Tatang Guritno, Jakarta – The Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) says that the government has been excessive in dealing with the emergence of murals with a critical tone drawn by the public.
Kontras advocacy division staff member Tioria Pretty said that the government's actions through regional officials in removing murals and hunting down the artists will not in fact address the substance of the problems being articulated by these murals.
"Especially if the mural artists are subject to criminal articles such as insulting the president or even makar [treason, subversion, rebellion]", Pretty told Kompas.com on Friday August 27.
Pretty continued saying that it is as if the attempts to remove the murals show that the public is prohibited from expressing criticisms of the government's performance.
"By removing the murals, (it's as if) it's not appropriate to discuss criticism of the government's performance", she said.
In Pretty's view, murals have become the tool chosen by the public to convey their criticisms of the government when other means have been exhausted or are unsuccessful.
The public has been using various ways to convey their wishes over different issues.
There have been peaceful protest actions which have been met by violence from security forces. There have also been criticisms conveyed through social media, which are then criminalised.
"[Protesters at] peaceful actions are arrested, conveying [criticism] through social media is criminalised, asking for an audience is refused, then in what other way can the public covey their views. So as a reaction the public has turned to murals", said Pretty.
Pretty said that the removal of street art is a threat to democracy. "If you look at the whole series, when every public expression is blocked, yes, it creates democratic unease", she said.
Meanwhile the police have been hunting down the artist who drew a mural resembling President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo in Bandung city, West Java.
This was conveyed by Bandung metropolitan district police criminal investigation unit head Deputy Commissioner Rudi Trihandoyo.
Trihandoyo revealed that if the mural artist is found they will only be questioned about the intent behind drawing the mural.
In addition to this, the Central Jakarta municipal government plans to paint over graffiti reading "The only thing you can trust on TV is the call to prayer" and another reading "God, we're hungry".
Central Jakarta Deputy Mayor Irwandi insists that this does not mean that the government is anti-criticism.
Rather, continued Irwandi, the removal of the graffiti is being done so it does not trigger a wave of mural paintings on other walls in Jakarta.
[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Kontras Nilai Mural Jadi Sarana Protes Saat Aksi Damai Ditangkap, Audiensi Ditolak".]