Jakarta – The government and the House of Representatives have resumed deliberation on a Bill that would revise the Criminal Code and they appear to be determined to pass what would be the historic piece of legislation.
It would replace, for the first time, the penal code inherited from the Dutch colonial government, even though Indonesia has been independent since 1945.
Going by past experience, this legislation is too important to be left to the government and the House alone.
In 2019, they almost succeeded in passing a deeply problematic version of the same Bill and were stopped only by mass opposition led by students and civil society organisations.
Protests were held outside the House complex against the passage of two controversial Bills: one revising the Criminal Code and the other altering the powers of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).
President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo intervened, and the Criminal Code revision was shelved, but the KPK Bill, with provisions defanging the antigraft body, was passed and is now law.
We look forward to Indonesia having its own homemade penal code, not one inherited from colonial occupiers. But we will celebrate only if the nation can come up with one that is superior and reflects the realities of the 21st century.
That was not the case with the draft we saw in 2019, and the new draft, not yet widely publicised, may also fall short of our expectations.
While it has been amended on multiple occasions, the current penal code was introduced in 1918 and was designed by the colonial administration largely to suppress dissent. Some of the articles in the current code still reflect this.
The 2019 draft sought to reinforce these restrictions on freedoms and rights, and civil society rightly rejected it on these grounds. Now we've learnt that the new draft still contains some of the rejected provisions.
For example, it reintroduces an article that makes insulting the president a crime punishable by up to 4.5 years of imprisonment. This article has its origins in the Dutch penal code, which made insulting the royalty a crime, and was declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court in 2006.
As a republic and a democracy, it would be absurd for us to have a lese-majeste article. This is a wake-up call for civil society and those concerned about the future of the nation to actively participate in the deliberation of this important Bill.
We should not let the government and the House out-manoeuvre us again the way they did by swiftly passing the controversial Job Creation Law last year under the cover of pandemic restrictions.
Rather than opposing the entire Bill, we should focus our time and energy on articles that are problematic in terms of freedom and human rights. Civil society should not get caught napping again as it was in 2019, when it began moving only as the Bill was about to be passed.
As we recall, some of the protests turned violent, something that must be avoided this time. The time to make noise is now. Speak now or forever hold your peace.
– The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network