Katharina R. Lestari, Jakarta – Civil groups in Indonesia have slammed a minister and a presidential office chief of staff for filing police reports against human rights defenders and activists in connection with their statements on the two state officials' alleged involvement in certain projects.
Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan filed on Sept. 22 a police report against Fatia Maulidiyanti, coordinator of the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence, and Haris Azhar, executive director of the Lokataru Law and Human Rights Office, for violating the electronic information and transactions law by "attacking someone's honor or reputation with accusations" and "defamation" after the two rejected requests in a subpoena to apologize for mentioning him in a talk show video.
In the video, both rights defenders discussed the findings of a recent report which revealed how the location of military and police posts around the mining concessions in Papua province's Intan Jaya district were identified as being connected with Indonesian army generals and the relationship between company concessions and the deployment of the military.
It was claimed in the video that the minister owns shares of PT Toba Sejahtera Group, a company that controls PT Tobacom Del Mandiri, one of the companies involved in mining operations in the district's Wabu Block area.
Earlier, Presidential Office Chief of Staff Moeldoko filed a defamation complaint against two activists from the Indonesia Corruption Watch over allegations that the former military chief had cashed in on the distribution of Covid-19 medication Ivermectin and misused authority to join the rice export program.
Ismail Hasani, executive director of the Jakarta-based Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, called such a legal move "decreased civic space."
"Even though a legal move is the right of citizens, it is a pity that state officials took legal action to respond to criticism. Criticism must be responded with objective criticism, and research must be responded with the results of research too, and so on. In this way, our democracy will remain healthy," he said in a statement on Sept. 23.
"It seems that they failed to understand the difference between reliable criticism and defamation."
According to Hasani, the incidents have raised alarm over threats to academic freedom and freedom of expression among human rights defenders and activists.
"We want the national police chief to implement the electronic information and transactions law selectively by focusing on persuasive approaches. Defamation must not serve as a strong reason to bring human rights defenders to court," he said.
"The national police chief still can convince the public that our democracy remains healthy by putting an end to the police reports and focusing on a just solution."
A similar demand came from the Clean Indonesia Advocacy Team. In a statement issued on Sept. 23, the group called on the national police chief to drop the state officials' lawsuits.
"It is because what Azhar and Maulidiyanti as well as Egi Primayogha and Miftahul Choir did was purely part of freedom of expression and human rights defenders' opinions and works which are guaranteed by the constitution and existing regulations," the group said.
The group also urged the National Commission on Human Rights to issue recommendations in relation to measures to protect rights defenders.