By Bambang Muryanto
JAKARTA - Activists have chastised the government for its apparent reluctance to remove an article on libel from the 2008 Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) Law.
They said the article could kill the potential of internet users to criticize political and business rulers in the country.
“The government’s reluctance to revoke the libel article cannot be separated from the main paradigm of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s administration to discipline Indonesia’s democracy so it won’t disturb investment in the country,” information watchdog Yayasan Satu Dunia executive director Firdaus Cahyadi told journalists in Yogyakarta on Monday.
He said the government had handed the draft revision of the 2008 ITE Law over to the House of Representatives but had, as of early 2016, maintained Article 27 (3) on libel. In the draft revision, the government only reduced sanctions imposed for libel to three years in prison from previously six years.
Article 27 (3) stipulates criminal punishment for anyone purposely and without authority distributing and/ or transmitting and/or making electronic information and/or electronic documents with libellous and/or defaming content accessible to the public.
It is further stated in Article 45 (2) that violations of the regulation are punishable with imprisonment of up to six-years and a fine of up to Rp 1 billion (US$72,000).
“It is almost certain that criminalization of internet users will continue in 2016,” said Firdaus.
Yayasan Satu Dunia is an NGO concerned with the openness of information, communication, knowledge and technology for civil societies in Indonesia.
Firdaus said the libel article in the 2008 law caused fear among internet users to criticize the government and Indonesian business power, adding that the internet was a powerful medium of social control.
He claimed it was likely that disciplining democracy in cyberspace was part of the main paradigm of the Jokowi administration to create political conditions that were conducive for investment. This could be seen from a recent statement of Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Panjaitan, who had said that social media had to be disciplined for the sake of national interests.
Gadjah Mada University communication expert Wisnu Martha Adiputra said the libel article had to be removed as it contradicted the 1945 Constitution, which guarantees the freedom of speech and expression.
Wisnu, who is also a researcher at the media regulator, said the ITE Law also failed to protect private data of consumers making transactions via the internet.
In its 2015 year-end report, the Alliance of Indonesian Journalists (AJI) named the ITE Law as one of the obstacles to press freedom in Indonesia, because under the law, online media accused of libellous articles could be brought to justice.
Since the ITE Law was passed in 2008, the number of victims of the libel article in the law has continued to rise. According to Safe Net data, the number of libel cases reached 62 in 2015, sharply increasing from only two cases in 2008.