Two Indonesian women jailed, fined for social media posts

JAKARTA, Indonesia – In separate cases on Thursday, March 31, two Indonesian women found themselves facing a guilty verdict for what they wrote on social media apps Facebook and Path. 

'Immoral' Facebook chat

A court in Bandung, West Java, declared 47-year-old Wisni Yetty guilty of "distributing immoral content" via the Facebook messenger app, in violation of the 2008 Electronic Information and Transaction Law (ITE Law).

The mother of three was sentenced to 5 months jail – longer than the 4 months sought by prosecutors – and fined IDR100 million ($7,650) or face another 6 months in jail. 

"The defendant was legally and convincingly proven to be guilty of distributing or transmitting electronic content that violated decency," Judge Saptono said in court, adding that Wisni did not provide a good example for users of social media and that her actions had hurt her husband.

The case stems from a 2011 Facebook messenger conversation Wisni had with a high school friend, where she accused her husband of domestic violence.

She and her husband divorced in 2013, but a year later, her husband apparently managed to hack into her Facebook account, where he found the 2011 conversation and used it to report Wisni to the police.

Meanwhile, the domestic violence case Wisni filed against her husband in 2013 is still in the hands of prosecutors.  

Defaming a city

In a separate case in Yogyakarta, postgraduate student Florence Sihombing on Thursday also found herself with a guilty verdict. A Yogyakarta court sentenced her to a 6-month probation period, failing which she'll spend two months in jail. She was also fined IDR10 million ($765). 

In Florence's case, it was over a post she made on social media app Path, which is highly popular in Indonesia. (READ: Student jailed after post on social media app Path)

“Jogja is poor, stupid and uncultured. Friends from Jakarta and Bandung, don’t stay in Jogja,” the Gadjah Mada University student wrote on August 27, 2014, using the shorthand for the city known as a center of education and culture in Indonesia.

Her online outburst was made after a failed attempt to buy gasoline. Seeing the long queue of motorbikes for subsidized fuel at a gas station, she drove her Scoopy motorbike to the line for cars buying unsubsidized gasoline, which was much shorter. But the gas station attendants refused to fill up her tank and told her she still had to go to the motorbike queue.

Over the next two days, a screenshot of her angry post as well as her subsequent comments quickly went viral. This led to angry reactions online, demands for her to apologize, and calls to kick her out of the city. 

When she failed to quickly issue an apology, several groups upped the ante and filed a police report accusing her of committing defamation – a criminal offense under the dreaded ITE Law.

Revising the law

The cases of Wisni and Florence fuel increasing calls for the ITE Law, which criminalizes online defamation, to be revised. Critics say almost 80 have been charged under the law since it was signed in 2008, with more than half in 2014 alone. 

Communications and Information Minister Rudiantara told Rappler they are already drafting the revised version of the Section 27, Article 3 – the part that allows a maximum sentence of 6 years in jail for the offense.  

"The maximum sentence will be reduced to less than 5 years," he said. "Currently, it's up to 6 years, which allows the police to detain those who are charged before they are tried."

This, however, means people can still be sentenced to jail for what they say on social media. It only prevents them from being jailed before they are tried and found guilty. 

"That's beyond my control. It's part of the justice system," the minister said. "Basically I'm trying to address the controversial part of the ITE Law. What we are trying to address is the detention before sentencing." – with reports from Yuli Saputra, Prima SW, and Jet Damazo-Santos/Rappler.com