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Indonesian court scraps defamation laws

Rights groups welcomed the decision saying they were often misused against dissenters, activists, journalists, and academics
Haris Azhar, one of the applicants for the review of the controversial articles on defamation, attends court proceedings on March 21.

Haris Azhar, one of the applicants for the review of the controversial articles on defamation, attends court proceedings on March 21. (Photo: Constitutional Court)

 

Published: March 22, 2024 11:45 AM GMT
Updated: March 22, 2024 12:03 PM GMT

Indonesia has revoked three controversial laws on defamation which are often been used against dissenters and rights activists in the Muslim-majority nation.

The Constitutional Court on March 21 stated that Articles 14 and 15 of the Law on Criminal Law Regulation as well as Article 310 of the Criminal Code were unconstitutional and no longer a legally binding force.

The laws were intended to regulate false news or information. Their revocation, Justice Arsul Sani said could create legal uncertainty.

However, Johanna Poerba, a researcher at the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, welcomed the decision.

“Criticism of state officials is a right to freedom of expression and opinion," Poerba said.

Criticism is protected and should not be considered a threat to national security, she noted.

She said the laws were often used by powerful parties to ensnare journalists and civil society.

Father Alexander Rangga from the Franciscans' Secretariat for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation in Papua, the region where the controversial laws are frequently used, declined to comment.

The review was proposed by two human rights activists, Haris Azhar and Fatiah Maulidiyanti, besides the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation and Alliance of Independent Journalists.

Azhar said that the laws criminalize those whose work is for the “promotion of human rights and the eradication of corruption, collusion and nepotism.”

They were also used to criminalize those who were critical of state officials and government policies, he added.

Wirya Adiwena, deputy director of Amnesty International Indonesia said, "We welcome this landmark ruling."

"This momentous decision by the court marks a significant step forward for human rights including the right to freedom of expression and media freedom in Indonesia," he said.

In 2023, Amnesty documented at least 55 victims of the laws.

These victims encompassed human rights defenders, activists, journalists, and academics, many of whom faced defamation allegations.

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