President Joko Widodo of Indonesia, whose re-election victory was cemented by the Constitutional Court last week, works hard to maintain his image as a down-to-earth man of the people, but long before April's election some political observers were warning about his and his administration's arguably authoritarian tendencies (failed candidate Prabowo Subianto even tried to use some of their articles, controversially and unsuccessfully, as evidence in his Constitutional Court election fraud lawsuit).
One piece of evidence cited in those warnings is the large number of individuals who have been arrested and jailed for insulting and sharing misinformation about the president. The latest such case involves a man who was arrested for allegedly insulting the president with a Facebook post criticizing the tendency of people who insult the president getting arrested.
But while some might consider that a valid criticism of Jokowi's administration, the user's post was particularly inflammatory because it compared the president to the Prophet Muhammad.
The suspect in the case, Juranda Aditya, is a hotel clerk who was arrested by the Bangka Belitung Island Regional Police recently for a post he published on his Facebook page on June 18 in which he allegedly wrote the sentence, "The president is higher than the Prophet, insulting the president results in immediate arrest, whereas if you insult the Prophet it is enough to apologize".
The comment accompanied a photo of Jokowi and comedian Andre Taulany, who was reported to police in May for blasphemy after asking, seemingly as a joke, if the Prophet Muhammad's body was a garden after a guest mentioned that the prophet's body smelled like 1,000 flowers on a TV talk show. After the clip went viral, Andre apologized and in the end police chose not to prosecute him.
"The suspect was secured for alleged hate speech and the spreading of fake news. From the results of our investigation, the suspect was arrested while working in one of the hotels in Sungailiat," Bangka Belitung Senior Commissioner Indra Krismayadi told reporters yesterday as quoted by Tempo.
Indra said that expert witnesses had been consulted to make sure Juranda's posts included the criminal elements required for his prosecution under the law, specifically those found in the Law on Electronic Transactions and Information (UU ITE) regarding the spread of hate speech online as well as articles that specifically criminalize insulting the president under the country's Criminal Code.
Juranda told the media that he regretted the post but claimed to have only shared it.
"I found the article on Facebook. Then I uploaded it back while commenting. I regret doing that. It turns out what I posted is wrong. It's better to live outside than inside (prison)," he said.
For insulting the president and spreading hate speech online, Juranda faces a potential maximum sentence of six years in jail.
Those on the opposite end of the political spectrum from Jokowi have often accused his administration of being anti-Islam and "criminalizing" ulema (Islamic scholars) and other political opponents on charges of spreading hate speech and misinformation.