Text messages used to inflame sectarian violence in Ambon | Asia Pacific

Text messages used to inflame sectarian violence in Ambon

Text messages used to inflame sectarian violence in Ambon

Updated 6 January 2012, 12:20 AEDT

Hundreds of security personnel have been sent to the eastern Indonesian island of Ambon after sectarian clashes claimed at least three lives and left more than 80 people injured.

The violence erupted after rumours spread through text messages that a Muslim motorcycle taxi driver, who died in a traffic accident, had been killed by Christians

Gangs of Muslims and Christians armed with rocks and machetes clashed after the man's funeral

Sidney Jones, senior advisor for the Asia Program at International Crisis Group says the use of provocative text messaging is a growing problem.

Presenter: Claudette Werden

Speaker: Sidney Jones, International Crisis Group

JONES: In Indonesia, sms from all possible sides are used frequently to draw sides together and mobilise people on one particular side of an issue whether it's political, religious or communal or whatever and there have been a few cases, including once in Ambon last year where the government very quickly sent out counter messages to try and cool the situation. I don't know whether they did the same thing, this time round I haven't heard one way or the other but using sms messaging as a form of provocation is something that is happening not only in Indonesia but in lots of different places in the world and it's a real problem.

WERDEN: When you say provocation, are you suggesting there are people trying to inflame the sectarian differences?

JONES: I don't think that's the case, at least I don't have any reason to believe that's the case this time round in Ambon, I was thinking more of instances where sms messages have been used to incite violence against minority sects in Indonesia, in this case there were sms circulating that said this udjek driver had been murdered rather than the fact that he died in an accident, I don't think necessarily those were deliberate provocations, I think people who sent them really believed that he had been murdered but I think it was probably a misreading of his wounds, cause I think there was an autopsy report and it looks pretty conclusive he died as a result of the accident.

WERDEN: And you're saying this particular type of sectarian violence is different to the type of violence we saw that claimed more than 5-thousand lives between 1999 and 2002?

JONES: Yes because the political circumstances are different, I think in the immediate aftermath of Suharto's downfall in 1998, there were a lot of people trying to take advantage of the political situation, there were interests, different political parties, political factions had in trying to stir things up to show that a rival faction was not able to control the security situation and so on. That doesn't apply now in Indonesia and the security forces are also much better trained and much more alert to the possibility that conflict, particularly sectarian conflict can very quickly get out of hand so I don't think we're going to see a long term conflict result from this particular clash that said everyone's on edge in Ambon and I think the next couple of days is going to be critical.

WERDEN: What do you think we will see there?

JONES: I think a lot depends now on what the civilian and security authorities do in handling the tension, I think the Governor, who is very good by the way, has already taken a number of steps to try and calm the situation. There'll be a meeting tomorrow morning of people representing the different neighbourhoods that were involved in the conflict, I think there'll be an effort to further explain the results of the autopsy to show that in fact the man in question did not die of stab wounds, but I think something else very interesting has happened, that even some of the hardline sides that were involved in earlier versions of the conflict, earlier phases of the conflict are sending around messages warning their people not to be provoked, even from one hardline Moslem group, I saw one message that basically said that if we allow ourselves to be provoked into violence we'll only be accused of being terrorists, so it's better that we don't do anything.

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