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Court revokes articles that criminalised defamation of government

(SEAPA/IFEX) - SEAPA welcomes the Indonesian Constitution Court's ruling on 17 July 2007 that articles 154 and 155 of the Penal Code, which criminalise defamation against the government, are unconstitutional and therefore void.

"Articles 154 and 155 were clearly backward and antiquated, and have no place in a modern society with aspirations for genuine democracy. Former president Suharto used the crude laws to imprison his critics over his three decades in power, and even after he had been deposed, the laws continued to hang over the heads of Indonesians who had anything to say about government and country. This bold decision of the Constitutional Court is a victory for all Indonesians and an inspiration to free speech champions all over Southeast Asia," said SEAPA Executive Director Roby Alampay in an 18 July statement from Bangkok, Thailand.

Constitutional Court Chairperson Jimly Assiddiqie, when reading the verdict, said, "The articles impede the freedom to express opinions and are therefore against the 1945 Constitution."

Inherited from the former Dutch colonialists, the articles allowed for prison terms of up to seven years for "inciting hatred" against the government.

Activist Panji Utomo had challenged the code at the Constitutional Court after he was sentenced to three months in prison by the Banda Aceh District Court for "spreading hatred" against the government during a 2006 protest rally.

In December 2006, the Constitutional Court made another landmark ruling in favour of freedom of expression when it revoked three similarly restrictive articles that banned insults against the president (see IFEX alerts of 15 and 11 December and 29 September 2006).

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