A man whom police identified as a former campaign volunteer for Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto went on trial Thursday for allegedly spreading a hoax about electoral fraud involving millions of pre-marked ballots.
Bagus Bawana Putra was arrested in January after reports circulated on social media that seven containers stuffed with ballots cast for incumbent President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo had been found at Jakarta’s Tanjung Priok port. He is charged with spreading false information to cause public unease and could face up to 10 years in prison, if convicted.
Jokowi will face Prabowo, a former army general, in the April 17 election, a repeat of the 2014 vote narrowly won by Jokowi.
“The defendant did not confirm the veracity of the information and instead spread the news on the supposed existence of seven containers in Tanjung Priok containing 70 million ballots already cast for No. 1 candidate (Jokowi), and posted it on social media,” the indictment against him read.
The rumored ballots would represent more than one-third of the 194 million Indonesians who are registered to vote, according to figures from the General Election Commission (KPU).
Prosecutors allege that Bagus disseminated the information on social media via Twitter and WhatsApp groups, adding that his action “could cause public unease, divide the nation, and disrupt public order.”
Bagus, who wore a black cap and a white shirt under a red vest, told the court he had been framed and claimed he did not fabricate the rumor.
“It was a high-ranking government official whom I have known for a long time who set me up,” Bagus said without elaborating.
The KPU filed a police report after the rumor circulated on social media, saying it had the potential to delegitimize the election.
A spokesman for the Prabowo campaign, Andre Rosiade, said Bagus was not part of the candidate’s campaign team and was not registered with the election commission.
Bagus is the second person to be tried in the case.
On March 13, a man identified as Jarwoto went on trial in Brebes regency in Central Java province on a similar charge tied to spreading the same information. His case has not been decided and other suspects are awaiting similar trials, according to prosecutors.
KPU denies new allegation
Meanwhile, KPU on Thursday denied allegations made in an online video that its computer system had been rigged in favor of Jokowi.
KPU commissioner Hasyim Asy’ari said its system was safe.
“All counting is done manually, so it’s not possible for the computer system to be rigged for the victory of presidential candidate number 01,” Hasyim said, referring to the spot on the ballot paper designated for Jokowi and running mate Ma’ruf Amin.
Election Supervisory Body (Bawaslu) member Mochammad Afifuddin said efforts to counter false news on social media were difficult.
“Official accounts usually post positive things. Fake news usually comes from anonymous accounts,” he told BenarNews.
“We are working with the Ministry of Communication and Information to take down accounts that spread hate speech and hoaxes,” he said.
Birth dates questioned
As the vote nears, the Prabowo campaign has alleged that 17.5 million registered voters shared the same three birth dates, calling that statistically impossible. Campaign spokesman Hasjim Djojohadikusumo, a businessman and Prabowo’s brother, said the campaign would take legal action unless the issue was addressed.
KPU commissioner Viryan Aziz explained that the three dates were used to register Indonesians who did not know when they were born.
Jokowi’s campaign, meanwhile, accused the opposition of trying to delegitimize the vote should he win re-election.
Elsewhere, senior opposition politician Amien Rais threatened to start a “people power” movement unless the election commission solved the alleged irregularities.
“If the electoral roll is filled with ghost voters and evidence of systematic fraud is found, I will mobilize the masses to gather at the National Monument (Monas) and start people power,” he said this week, referring to a landmark in central Jakarta.