Police press on Jokowi defamation case

Police press on Jokowi defamation case

The National Police on Thursday reiterated their commitment to continuing an investigation into a small-time worker in East Jakarta, who stands accused of posting a modified pornographic image that bears the faces of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri amid a public call to drop the case.

Muhammad Arsyad, a 24-year-old satay kiosk worker, allegedly posted the pornographic picture on his Facebook account around July at the time when Jokowi, then Jakarta governor, was still campaigning for the presidential election.

Henry Yosodiningrat, an Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) politician and lawyer, filed the lawsuit, accusing Arsyad of defamation under the Criminal Code and of distributing pornographic content under the 2008 Pornography Law.

In the face of protests, the National Police's economics and special crimes director, Brig. Gen. Kamil Razak, insisted that the force would not drop the case, noting the gravity of the offence committed by Arsyad.

"All cases with sufficient elements will be processed. It is pornographic content, not just some words or pictures. Judging from the ethics side, it is very inappropriate. Try to imagine if the victims were our relatives, would we be OK with that?" Kamil said at his office in Jakarta.

The arrest of Arsyad earlier this week sparked public controversy as Jokowi has now become the country's seventh President. The use of law enforcement to proceed Arsyad's case has raised concerns that the government is trying to curb freedom of expression.

The police have already detained citizens for defamation cases related to social media. Yogyakarta Police arrested in September Florence Sihombing, a law student, for complaining about the city and its residents on Twitter.

Henry, a PDI-P lawmaker and a member of the party's legal team, said that he would not revoke the allegations and would let the police process the case.

Even if Henry agreed to drop the case, the police still retain the authority to prosecute Arsyad.

National Police chief Gen. Sutarman said Thursday that the arrest of Arsyad was more about the pornography, which could be deemed a regular crime, and not about defaming Jokowi.

On Wednesday afternoon, Arsyad's mother, Mursidah, accompanied by his lawyer Abdul Aziz, went to the National Police headquarters detention centre but failed to meet Arsyad as he had been rushed to the police's Dr. Sukanto Hospital in East Jakarta due to depression.

"The police investigators said he was depressed after watching news reports on the television in his cell," Abdul said.

Mursidah extended her hope that her son would not be prosecuted.

"He is a breadwinner. Please forgive my son. […] If needed, I will trade [my] life," Mursidah, an onion peeler at Kramat Jati traditional market, told reporters.

Wahyudi Djafar of the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (Elsam) lamented the use of the defamation charge in the case.

"Rights groups have long advocated for the removal of articles on defamation, as stipulated in the 2008 Electronic Information and Transaction (ITE) Law, the Criminal Code and other laws. These articles have a chilling effect that discourages people from expressing their opinions," he said.

Donny Budi Utoyo, Information and Communication Technology Watch (ICT Watch) co-founder, said the case should serve as momentum for the government and the public to step up efforts to provide education on the safe and ethical use of the Internet.

"As Internet connection becomes cheaper, more people in the country will enjoy online access. The government, private sector and civil society share a responsibility to provide education and raise awareness about digital ethics - what things can and cannot be done online," Donny said.

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