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Indonesian govt moves to revise controversial cyberlaw

Teams set up to look at catch-all articles that many say are being used to target govt critics

Indonesian govt moves to revise controversial cyberlaw

Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD says his ministry has formed two teams to amend a controversial law that critics say has catch-all articles aimed at stifling dissent. (Photo: Screenshot of Mahfud MD’s video message)

The Indonesian government has formed two teams to look at revising a controversial law regulating electronic information and transactions that rights and Catholic groups claim is oppressive

The move follows President Joko Widodo’s call to re-examine provisions in the Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) Law that the groups say consist of catch-all articles that undermine civil liberties and freedom of expression.

“The first team has the task of making clearer technical interpretations of catch-all articles,” Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD said in a video message posted on YouTube over the weekend.

“The second team is looking at revisions. Many say the law is discriminative and threatens democracy. This team will involve legal experts, the journalists' association, non-governmental organizations and pro-democracy groups,” he said.

The Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Ministry formed the two teams after Widodo told police and military chiefs during a meeting on Feb. 15 that many people were using vague provisions in the law to carry out petty vendettas against each other.

Rights and Catholic groups say it is being used by the authorities to silence critics.

Widodo said the spirit of the law was to keep the country’s digital space clean, healthy, ethical and productive. “If its implementation creates a sense of injustice, then this law needs to be revised. Remove the articles which have multiple interpretations.”

The ITE Law, first enacted in 2008 and revised in 2016, punishes anyone found guilty of distributing, transmitting or making accessible electronic content that contains insults, pornography, hate speech, threats or fake news.

There is an absence of clear guidelines for police and the judiciary to interpret such actions, according to rights groups.

The Civil Society Coalition cited Article 28, which bans speech aiming to fuel hatred based on ethnicity, religion or race.

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“This article, in fact, targets individuals and groups criticizing the president,” the coalition said in a statement issued last week.

According to the Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet), 24 people were charged under the law in 2019 and 25 in 2018, with journalists and media workers being the most targeted.

Yohanes Handoyo Budhisejati, chairman of the Vox Point Indonesia, a Catholic political organization, said the president has responded well as he risked being backed into a corner over the issue. 

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