[IWAR] NET Net v. Suharto

From: 7Pillars Partners (partnersat_private)
Date: Sat May 23 1998 - 15:59:45 PDT

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    Internet played roll in Suharto overthrow
     The Boston Globe 
     WASHINGTON -- As rebellions broke out across Indonesia this
     month, protesters did not have tanks or guns. But they had a powerful
     tool that wasn't available during the country's previous uprisings: the
     Bypassing the government-controlled television and radio stations,
     dissidents shared information about protests by e-mail, inundated
     news groups with stories of President Suharto's corruption, and used
     chat groups to exchange tips about resisting troops. In a country
     made up of thousands of islands, where phone calls are expensive, the
     electronic messages reached key organizers.
     ``This was the first revolution using the Internet,'' said W. Scott
     Thompson, an associate professor of international politics at the
     Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.
     Thompson, like many academics who follow Indonesia, kept track of
     the dissidents' communications with one another from thousands of
     miles away.
     New technologies have changed the ways the world learns about a
     fast-changing political crisis. As Chinese troops quashed a democracy
     movement in Tiananmen Square in 1989, the dissidents
     communicated with the outside world by fax, and TV networks used
     satellites to send out chilling footage. The same year, thanks to West
     German television, many East Germans learned that the Berlin Wall
     was being toppled.
     Details of a Russian coup in 1991 spread by fax and a primitive
     version of the Internet, and a year later CNN sent images of a military
     uprising in Thailand around the world.
     Thanks to the Internet, Thompson said, Indonesian activists
     circumvented press censorship. In one chat group, he said,
     participants circulated inspiring accounts of the 1986 ``peoples'
     power'' rebellion in the Philippines.
     Some of the messages simply gave encouragement. Last week, in an
     America Online chat group about Asia, a correspondent nicknamed
     ``Asia Son'' urged Indonesians to keep denouncing President
     Suharto's corruption and cronyism. ``One or two people saying that
     (are) easily dragged away and silenced,'' Asia Son wrote. ``One or
     two million doing it is not so easy.''
     The same day, in broken English, another correspondent urged
     looters not to pick on Indonesia's ethnic Chinese minority: ``Why are
     they always the victim when there is a riot? ... All they do is make a
     honest living. They work hard and when you worked hard you
     deserve success.''
     As Indonesia heated up this week, Abigail Abrash, an Asia expert at
     the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights in
     Washington, stayed in constant touch with friends in Jakarta and other
     Indonesian cities. She sent them summaries of the American news
     coverage of the uprisings. Abrash received front-line reports from
     students occuping Indonesia's Parliament building. From what she
     read, it seemed that someone brought a laptop into the building and
     went on line while surrounded by armed troops.
     ``In a country that's as far-flung as Indonesia, the Net has meant that
     people have been able to communicate at a time like this,'' she said.
     In Indonesia, with more than 17,000 islands, calling from one place to
     another costs as much as $1.50 a minute, a considerable amount in a
     country reeling from a recession. The Internet often costs much less.
     On a trip by boat two years ago, Abrash was amazed to find even
     remote towns in Indonesian Borneo were ``wired.''
     In the past few years, dissidents in Burma, Nigeria, Cuba, China, and
     other countries have relied on the Internet, but access in those
     countries is restricted to relatively few professors, researchers,
     high-level government workers, and employees of multinational
     businesses. In Indonesia, the Internet is especially popular among
     students -- the group that took to the streets and were instrumental to
     forcing Suharto to resign Thursday.
     ``With the Internet, people in the country can get information out for
     support, and they can also use the network to communicate with each
     other in the country and build a body of knowledge about activities in
     the country,'' said Stephen Hansen, a human-rights specialist for the
     American Association for the Advancement of Science in
     Diana Lady Dougan, chairwoman of International Communications
     Studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said some of the
     Internet's advocates tend to overemphasize its significance in
     Indonesia. ``The Net was an escalating factor there, but I don't think
     it changed the outcome,'' she said. ``It fast-forwarded things.''
     Indonesian activists suspect that their phones are tapped, and some
     worry that their e-mail is monitored, too. Several have developed
     systems of encryption with their American colleagues, but they
     refused to describe their methods.
     On Thursday, the Internet enabled human-rights groups in Indonesia
     to warn colleagues in Europe and the United States that military
     troops threatened to imprison Muchtar Pakpahan, a hospitalized
     The US human-rights groups contacted Capitol Hill, where
     Representative Bernard Sanders, a Vermont Independent; Barney
     Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat; Christopher Smith, a New Jersey
     Republican; and seven others wrote a letter to Secretary of State
     Madeleine Albright asking for help.
     Soon after, the US embassy in Jakarta sent a representative to
     Pakpahan's hospital room as a signal of support.
     ``The responsiveness is unbelievable -- we have people on the ground
     who e-mail information, then we can react right away,'' said Brendan
     Smith, a legislative aide to Sanders.
     Friday, troops took away Pakpahan, but at least the US embassy
     was a witness, Smith said. The members of Congress are continuing
     to protest.
     Radio Free Asia, which the US government has used to broadcast
     pro-democracy messages, can be heard in China, Laos, Vietnam, and
     Burma, but not in Indonesia, long regarded as pro-American.
     Catharin Dalpino, who served as the State Department's top officer
     for democracy, said the US government needs to be more aggressive
     about trying interactive technologies such as the Internet while relying
     less on traditional media such as radio.
     ``Nowadays, a so-called democracy program should lead to
     something instead of people just sitting in their living rooms saying,
      `Oh, that's interesting,''' said Dalpino.

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