Indonesian police charge Catholic for defaming state official

Saverius Suryanto allegedly uploaded pictures of West Manggarai regent with a superimposed foot or horns on his head

UCA News reporter

Updated: September 20, 2023 10:01 AM GMT

This image uploaded by Catholic man, Saverius Suryanto, earned him the wrath of the West Manggarai regent who had him charged under Indonesia's controversial Information and Electronic Transactions law. (Photo: Supplied)

Police in Indonesia's Christian-majority East Nusa Tenggara province have charged a Catholic man under the country's controversial Information and Electronic Transactions law for defaming a local official.

Saverius Suryanto, a resident of Macang Tanggar, a village near the town of Labuan Bajo was charged on Sept. 18 by police in West Manggarai Regency for allegedly circulating edited photos of Edistasius Endi posted on his Facebook page in May.

Endi is the regent or head of West Manggarai Regency.

The edited photos showed Endi with a superimposed foot or horns on his head.

In the complaint, Suryanto is accused of distributing these pictures, accompanied by a claim that Endi was denying 200 Macang Tanggar residents the right to obtain land title deeds.

The residents are migrants who live on government land. To secure title deeds, they need Endi's approval.

Suryanto said he criticized Endi because the residents have been in the village without land title deeds since 2009.

The government has not explained the reason behind the denial of land titles to the residents.

I emphasize that what I did was not an insult or defamation. I criticized the government so that our certificates would be distributed immediately, he told UCA News on Sept. 19.

Suryanto criticized Endi for reporting the matter to the police rather than solving the dispute.

His lawyer Petrus Ruman said Suryanto got the pictures from the Instagram account of a youth group, protesting over the delay in the distribution of land title deeds.

In other words, apart from my client, if it is considered defamation, then many people are doing the same thing, especially those who produced the content, added Ruman.

Suryanto's case adds to a long list of complaints about the sweeping cyber law, which advocacy groups say the authorities to silence critics. Rights groups have called for it to be revoked.

The maximum punishment under the law is four years in jail and a fine of IDR 750,000,000 (some US$48,700).

According to the Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet), a total of 490 people were charged under the law between 2013 and 2023. Last year, 97 cases were registered.

Damar Juniarto, executive director of SAFEnet said Suryanto should not be punished.

Suryanto's actions were the result of spontaneous anger due to the violation of his right to obtain a land title deed, he said. There was no malicious intent, Juniarto added.

Influential and high-ranking government officials often resort to the law to crack down on their critics, Juniarto said.

In many cases  complainants were filed by people in power, Juniarto added.

Instead of punishing Suryanto, Endi should have explained the problem with granting title deeds, he said.

West Manggarai police and Endi did not respond to requests for comments.

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