Konradus Epa, Jakarta – The Indonesian government has agreed to revise four articles in a controversial cyberlaw that church and rights groups say is repressive and open to abuse.
Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD said on June 8 that amendments would be made to articles 27, 28, 29 and 36 of the Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) law.
The law was introduced in 2008 and the contentious articles deal with insults, defamation, hate speech and hostility being spread on the internet. People can face up to six years in prison if found guilty of such crimes.
However, there is an absence of clear guidelines for police and the judiciary to interpret such actions, according to Catholic and rights groups.
As a result, the law undermines civil liberties and freedom of expression and enables authorities to silence critics, they say.
According to the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation, at least 351 people have fallen victim to the law and been jailed since it was introduced.
If its implementation creates a sense of injustice, then this law needs to be revised "Revising the four articles aims to eliminate vague interpretations," Mahfud told reporters on June 8.
In February, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said the spirit of the law was to keep the country'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.
Mahfud said the law will not be revoked but only amended to iron out the cracks because it is still needed.
Bonar Tigor Naipospos, deputy chairman of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, welcomed the decision. "This law has created fear among people because it shackled freedom of expression," he told UCA News.
From a rights perspective, he said, the law must be changed but it is not easy because the government must maintain social order and protect other citizens.
"We don't agree to give space to people to abuse other people, so a law is still needed to prevent this," he said.
Father Paulus Christian Siswantoko, executive secretary of the Indonesian bishops' Commission for the Laity, also backed the move.
"Clear guidelines are important because people don't seem able to distinguish between insults and criticism. We can criticize but can't insult people and other religions," he told UCA News.