New Internet law threatens free expression

April 12, 2008

(When will the Philippines be next?  At the rate we are going it’s only a matter of time? – ed.)

Alert – Indonesia
11 April 2008
Source: Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)

New Internet law threatens free expression

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) is concerned by the
passing of the Electronic Information and Transaction Law in
Indonesia on 25 March 2008, which has been criticised by the Press
Council as falling short of international trends and standards.

The law, intended to combat online crime, pornography, gambling,
blackmail, lies, threats and racism, also prohibits citizens from
distributing in any electronic format information that is
defamatory, punishing transgressors with a maximum of six years in
prison or a fine of Rp one billion (approx. US$10.9581) or both.

In a 7 April 2008 statement, Indonesia’s Press Council said the
provisions are reminiscent of the archaic colonial laws inherited
from the Dutch, which criminalized defamation of rulers. The
council said such restrictions should not have been allowed in the
wake of the Constitutional Court’s landmark rulings related to
defamation (in December 2006 and July 2007, the court declared as
unconstitutional articles that criminalize insulting the president,
vice-president and government).

The council is seeking for a constitutional review of the law for
the threat it poses to press freedom and free expression,
identifying articles 27 (3) and 28 (2) as the pitfalls. The former
relates to distribution or transmission of electronic information
or documents that contain insult and/or defamation, while the
latter touches on the deliberate spreading of information intended
to propagate hatred or enmity.

At least 50 countries have amended offences related to fraud,
insult and defamation, from criminal to civil, said the council.
“In fact, a few countries have abolished altogether laws on
spreading hate or insult because it is difficult to prove and is
very subjective,” the council added.

In seeking a review of the law, the council is also pressing for an
explicit exception for the press, fearing that reporters who choose
the online medium to expose corruption, manipulation and disputes
may be deemed as “spreading hatred” or “defamation”, and subjecting
them to charges under this law.

The council is not taking seriously the assurances given by Edmon
Makarim, a legal staff with the Ministry of Communications and
Informatics, who claimed that the problematic articles would not
affect the press. Edmon reportedly said the electronic information
law did not mention anything at all about the press which, he
added, is already protected under the Press Law. However, civil
society groups are not giving much credence to that as prosecutors
tend to ignore the Press Law when investigating press-related
disputes.

Bloggers, too, are concerned that the new law on electronic
information and transaction would put a stop to their activities as
many put out “sensitive” content about public figures and issues at
large.

Even a link to a website containing defamation can land one into
trouble, blogger Enda Nasution said at a recent meeting in the
capital Jakarta, organized by the British Council.

——————-

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) (seapa.org) is a
coalition of press freedom advocacy groups from Indonesia, the
Philippines and Thailand. Established in November 1998, the network
aims to unite independent journalists and press-related
organisations in the region into a force for the protection and
promotion of press freedom and free expression in Southeast Asia.

————————————————————
Southeast Asian Press Alliance.
538/1 Samsen Rd., Dusit, Bangkok 10300.
Tel: 66-2-2435579, 66-2-2435373, Fax: 66-2-2448749

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