Indonesia Says No To Monkey Business

Animal rights groups get their wish: no more monkey shows on the streets of Jakarta, which means raids to rescue the animals and job training to prepare their trainers for new work.

"Topeng monyet" in Jakarta
"Topeng monyet" in Jakarta
Erric Permana

JAKARTA — Starting next year, you won’t be seeing “topeng monyet” – the shows that feature monkeys wearing funny masks and performing acrobatic tricks – on the streets of Jakarta.

On a recent day in the Indonesian capital, dozens of monkey handlers were waiting in line to be registered by local authorities. One of them is 30-year-old Badri who joined the business a year ago. He has handed over his monkey to the authorities. “What else can I do?" Badri asks. "I want the government to give me some money so I can open a new business.

The government will buy each monkey from the handlers and caretakers for $90, and the handlers will be provided with vocational training to help find new jobs. Cecep, who has been earning money from his monkeys, says he will hold the government to its promise.

“I know about the promise from the media ... that my monkeys will be traded in for a new job. But I don’t know what kind of job it will be,” Cecep says.

Joko Widodo, the governor of Jakarta, has ordered the ban, and security forces have started conducting raids to rescue the monkeys. Still, Widodo has assured monkey handlers that they would not be punished for their use of animals. “The monkey performances are obstructing public order because the shows are on the streets. Monkeys might have rabies too. That’s why we’re banning monkey performances from the capital.”

"We take care of our monkeys"

Animal rights group have long claimed the monkeys are being mistreated by their handlers. They say the animals are tortured to remain obedient and their teeth are pulled so they can’t bite — something that handlers like Cecep deny: “The media says that we torture the monkeys. That’s not true. At home we even feed them milk. The media are exaggerating, just ask any handler around. We take care of our monkeys. When they’re sick, we spend up to $9 on them, which is more that we spend when we get sick.”

But a video recorded by the Jakarta Animal Aid Network JAAN shows how the monkeys are trained to stand-up like humans. “I will pay $100 for anybody who can train wild monkeys to stand on their two feet!” says Hamdan, a monkey trainer in Jakarta. “We tie its two hands behind its back, and we push its neck to face the sky. They’re not going to die because of that. Training only takes an hour. After that, we let them rest and give them something to drink and eat.”

The rescued monkeys during the raids are then taken to a shelter near Ragunan Zoo in South Jakarta. There are already nearly 60 monkeys in cages and only members of staff are allowed access.

Quarantine and rehabilitation

Hygiene measures require officers to wear masks, a special uniform and clean their shoes before entering the shelter. Inside the officers take blood samples to determine whether or not the monkeys have infectious diseases. “We’re checking for TB and hepatitis. They will be taken to Ragunan Zoo in the future, so we’re checking their condition now,” says Sri Hartati from Jakarta’s Agriculture Office.

The monkeys will be quarantined for up to six months for a medical check-up and will undergo a rehabilitation process. “These monkeys come from the streets," Hartati says. "After several checks, we will group them. Monkeys live in a colony, so it might take some time for the rehabilitation process. They’re all good now. They’re happy and have started to play inside.”

The monkey rehabilitation process will be carried out with the help of a local NGO, the Jakarta Animal Aid Network. JAAN spokesman Benvika says some of the monkeys were found in miserable conditions: “Twenty-two percent of monkeys have hepatitis, some have gum infections, or tuberculosis. And all of them have worms, that's why they're so skinny.”

Ideally, JAAN would like to relocate the monkeys to an isolated island off the coast of Jakarta. But the Jakarta government has other plans. “The monkeys will be taken to Ragunan Zoo. There are many visitors there and many healthy animals. We have to be totally sure that these monkeys are healthy before sending them there. We’re going to vaccinate them,” says Hartari.

The monkeys will be housed in an enclosure in the Ragunan zoo, before the government builds them a new home in a setting as natural as possible. “It’d be good to have a semi-natural forest there for the monkeys. Or a man-made forest with some separators so the monkeys can’t get out but are free to move around inside,” JAAN's Benvika says.

Following the move in Jakarta, authorities in Surakarta, in Central Java, are also planning to ban the masked monkey shows.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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