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New law can be used to spy on and criminalise journalists, dissidents

In addition to giving Indonesian security officials sweeping powers to spy on civilians, new legislation could also give authorities the right to imprison journalists for muckraking reporting, warns the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), a founding member of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA).

The long-debated and widely protested State Intelligence Bill was passed into law on 11 October, AJI reports. It forbids individuals, including journalists and their sources, from revealing "state secrets", or information related to "defence, natural resources and international resources," but it doesn't define specifically what kind of information is secret. Penalties for sharing confidential state information include imprisonment up to 10 years and fines of up to US$56,000. AJI is demanding that lawmakers clearly define what is meant by "state secrets".

AJI and other civil society organisations have repeatedly called for the bill to be withdrawn. As part of a coalition of human rights groups, AJI has successfully demanded the bill be examined by the Constitutional Court to see if it violates constitutional rights. During the judicial review, AJI will submit information to the court outlining how the legislation could be used to suppress dissent.

The major critique being made by AJI and others is that the law does not require security officials to differentiate between those who want to uphold human rights and democracy and those who are truly criminal.

For example, the new law authorises intelligence to intercept communications without legal approval, meaning security agents could get away with spying on activists, opposition members and journalists.

"AJI emphasises the central importance of public opinion in the formulation of the law, rather than government interest," the group said in a statement.

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