Amnesty International accuses government of trying to stifle criticism

Tribune – May 10, 2019
Amnesty International Executive Director Usman Hamid (Tribune)
Amnesty International Executive Director Usman Hamid (Tribune)

Theresia Felisiani, Jakarta – Amnesty International Indonesia has joined the debate on the formation of the national legal team by Coordinating Minister for Security, Politics and Legal Affairs (Kemenko Polhukam) Wiranto.

In a press release Amnesty called on President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to order Wiranto to shelve the plan to form the national legal team.

With the formation of the special team tasked with studying statements by figures which are deemed to violate the law, Amnesty feels that the government is stifling criticism.

Amnesty said that the team’s monitoring role is prone to misuse and silencing legitimate criticism by citizens against the government, and even worse has the potential to give rise to over-criminalisation in Indonesia.

“Silencing critics, never mind by criminalisation, is just the same as worsening the complexity of the problem of prison over-capacity in Indonesia”, said Amnesty International Indonesia Executive Director Usman Hamid on Thursday May 9.

Hamid believes that the existence of the right to freedom of opinion in Indonesia is already under threat from the criminal stipulations on defamation. One of those that is problematic is the article which criminalise defamation against government officials and state institutions.

“[Even] without this monitoring [team] many people have already been indicted because they have criticised the authorities in Indonesia, including the president. Worse still there will be a tendency for this monitoring to target figures who are actively criticising the government post the April 17 presidential election”, said Hamid.

“If this turns out to be true then it will destroy the culture of political opposition which is healthy and needed for our socio-political life. Moreover this policy will result in the president and the government becoming unwilling to accept any criticism at all”, he reiterated.

Hamid continued saying that the other negative impact if this team is formed will be creating a fear among citizens of expressing their views, including on social media.

Meanwhile the presence of the team can also be seen as a kind directive and will become a justification for law enforcement officials to prosecute people on a massive scale who are deemed to have criticised or insulted the government or the president.

“In general terms restrictions on human rights are allowed. But it must be done carefully, not to the point of these restrictions being made on the wrong grounds which instead kills off the essence of rights itself. It needs to be remembered that rights are a basic element of a constitutional state, not a authoritarian state”, asserted Hamid.

Speaking with Amnesty International Indonesia by phone Security Minister Wiranto explained that the team being formed is not a new agency but rather it is just a team of legal assistants comprising a number of academics.

So the formation of the team is not intended to silence criticism like the New Order dictatorship of former president Suharto.

Responding to this statement, Hamid said that while they appreciate Wiranto’s explanation about the plan they is still feels that the team is unnecessary because it will overlap with the authority of existing law enforcement agencies.

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was “Amnesty International Indonesia: Tim Hukum Nasional Jadikan Pemerintah Antikritik”.]