When A Remote Indonesian Village Plugs Into The Internet

Villagers in the mountain outpost of Melung are among the few in rural Indonesia who can solve daily problems - and sell their products - thanks to an onsite Internet connection.

Kasiem and her husband online
Kasiem and her husband online
Guruh Riyanto, KBR
Guruh Riyanto

MELUNG In Indonesia, not everyone has access to the Internet, and it is quite rare to be able to connect in rural and mountain locations.

But one village on the slopes of Mount Slamet, in Java, is an exception, and residents here have been surfing the net for years now.

Here we met Kasiem, who's had a particular problem in tending to her paddy field. "There are so many rats here," she says. "I don't know where they come from. They come during the night and eat everything in the rice field."

So she and her husband searched online for solutions. "We found out how to make organic fertilizer through the Internet," Kasiem says. "We learn a lot from it. Our plants were attacked by worms, rats, and I found how to deal with them via the Internet. We've practiced what we've learned, and it works."

The head of Melung village, Khoirudin, says they started the Internet project four years ago. "We now have one server and seven Internet access points in the village that villagers can use to access knowledge."

And it's not just farmers who see the benefits. Eighth-grade student Linda says she uses the Internet to help her with school work.

"I learn from Google, using the wi-fi connection on my cellphone," she says. "It helps me learn a lot about physics and math. We can access any information we need."

The idea to create an Internet village came from the former village head, Agung Budi Satrio, who says that before the project, residents had to travel down the mountain to
Purwokerto. "Information is very important for us, to get the most up-to-date news, so we will not be left behind," Satrio says. "We've tried subscribing to newspapers, but it isn't very satisfactory. We usually get the paper a day late.”

Under his leadership, the village invested in building the necessary infrastructure, and he even used up his own savings to get it done.

"We collected around $600, using money from village and school funds, also from my own pocket," he says. "In mid-2010, we built three Internet access points. The following year, the local government said they needed the Internet too. So they built their own access points. So now we have seven."

Local farmers are now using the Internet to tell the world about their village, and to advertise their products online on the village website.

"For us, the Internet is not just about finding out information, but about us giving them information," Satrio says. "So there's a balance. Villages must have a voice, so we have a balance of information coming in and going out. We also share information with the outside world.”

Advertising on the website has increased sales of farmers' products and as a result, the village's annual income has increased by 30%.

Thanks to the Internet, farmer Taufik can deal directly with his buyers. "We had a buyer who came from Jakarta," he says. "He found out about us and our products from the Internet. They came to us directly."

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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

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"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.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

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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