Kompas – February 24, 2021

Kid: Don't let there be any more victims (headband reads "Democracy")

A statement by President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's asking the public to be more active in conveying criticism and input on the government's performance has been met by a storm of criticism from people who have fallen foul of the draconian Information and Electronic Transaction Law (UU ITE).

Critics assert that since its enactment in 2008, the law has been used as a tool by those in power to silence criticism using the law's so-called "rubber articles" – its ambiguous articles on hate speech, defamation and blasphemy.

The Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI) says that the police "misuse the criminal provisions" against people critical of the government and Amnesty International has recorded 119 cases of alleged violations of freedom of expression involving 141 people charged under the law.

According to the Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet), between 2008 and 2019 the law has been used to prosecute 285 people. The rate of prosecution increased in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic with some 110 people being charged.

The Civil Society Coalition meanwhile reported that between 2016 and 2020, 96.8 percent of prosecutions under the ITE Law resulted in convictions and 88 percent resulted in incarceration.

Whether or not this will result in the law being revised or even abolished – as many critics have demanded – has yet to be seen.

In response to the criticism, Widodo called on police to be more "selective" in pursuing prosecutions and said he may ask the House of Representatives to revise the law.

The Coordinating Minister for Politics, Law and Security, Mahfud MD has announced that the government will form a team to revise the law. Although the team will be hearing input from independent sources, rights groups say it is dominated by government officials with poor track records on civil rights.

The police meanwhile have responded by establishing a new "Virtual Police" unit to monitor social media that will issue warnings to those to post material which could violate the ITE Law and order their deletion. Police claim this is aimed at "educating people" so they won't violate the law and that they will only be charged as a last resort.

Rights groups however expressed grave concerns that the virtual police will only generate more fear about what can be said on social media with some calling it a slide towards an "Orwellian state".