INDONESIA: New Criminal Code 'could limit free speech'

At least 60 new articles would affect freedom of expression, the kinds of information presented by media

The Jakarta Post
Saturday, February 17, 2007

By ID Nugroho and Yemris Fointuna

The draft revised Criminal Code currently being deliberated at the House of Representatives contains articles that limit freedom of expression and target the media, say observers and lawmakers.

Speaking at a workshop on the revised Criminal Code this week, legislator Soeripto, of the Prosperous Justice Party, said that other bills also currently being drafted also had the potential to restrict free speech.

"The draft laws will restrict freedom of expression, such as the bills on state secrets, intelligence and national security," he said, adding that it would make room for the state to oppress citizens and be contradictory to the spirit of reformasi.

"That means reformasi is yet to be achieved due to the lack of cultural changes on the part of state leaders and clear signs the government is not siding with the people."

Soeripto, who is a member of House Commission I, added that there needed to be constant public access to the government, without excluding transparency and accountability.

"Last but not least is the need for international pressure," he said.

The Legal Aid Institute for the Press (LBH Pers) says that at least 60 of the new articles added to the revised criminal code could be used to stifle people's freedom. These include articles on agitation directed at the government, airing misleading reports and news, defamation of the government and state institutions, defamation of individual reputations and divulging state secrets.

"A punishment of seven years' imprisonment awaits those who divulge state secrets, (but they don't say) what sort of secrets they are (talking about)," said LBH Pers director Hendrayana.

Hendrayana said the articles could inhibit people's freedom of expression and stifle the right to obtain information through the media.

The article on the defamation of "one's good reputation", for example, states that "a person who verbally damages the integrity or good reputation of another person by accusing him or her of a certain matter with the intention of publicizing it" can be convicted of libel, which carries a sentence of a year in prison or a fine of Rp 7.5 million (US$835).

The article on agitation aimed at the government mandates two years in prison or a Rp 30 million fine for anyone found guilty of insulting the government in a manner that incites public unrest.

"What can the people do if everything is forbidden?" asked Hendrayana.

Leo Batubara, a member of the press council, said bills suppressing the freedom of expression were a manifestation of struggle between good and evil in Indonesia and were part of the move to revise the press law.

"Calls to revise the press law are against the people's will but in favor of the corrupt, because a free press will hinder corruption," he said.

Leo said that many law enforcement personnel preferred a Criminal Code that did not side with the people.

"A revised Criminal Code that does not side with the people will be economically beneficial for those who are corrupt," said Leo.