How to ‘fix’ online defamation law? Minister outlines options

Jet Damazo-Santos
How to ‘fix’ online defamation law? Minister outlines options
The problem, says Communications Minister Rudiantara, is the lack of 'socialization' or understanding of the law that has seen people jailed for comments made on social media

JAKARTA, Indonesia – Indonesia won’t repeal the controversial law that has seen people jailed for comments made on social media, but Communication and Information Technology Minister Rudiantara says they are looking at ways to address the problems created by it, such as by reducing the jail term for online defamation.

Under the controversial 2008 Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) Law, defaming someone online can earn a person up to 6 years in jail and a fine of not more than IDR1 billion ($82,000).    

In Indonesia, a person may be detained if he or she is accused of a crime that can be penalized with a jail term of more than 5 years. This means if someone accuses you of defaming them because of a something you wrote on Facebook or Twitter, for example, they can report you to the police, and the police can detain you while they build the case against you.   

And this is exactly what has been happening increasingly over the past 6 years. In one of the recent controversial cases, student Florence Sihombing spent 3 days behind bars after she “insulted” the city and people of Yogyakarta on Path. She’s no longer detained, but her trial is ongoing.

In another recent case, 29-year-old Ervani Emy Handayani was detained for a week in Bantul after she posted Facebook comments criticizing her husband’s company for firing him. Her trial is also still ongoing. 

“There has been an average of 4 such cases each month this year as of October,” the communications minister said at the Startup Asia Jakarta conference on Thursday, November 27. 

A total of 71 people have been charged with online defamation under this law as of October, according to advocacy group ICT Watch Indonesia, which means more than half – or 40 – were charged this year alone. 

Worse, the law is already beginning to become a problem for the media, ICT Watch Indonesia said according to the Jakarta Post. News sources, they say, are becoming reluctant to talk or divulge information because the law was being used against them. 

With all the controversial cases because of the law, there have been several calls – including an online petition by its first victim, Prita Mulyasari – for it to be repealed. 

But the problem, the minister said, was the lack of “socialization” or understanding about the law among law enforcers. Law enforcers are putting people in jail without court orders,” he said. 

To prevent this from happening again, the minister said they were looking at reducing the 6-year jail term stipulated in the law for online defamation. If the jail term is reduced to less than 5 years, then you can only find yourselves behind bars for online defamation if a court has found you guilty.

Another option, Rudiantara said, is to make sure only law enforcers trained or certified in the ITE Law are allowed to handle such online defamation cases. 

Or, he said, a third option is to have the law enforcers only come from the ICT Ministry.

But removing the immediate threat of jail is unlikely to appease critics of the law, who want the article on online defamation deleted or the imprisonment part removed completely. –

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