stores and hoaxes propagated through social media platforms has damaged trust in all news sources.

Government Surveillance

There are at least ten laws which provide the government with broad legal authority to intercept citizen communications, with little in the way of judicial or parliamentary oversight.

Arguably the most worrying of these is the 2003 Eradication of Criminal Acts of Terrorism Law (CT Law), which the government amended in 2018 to give itself sweeping surveillance powers in the name of countering terrorism.

Telecommunications providers are required to keep logs for at last three months, and there are known instances of them handing these over to the authorities upon request.

In January 2018 the government introduced Cyber Drone 9, an AI-driven system that crawls social media websites in order to detect and remove banned content proactively. All decisions are reviewed by a human task force team.

Censorship

Pretty much any content relating to illegal activity, or which violates Indonesia's highly conservative social norms is formally blocked in Indonesia. This includes porn, LGBT material, and criticism of Islam. Hate speech is also banned, but this term, together with anti-defamation laws, is often used to shut down criticism of government officials.

Although the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) issues a formal blacklist of sites to be blocked, it is ISPs who implement the blocks. And many ISPs choose to block additional content, which is not on the official blocklist. ISP Telkomsel, for example, continues to block Netflix despite the streaming site not being on the MCI blacklist.

In 2017 the MCI blocked Telegram Messenger DNS servers due to terrorist content but relaxed the ban after Telegram agreed to comply with national regulations and to improve filtering of terrorist material.

Temporary DNS restrictions on other social media apps, including WhatsApp and TikTok, have also been periodically implemented to counter porn being spread on those platforms. In 2018, Google agreed to remove 73 LGBT-related apps from its Play Store, including the popular Grindr dating app.

In addition to blacklisting websites and services, the MCI puts considerable pressure on domestic social media and video sharing sites to police content, which is uploaded to their platforms.

Numerous blogs and websites critical of the government or Islam have also found themselves blocked. This especially true of news outlets which report on the military violence used to suppress the independence movement in Papua.

The use of encryption technologies, including VPNs, is not banned.

Indonesia is notorious for its real-world pirate attacks on shipping, especially as it passes through the Strait of Malacca. Despite various attempts to stop it, digital piracy particularly in the form of pirated CDs and DVDs which are sold openly on the street also remains rife.

A new Copyright Law introduced in 2014 aimed to tackle copyright piracy at the distribution level but has been largely ineffective. The Pirate Bay and many other torrent sites are on the official blocklist, but most people appear able to access infringing material with impunity.