Responding to reports of the digital hack against Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist from the University of Indonesia (UI) who has been critical of the government’s COVID-19 response, Amnesty International Indonesia Executive Director Usman Hamid said:
“This is yet another disturbing report of hacking of a prominent government critic’s social media account. The authorities must look into and stop to these attacks immediately. We urge the authorities to promptly, transparently, and impartially investigate the case. Failure to do so would likely let this wave of harassment go unchallenged. Likewise, failure to act may be seen as tacit support for these attacks.
“Peaceful critics – including public health specialists who can contribute valuable insight to a deadly pandemic response – must be protected from this kind of shameful harassment. They can’t be left to suffer alone.”
On the evening of 19 August 2020, Pandu Riono’s personal Twitter account was reportedly compromised by an unknown hacker. His compromised account posted two photographs of him and a woman, captured with personal messages, “Post vacationing with [my] young mistress” and “My romantic evening with her who will be my mistress.”
Riono is an epidemiologist from the University of Indonesia’s Public Health Faculty (FKM UI). He has been a vocal critic on the Indonesian Government’s handling of COVID-19.
A spokesperson for Kawal COVID19, a platform where Riono is an active contributor, told Amnesty that their colleagues received similar photos and messages from unknown sender as those posted on Twitter through WhatsApp.
Last week, Riono had heavily criticized a research from Airlangga University, conducted in collaboration with the State Intelligence Agency (BIN) and the Indonesian Army. The research claimed to have successfully perfected the world’s first COVID-19 treatment drug. Riono said that the finding has not been registered for clinical trials in line with international standard. It was reported to the BIN and the Army, instead of to the Indonesia Food and Drug Monitoring. He, thus, questioned its compliance to the national procedure.
Earlier in July, Riono had urged the Indonesian government to stop rapid tests in handling the COVID-19 outbreak. He said the test would only examine someone’s antibody or individual’s response to the virus, not the exact diagnose on whether someone contracted the virus or not. He’s concerned of the commercialisation of the test due to recent conditions for in-country travel.
The reported hacking of Riono’s Twitter account is not the first case of intimidation and digital attacks against individuals/bodies who have been critical of the authorities. On Thursday, the news website of a national media, Tempo, was also reportedly hacked, but later restored.
In April, activist Ravio Patra also saw his WhatsApp reportedly hacked after he publicly criticized the government’s lack of transparency surrounding data on COVID-19 patients. Following the hacking, Ravio was detained by police in relation to provocative messages that were reportedly sent by the hacker from Ravio’s WhatsApp account.
Amnesty International Indonesia has recorded 39 cases of alleged intimidations and digital hacks against those who actively criticized the Government, from February 2020 to 21 August 2020.