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Indonesian activists slam draft criminal code's articles on criticizing the president, blasphemy

Coconuts Jakarta - August 28, 2019

A long-debated overhaul to Indonesia's Criminal Code is currently being discussed in the House of Representatives (DPR) and officials say they are going to try and pass it before the current legislative session ends next month.

Rights activists are trying to raise alarms about some of the most problematic articles that can be found in the Draft Criminal Code (RKUHP) in the hopes that they can be removed or rewritten before the bill's passage.

The National Alliance for the Criminal Code Reform used particularly strong language to criticize two articles in RKUHP that criminalize "attacking the dignity of the president or vice president", threatening those who insult the country's highest office with up to 4.5 years in jail.

"This government has a colonialist mentality. It wants to control the community in the same way that Dutch companies wanted to control colonial society. Such articles were previously abolished, such as an article regarding insulting the president that was abolished in 2006 that had many victims, and now they're being included again," Jakarta Legal Aid Foundation (LBH Jakarta) representative Nelson Sinamora said on Monday as quoted by CNN Indonesia.

Nelson was referring to a 2006 Supreme Court decision that struck down an article in the current Criminal Code regarding showing contempt for the president or vice president on the grounds that it was vulnerable to misuse.

In addition to the articles on insulting the president, the Alliance also highlighted the articles in RKUHP dealing with treason and blasphemy. They noted that both articles as they are currently written are also ill-defined and prone to misuse.

For example, they warned that the articles on treason do not specify actions to overthrow the government and could be used broadly against those legitimately criticizing the government.

As for the blasphemy articles, they argued that the state does have the right to regulate religious beliefs and differing religious interpretations make such laws inherently impossible to adjudicate fairly, especially when the cases involve religious minorities.

Many have expressed their concerns about RKUHP's articles, but one of the members of the bill's working committee (Panja) said that it would be very difficult to delete certain articles at this point, including the ones regarding insulting the president, as they had already largely been agreed upon by the DPR's members.

"In principle, there has been no refusal from the DPR or the government (about those articles). So what we can do is improve the substance and formulation of those articles," DPR member Arsul San said.

The DPR has been trying to pass RKUHP since early this year, but debates over articles concerning such issues as the criminalization of homosexuality have led to its delay. House Speaker Bambang Soesatyo says he wants to ratify the bill before the current plenary session ends in late September.

Source: https://coconuts.co/jakarta/news/indonesian-activists-slam-draft-criminal-codes-articles-on-criticizing-the-president-blasphemy