Policy Paper The Indonesian Institute “Promoting and Protecting Citizens’ Freedom of Expression Towards the Government in Digital Space in Indonesia – June 2021 (English Version)”

The Indonesian Institute, Center for Public Policy Research (TII), would like to share a study on Promoting and Protecting Citizens’ Freedom of Expression Towards the Government in Digital Space in Indonesia. This study, supported by the Atlas Network, was conducted using a qualitative approach. Data collection was conducted out from January to mid-May 2021, using the document study method and in-depth interviews with stakeholders. The study tries to understand the policy content and context regarding freedom of expression, particularly citizens’ criticisms towards the government in digital spaces. Our analysis also looks at concepts such as digital spaces, democracy and governance; legal-political approach, as well as policy implementation.

In this study, TII generally finds that freedom of expression is one of the problems in the reflection of 23 years of Reformation in Indonesia. This is reflected in several cases of criminalization targeting democracy activists. However, the existing legal foundations, including the 1945 Constitution, the Criminal Code, the Law Number 19 Year 2016 on the Law Number 11 Year 2008 regarding the Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE Law) to name a few, although they have been seen as the commitment of the government to protect human rights, apparently in practice, these regulations are also prone to be used as tools to discourage, if not to criminalize, those who are critical towards the government, particularly through electronic tools.

The Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet) monitored that since the ITE Law was passed in 2008, 324 cases were recorded at least until October 2020. In addition, among the victims of ITE Law, the Press Legal Aid Institute (LBH Pers) also noted that at least 10 journalists in 2020 were convicted by ITE Law, apart from the fact that the press is protected by Law Number 40 Year 1999 regarding the Press. Although the revision of the Law took place in 2016, it did not stop the problematic implementation of the Law which has increased the human rights violation cases, particularly regarding freedom of expression in Indonesia from time to time. SAFEnet recorde that since 2017, there were 15.056 cases reported to the Directorate of Cyber Crime (Ditippidsiber) in Indonesian National Police (Polri). Public order, insult, and defamation have been well known as reasons to criminalize those who are critical towards the government in the digital platforms.

In addition, in the TII study it was found that Sharpening political divisions in society which resulted from previous elections in 2014, 2017, and 2019 also put additional barriers and threats to freedom of expression including in digital spaces between those who are pros and cons towards the current government. Furthermore, the worrying condition of freedom of expression can be seen from several findings. Survey conducted by the Human Rights National Commission and Kompas Research and Development Center showed that 36% of respondents felt that they are not free to exercise their rights to express themselves in digital spaces. These records also explain Indonesia’s Partly Free status regarding the Global Freedom Status by the Freedom House reports from 2019 to 2021. The 23 years of the Reform and the reflection of democracy and governance in Indonesia should become momentum to promote and to protect freedom of expression in Indonesia, including regarding critics towards the government in digital spaces.

We expect that the paper can provide actionable and relevant policy recommendations with human rights and freedom perspectives and involve various stakeholders in order to promote freedom of expression and digital protection in Indonesia, particularly for the citizens’ participation in the policy processes, including in voicing criticisms and feedback to the government in digital spaces.

Happy reading and thank you.

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