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State security bill infringes on press freedom, says SEAPA

(SEAPA/IFEX) - The Indonesian House of Representatives is set to pass into a law at the end of September 2009 a state security bill that would penalize with the death penalty people found guilty of disseminating state secrets, media reports said.

"The Jakarta Post" said lawmakers in the House working committee deliberating the bill said they have approved a maximum penalty of capital punishment or 20 years of imprisonment and a fine of Rp 100 million (US$10,000) for the crime.

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) notes that "such a disproportionate punishment coupled with the potential for abusing the state secrecy law (should the bill be passed) to deny people access to information, will redound to an attack on freedom of information and of the press".

One of the members of this committee, Effendi Choirie, said they have also reached an agreement on the definition of state secrets.

"State secrets are defined as information or materials and activities, which are classified as secrets by the president, and could potentially endanger the state, its existence and integrity if they are leaked to people who do not have the right to possess them," the chairman of the committee, Guntur Sasono of the Democratic Party, told "The Jakarta Post" on 10 September.

Effendi added that "only intelligence-sensitive information is classified as secret," in response to public fears that the definition of state secrets would be too generic and open to abuse.

Impartial Human Rights Watch research coordinator Al Araf told a press conference in Jakarta on 10 September that despite the removal of some of the bill's controversial articles, the remaining provisions make it difficult for the public to obtain vital information.

"It is difficult enough for us to investigate human rights violation cases without the existence of a State Secrecy Law, let alone having such a law in our system," Al Araf said.

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