Jakarta – Two Jakarta-based human rights activists were indicted Monday by the public prosecutor, which sought years-long sentences for both in a defamation case brought against them by a top minister.
Human rights groups have criticised the government for what they say is an increasing crackdown on rights defenders, particularly against critics of the government.
Fatia Maulidiyanti and Haris Azhar were indicted by the public prosecutor at East Jakarta district court at a hearing Monday after they were sued in 2021 by Luhut Pandjaitan, Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment.
The case relates to a YouTube conversation between the pair, which included an unreported third person, in which they talked about a report on alleged links between military figures and mining interests in the restive eastern region of Papua.
Luhut accused Fatia and Haris of defamation, the former for her statement that "Luhut is playing around with mining [operations] in Papua these days" and the latter for distributing the content of these discussions on YouTube.
In their discussion, which both activists say was based on vetted findings, Fatia pointed to Luhut's links to PT Madinah Qurrata'ain, a permit holder for the Derewo River Gold Project in Papua's Intan Jaya regency, which lies northwest of the Grasberg and Wabu gold mines.
PT Tobacom Del Mandiri, reportedly owned by PT Toba Sejahtera, which Luhut holds shares of, has a 30 percent stake in Madinah Qurrata'ain, according to a joint report of chief sales officers. Luhut has denied the claims.
The prosecutor sought three-and-a-half years in prison for Fatia and a Rp 500,000 ($32) fine, which would add six months prison time if unpaid.
They sought four years for Haris and a Rp 1,000,000 fine, with the same conditions attached.
A lawyer for the two, Muhammad Isnur, criticised the decision as further squeezing civic space in the country.
"This demand is a form of trampling on the law and a dangerous alarm for democracy, particularly civil liberties in Indonesia," he said.
Amnesty International Indonesia executive director Usman Hamid called for the pair to be immediately released.
"This disgraceful indictment will have a destructive effect on the work of human rights defenders in Indonesia," he said in a statement.
"These alarming indictments illustrate the increasing oppression faced by activists who express dissenting opinions."
The coordinating ministry of maritime affairs and investment did not immediately respond to an AFP request for comment.
The next hearing is scheduled for November 27, with the pair given two weeks to prepare their defence statements.