Asian parliamentarians have challenged Indonesia – as the region’s largest democracy – to champion freedom of speech and expression in the digital space as the election nears.
The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) on May 30 made the statement after a fact-finding mission on the country’s internet freedom.
“Indonesia has taken great strides in democratic reform following the fall of the authoritarian New Order regime 25 years ago, but we are concerned that if current trends of restrictions on freedom of speech and expression online continue unchecked, this important progress will be lost,” said Yuneswaran Ramaraj, member of the Parliament of Malaysia.
APHR said one of the major findings of the fact-finding mission is “how the Electronic Information and Transaction (ITE) Law – particularly its articles on defamation – has been used by those in positions of power to criminalize and silence peaceful expressions of dissent.”
The group cited the ongoing case against human rights defenders Haris Azhar and Fatia Maulidiyanti, who were “merely” discussing in a Youtube video that a government official is allegedly involved in mining activities.
“The ambiguous provisions in the ITE Law are clearly being misused and pose a great threat to meaningful discussion of political opinions online, which is particularly concerning with elections on the horizon,” said Timor-Leste member of parliament Elvina Sousa Carvalho.
Carvalho said APHR is in solidarity with civil society groups in Indonesia in calling on the government to “enact a comprehensive revision of the law”.
She also urged authorities to stop the use of the law pending the revision. “Continued prosecutions under the ITE Law would call into question whether the upcoming elections are truly democratic,” she said.
APHR reported that civic and media organizations in Indonesia “expressed their concerns about the increased monitoring of social media content, as well as digital attacks against human rights defenders and media organizations.”
According to the groups, the threats to freedom of expression online “have caused a chilling effect” and are “creating an atmosphere in which internet users are inclined to self-censor.”
Sarah Elago, a former lawmaker in the Philippines, said, “Elections should be a truly democratic process in which all members of society, especially the marginalized, feel comfortable to openly and peacefully express their views and have meaningful dialogues about the future of the country.”
APHR said the recent attacks on freedom of speech online pose “a risk to the freeness and fairness of the upcoming elections.”
The group called on the Indonesian government institutions to increase public participation in digital freedom-related policy-making and setting measures to promote a healthy and informed online discourse during the election process.