Wednesday, 27 September 2023

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Southeast Asian lawmakers urge Indonesia to uphold online human rights ahead of 2024 elections

JAKARTA, INDONESIA – A group of Southeast Asian lawmakers today called on Indonesia, the region’s largest democracy, to uphold online human rights in the lead-up to the 2024 general elections, following a fact-finding mission investigating internet freedom in the country.

“Indonesia’s democratic reforms since the downfall of the New Order regime 25 years ago have been significant, but we fear that unchecked limitations on online freedom of speech could reverse these gains,” stated Yuneswaran Ramaraj, a Malaysian MP and member of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR).

The internet has become a crucial platform for citizens to exercise their freedom of speech, and curbing this space could jeopardize the integrity of upcoming elections, Ramaraj explained.

The fact-finding mission, comprising current and former parliamentarians from Malaysia, the Philippines, and Timor-Leste, included meetings with civil society organizations, journalists, and technology companies. They also visited key governmental bodies, culminating in a meeting with the Indonesian House of Representatives Commission I, responsible for communication and information.

One of the significant concerns raised was the misuse of the Electronic Information and Transaction (ITE) Law, especially its defamation provisions, to stifle peaceful expressions of dissent. This issue is exemplified in the ongoing case of human rights defenders Haris Azhar and Fatia Maulidiyanti, who are being prosecuted under the ITE Law for discussing allegations of a minister’s involvement in Papuan mining activities on YouTube.

“With elections approaching, the misuse of the ITE Law’s ambiguous provisions poses a substantial threat to the open discussion of political views online,” commented APHR member and Timor-Leste MP Elvina Sousa Carvalho.

Carvalho, echoing the concerns of Indonesian civil society, called for a comprehensive revision of the ITE Law and a halt to its use pending the revision. “Continued prosecutions under the ITE Law could undermine the democratic nature of the upcoming elections,” she warned.

Increased monitoring of social media content and digital attacks on human rights defenders and media organizations were among the concerns raised by civil society and media representatives. Such threats to online freedom of expression have resulted in a chilling effect, fostering an environment where users self-censor to avoid legal or online intimidation.

Efforts are being made by civil society organizations and the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) to safeguard the democratic digital ecosystem, including debunking election disinformation and training young voters. However, concerns were raised that state institutions are not creating enough opportunities for these groups to contribute to regulations affecting online freedom of speech.

Sarah Elago, APHR member and former Philippines MP, argued, “Elections are about more than a single day’s vote. They should embody a truly democratic process where all society members, particularly the marginalized, can express their views and engage in meaningful dialogues about their country’s future.”

Elago further urged Indonesian government institutions to encourage public participation in digital freedom-related policymaking and implement measures to foster healthy, informed online discourse during the election process.

“Considering its reputation as a democratic and human rights-respecting country in Southeast Asia, and its role as ASEAN chair, Indonesia must set an example and avoid any regression from the democratic progress made in the last three decades,” concluded Ramaraj.

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