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Spreading defamatory information in Indonesia can land you up to six years in jail and a fine of 1 billion Rupees (US$15,765,400) under a new Internet law, says the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA).

The Electronic Information and Transaction Law, intended to combat online crime, pornography, gambling, blackmail, lies, threats and racism, also prohibits citizens from distributing any defamatory or insulting materials electronically, says SEAPA. Even a link to a website containing defamation is punishable under the new law.

Indonesia's Press Council says the new law falls short of international standards and trends. Provisions are reminiscent of the "archaic, colonial laws" inherited from the Dutch, which criminalised defamation of rulers. But last year, the Indonesian Constitutional Court declared criminal defamation against the government unconstitutional.

The council is seeking a review of the law, and an explicit exception for the press, fearing that reporters who choose the online medium to expose corruption, manipulation and disputes may be subject to punishment. Although a Ministry of Communications spokesperson has claimed the media is protected under the press law, civil society groups say prosecutors tend to ignore the press law when investigating media-related disputes.

At least 50 countries have amended their laws concerning fraud, insult and defamation, making them civil infractions, rather than criminal offences, says the council. Last month, Ireland's Senate voted to abolish the country's criminal defamation laws altogether, reports the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

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(15 April 2008)

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