Carlos KY Paath, Primus Dorimulu, Emmanuel Kure, Jakarta – The Coordinating Ministry for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs, the Communication and Information Technology Ministry, and the Law and Human Rights Ministry has formed a team to review the 2008 Law about Electronic Information and Transactions, taking a concrete step to make a change in a controversial law which critics said has been used as a tool of oppression since its inception.
The law, commonly known by its acronym, UU ITE, has become a focus of public discourse after a string of cases against people deemed government opposition in the past few months. On the other hand, authorities seemed slow in handling similar cases against the government's known supporters.
Data from the National Police's cybercrime division showed negative contents – that include pornography, defamation, or hate speech – accounted for 37 percent of more than 20,000 cybercrime cases between Jan 2015 to May 2020, just behind fraud, which accounted for 43 percent of the crimes.
President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo – a civilian president under whom Indonesia's democracy index deteriorated in the past five years – said that the government was for the law amendments and tasked his aides to follow it up.
"The relevant ministries, in this case, the Communication and Information Ministry and Law and Human Rights Ministry, will take steps," Communication and Information Minister Johnny G. Plate said on Monday.
Johnny reiterated Jokowi's commitment toward democracy and will strive to the rights guaranteed by the 1945 Constitution.
"Our common task is to maintain and improve the quality of democracy, the quality of press freedom, the quality of association, the quality of assembly, and the quality of expressing opinions," Jhonny said.
The team would focus on contentious UU ITE articles, including article 27 about pornography, gambling, defamation, and extortion, article 28 about fraud and hate speech, and article 29 about the threat of violence.
Jokowi said last week that UU ITE was up for revision. "If there are articles that are deemed inappropriate, an amendment can be pursued," Jokowi told the nation's chief editors last week.
Jokowi said it was never in the government's intention to silence oppositions using the law and degrade Indonesia's democracy.
Irwan, a lawmaker from the Democrat Party, said the House of Representatives had listed the UU ITE amendment on its legislation plan for the next four years, suggesting that the amendment may find substantial support among lawmakers. "We appreciate the President's concern about UU ITE," Irwan said.
Tool of oppression
Still, data from the Economists Intelligence Unit (EIU) showed Indonesia's democracy has declined under Jokowi, in line with a similar trend around the globe marked by rising polarization and governments' coercive power, among others.
Indonesia's Democracy Index fell to 6.3 last year, the lowest reading since 2008, from 6.48 a year earlier, in part because of the government's restriction on freedom of movement to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, EIU report showed. Still, the index was in a downward trend after peaking at 7.03 in 2015.
Mirza Fahmi, the program manager of Lokataru Foundation, a law and human rights advocacy group, said, UU ITE might have amplified a tendency among Indonesians tendency to shun democracy.
"It boils down to a more basic problem. It does not only concern the government that designs and uses its legal instruments to restrict citizens, but also remains in the character of society itself, which secretly rejects democracy which requires freedom of expression for all," he said.
In the past twelve months, many critics of the government were accused of violating UU ITE.
Last November, a Bali court sentenced I Gede Ari Astina, a rock star commonly known by his stage name Jerinx, to 14 months in jail. Jerinx was found guilty of hate speech for calling the Indonesian Doctors Association (IDI) "WHO's lackey" in one of his tweets that expressed his opposition against restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In December, the police arrested Soni Ernata, known as Ustaz (Muslim preacher) Maahe At-Thuwailir, suspecting hate speech. Maaher gained popularity after involving in an Islamist political movement, the 212 Movement, which succeeded in ousting Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian and ethnic Chinese Jakarta governor, who also a Jokowi's ally, from his post in 2017. Maaher died in police custody early this month due to an undisclosed illness.
Indriyanto Seno Adji, a law expert at the University of Indonesia, said one of UU ITE implementation issues stemmed from an unclear definition of insult or defamation, leaving it open for judges' diverse interpretations.
Indriyanto said the Supreme Court should issue a guideline for the judges regarding the matter. "Clear boundaries should be included in the [guideline]. Therefore there would not be any excessive multi-interpretation," Indriyanto said.
In the meantime, authorities tried to find ways to rein in the abuse of UU ITE.
The National Police Chief Gen. Sigit Prabowo issued a circular on Monday saying that the police would be more considerate in handling UU ITE's criminal cases. For one, the police would not detain the suspect anymore if he had apologized in public. The police would also encourage the victims and perpetrators to make peace before bringing the case to court.
Earlier, Sigit said the police would not follow up a third-party report about defamation, Sigit said. "If the defamation victim is B, then B must file the report themselves, not A," he said.
Before UU ITE, defamation is regulated under criminal law. The law requires the victims themselves to report the crime to the police. However, UU ITE's wordings allowed a third-party to file a defamation case against a perpetrator, sometimes without the victims' knowing. Politicians' supporters often use this loophole to file reports against their opponents.