Ryan Dagur, Jakarta – A senior Indonesian Church official has welcomed a call by President Joko Widodo for the revision of several articles in a law regulating electronic information and transactions that activists claim are aimed at curbing civil liberties and ensnaring government critics.
The Electronic Information and Transactions Law (ITE Law) enacted in 2018 punishes anyone found guilty of distributing, transmitting or making accessible electronic content that contains insults, pornography, hate speech, threats or fake news.
Rights groups have criticized the law, saying there is an absence of clear guidelines for police and the judiciary to interpret such actions.
Widodo this week responded to the criticism.
"The initial spirit of the ITE Law was to keep Indonesia's digital space clean, healthy, ethical and productive. If its implementation creates a sense of injustice, then this law needs to be revised. Remove the articles which have multiple interpretations," he said on Feb. 15 during a meeting with police and military chiefs.
Father Paulus Christian Siswantoko, executive secretary of the Indonesian Catholic bishops' Commission for the Laity, called Widodo's statement a signal that he had "detected unrest among the people over the law."
He said such a law is important in the context that there are people who still need to learn how to use the internet wisely.
"It's so our nation will be better and action is taken against the misuse of electronic media for bad things, such as inciting hatred and spreading misleading information," he told UCA News on Feb. 17.
"However, it is important to craft a law so that its application does not actually curb civil liberties, such as taking action against people who convey criticism based on data or facts."
At the same time, people need to learn how to use communication tools more wisely, he said.
Usman Hamid, executive director of Amnesty International Indonesia, said the first step the president should take in following up on his own call is to release those locked up under the law for simply expressing their views peacefully.
"The government is obliged to respect and protect the right to freedom of expression and opinion, including those who have views contrary to the government," he said in a statement.
The government must also realize that protection of freedom of opinion and expression does not end with the revision of this law, he added.
"There are articles in other laws that are also often used to deny freedom of expression, such as the one on treason to punish Papuans who express their views peacefully. Ensuring justice in society must be carried out fairly and not in a discriminatory manner," Hamid said.
Amnesty International recorded at least 119 cases last year in which the right to freedom of expression was violated using the ITE Law. The cases involved 141 people including 18 activists and four journalists
Many of them were accused of violating the law after criticizing government policies, Hamid said.