Media concerned by new law in Indonesia

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 April, 2008, 12:00am

Media organisations in Indonesia are worried the new Electronic Information and Transactions Law, which includes long jail terms for those found guilty of being potentially defamatory, will curtail free speech.

The law, which was passed by Parliament last month and is awaiting President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's signature, first gained attention because it includes provisions to stop pornographic websites. But it has now come under fire for subtly introducing provisions deemed detrimental to freedom of expression.

Those provisions, buried in small paragraphs within Articles 27 and 28, ban the dissemination of information that potentially could be defamatory, as well as the spreading of information that could cause hostility between groups or individuals.

Those found flouting the law can be punished with up to six years in jail and/or a fine of 1 billion rupiah (HK$848,700).

For the same crimes, the existing Criminal Code stipulates a maximum of just 16 months in jail.

Media organisations say the vagueness of the term 'potentially defamatory' is particularly dangerous because it opens up the possibility of being interpreted in favour of the rich and powerful.

'The definition is flexible and open to multiple interpretations, and could therefore be used to 'strike' at those they dislike,' warned Indonesia's leading weekly Tempo.

'An authoritarian government would be quite happy to reinterpret this flexible article to silence criticism.'

The new law also worries the growing number of bloggers in Indonesia. Carla Ardian, who runs, said she was concerned.

'I think it is no longer wise to write about certain people involved in negative political and religious issues as there may now be a chance that my words are misinterpreted and used against me,' she said.

Endy Bayuni, chief editor of The Jakarta Post, the country's leading English-language daily newspaper, regretted that no media experts were consulted about the legislation.

'Indonesia is a democratic country and people's freedom is guaranteed by the constitution,' he said.

Journalists and media organisations have said they will ask for a judicial review by the Constitutional Court should the law become effective in its current form.