JAKARTA, INDONESIA — President Joko Widodo called for the revision of the controversial Law No.11/2008 on Electronic Information and Transaction (UU ITE), a law considered to be a threat to freedom of expression in Indonesia.
Previously, the president wanted Indonesians to be proactive in criticising the government.
Yet, many Indonesians cast doubts over doing so due to how broadly the law can be interpreted, depending on the interest of a claimant.
The law consists of several ‘rubber’ chapters that can lead to multiple interpretations.
For example, the law’s Chapter 27 Article 3 — which criminalises anyone who distributes any content containing defamatory language — is often wielded as a means to silence dissent against the government, the police, and other state institutions.
Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFENET)’s Ika Ningtyas said that the law was revised in 2016 when the duration of the punishment for the defamation chapter was cut from six years to four years. The chapter remained unchanged.
“The law itself aims to protect people’s online rights. However, there are several chapters that threaten online’s freedom of expression such as Chapter 27 Article 3 and Chapter 28 Article 2 on Hate Speech, as those chapters can repress anyone who is critical to the government,” she told TOC.
Ika added that some items have been regulated in the Criminal Code. For example, defamation carries a punishment of nine months’ imprisonment.
“But in UU ITE, the punishment is four years, meaning there is an over-criminalisation,” she explained.
Chapter 27 Article 1 on pornographic content may wrongly criminalise victims of sexual harassment and rape.
Ika cited the case of Baiq Nuril, an employee who was sexually harassed by her superior at the school where she worked in West Nusa Tenggara in 2012.
“She recorded what the school’s headmaster was saying on the phone for the evidence. But the recording was spread and the school’s headmaster sued her for distributing inappropriate content,” Ika stated.
The government finally granted amnesty to Baiq in 2019 due to humanitarian reasons.
The Criminal Code stipulates all types of crimes, including hate speech defamation online, Ika elaborated.
The defamation chapter cannot target institutions or companies, only individuals. However, the case in Indonesia often shows the opposite.
“For example, the case of environmentalist Marco Kusumawijaya who criticised the extraction of sand in Bangka Belitung for land reclamation in North Jakarta.
“It is the developer’s in-house lawyer who sued Marco. He did not even mention the name of the developer. He only raises concerns over the use of sand in Bangka Belitung for the North Jakarta land reclamation,” Ika noted.
Digital literacy plays a vital role in fighting misinformation
Notwithstanding the legal developments, Ika maintained that digital literacy training for schools, media, and other companies is vital in preventing the widespread of hoaxes and regulating online conduct.
“We see how information technology is growing rapidly. We must be aware of what we have been exposed to. Luckily, there are lots of media outlets that have fact-checking divisions and they often collaborate to cross-check information, especially during major events such as the general election,” she said.