Indonesian government to water down defamation articles

Indonesian government to water down defamation articles
PHOTO: Shuttershock

Although insisting that laws against presidential insults should be restored to the Criminal Code (KUHP), the government said it is ready to compromise on the content of the provisions.

Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly said that the government has accommodated public criticism of the plan, but he said insults on a president's or vice president's dignity should not be acceptable.

"The compromise is that [presidential insults] will only be processed when the case is reported," he said as quoted by tribunnews.com.

The government recently revealed a plan to insert new articles in the KUHP that would bring back presidential insults as a crime.

In the new KUHP draft, the government reintroduces articles 262, 263, 264, 284 and 285.

The proposed articles say that Indonesian citizens could be imprisoned for nine years for insulting or publishing writings and pictures that insult a sitting president or vice president.

The plan sparked controversy as the Constitutional Court revoked similar articles in 2006, on the grounds that the provisions undermined the right to freedom of speech mandated by the Constitution and caused uncertainty, as the articles were subject to multiple interpretations.

A member of the House of Representatives' Commission III overseeing law and legal affairs, Ikhsan Sulistyo, said that his party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), was conducting a thorough examination to distinguish between insults against the president and legitimate criticisms.

"But once we have a clearly distinguished formulation between the two, we of course want to impose a criminal charge on defamation against the president," Ikhsan said.

Aside from the presidential insult provisions, there are more issues concerning the amendments of the KUHP and the Criminal Law Procedures Code (KUHAP).

The commission's working committee in charge of the bills' deliberations has listed around 800 problematic articles that should be carefully examined.

"Both bills are very important because they provide the base for all other laws in the country. Therefore, we need to be extra careful in deliberating the amendments. Thus, there is no need to rush the discussion," said Commission III deputy chief Mulfachri Harahap of the National Mandate Party (PAN).

Among the crucial issues to be included in the amendments are a requirement to obtain a permit to question certain officials about alleged criminal involvement, a wiretapping mechanism and a single authority for all existing law enforcement institutions to arrest suspects over graft-related crimes.

The deliberations of both the KUHP and the KUHAP amendments have been delayed for two consecutive House terms, although both bills have been included in the National Legislative Program (Prolegnas).

The 2014-2019 term House included both bills in its list of 160 priority bills to be passed within five years after the previous term failed to achieve progress with the discussion, despite several meetings held involving the government as well as civic organisations to gain input.

The House as well as the Law and Human Rights Ministry had ambitiously aimed to complete the deliberations by the end of next year, but later argued that the given time was insufficient because of the complexity of the issues contained in both bills.

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