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Defamation cases quashing press freedom in Indonesia

A judge is pictured during a hearing at the State Administrative Court in Jakarta, Indonesia, 22 June 2015
A judge is pictured during a hearing at the State Administrative Court in Jakarta, Indonesia, 22 June 2015

AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim

This statement was originally published on ifj.org on 16 July 2015.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate Aliansi Jurnalis Independen (AJI) in expressing strong concern for a growing number of criminal defamation charges against the media and public officials. The IFJ and AJI express concerns for the impact such charges have against freedom of expression and call on the government to ensure such charges do not become a tool to silence critics.

Two incidents in recent months highlight the growing challenge for freedom of expression in Indonesia. In March this year, two commissioners of the Judicial Commission (KY) were named in a defamation case, while in May two activists of the Indonesian Corruption Watch (ICW) and a former consultant of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) were named in a defamation case relating to comments they have made in the media. In each instance, those who filed the defamation cases were the subjects of the criticisms.

AJI stresses that by criminalizing public officials, as was the case for the two KY commissioners, is an attempt to restrict access to information, a right that is part of the 1945 Republic of Indonesia Constitution.

The president of AJI, Suwarjono said: “Recent events have shown that there is a rise in criminalizing people's views. These facts are a setback to democracy in Indonesia. They could even be worse than the situation during the New Order era, since the law now legalizes criminalizing those who express their views. It makes things worse when the Police have a mindset that objects to freedom of speech and expression.”

The IFJ said: “Using laws the suppress freedom of expression is a concerning issue in Indonesia and appears to be on the rise. Indonesia is well equipped with mechanisms, such as the Press Council to deal with press complaints and issues; however a growing number of people are taking criminal action. This will only work to create a culture of fear among the media community, concerned about what they can say.”

The IFJ and AJI call on the government to take a stand against the growing number of criminal defamation cases, against both the media and the general population, and support the role of existing mechanisms such as the Press Council.

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