Activist arrested for hate speech defending religious minorities: Amnesty

Java Post – January 9, 2020
Sudarto being questioned by West Sumatra regional police – January 7, 2020 (Jawa Pos)

Muhammad Ridwan – Amnesty International Indonesia has responded to a case involving an interfaith activist from West Sumatra, Sudarto, who has been charged with hate speech. Amnesty believes that Sudarto was in fact defending religious minorities’ right to worship.

“Sudarto was defending the right of religious minorities to worship. His freedom of expression must be protected and not be used as grounds for his arrest. The charges must be dropped immediately”, said Amnesty International Executive Director Usman Hamid in a press release received by the Java Post on Thursday January 9.

Hamid believes that the Electronic Information and Transaction Law (UU ITE) is often taken advantage of and misused by the authorities to restrict freedom of expression. He believes that the law is open to multiple interpretations.

“This regulation is open to multiple interpretations and because of this must be revised or annulled”, asserted Hamid.

Hamid said that the police are alleging that Sudarto used social media (Facebook) to spread hate speech. The interfaith activist was charged under the ITE Law which was enacted in 2008.

Sudarto was arrested by police because he allegedly criticised a ban on Christmas celebrations and worship in Dharmasraya regency, West Sumatra, through is private social media account. Before being arrested, Sudarto was taken to the West Sumatra regional police headquarters by eight officers.

“Sudarto’s arrest was made after there was a complaint accusing him of hate speech. The reporter claimed that there was no ban on Christmas worship in the regency”, said Hamid.

Hamid said that another controversial case involving the ITE Law was the case of Baiq Nuril, a school teacher from Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara. Nuril was also the first person to submit an appeal in an ITE Law case which ended in her being granted amnesty by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo in mid-2019. “Nevertheless, hundreds of people have been indicted under the ITE UU since 2011”, said Hamid.

Responding to this, National Police Public Information Bureau Head Brigadier General Raden Prabowo Argo Yuwono asserted that the police acted in accordance with the law. According to Yuwono, the matter is entirely up to the authority of police investigators.

“Let the investigators work and what has been done was in accordance with regulations”, said Yuwono.

Yuwono emphasised that if there are parties which do not accept Sudarto being declared a suspect then they should submit a pre-trial suit. “Please go ahead and test it in court, let the judge be the umpire”, asserted Yuwono.

Sudarto, who earlier posted news about a ban on Christmas worship in Dharmasraya regency, was arrested by police from the West Sumatra regional police special crimes directorate.

Sudarto, who is a program manager at the Pusaka Foundation, was arrested at his home on Jl. Veteran, Purus in the northern part of Padang city on Tuesday January 7 at 1.30 pm.

“The arrest was made today, at 1 pm. During the arrest we seized the phone and laptop allegedly used to spread hate speech on medsos [social media]”, West Sumatra regional police public relations chief Senior Commissioner Stefanus Satake Bayu Setianto told the Java Post on Tuesday.

Setianto said that Sudarto’s arrest was based on a public complaint by someone from Dharmasraya. Based on the report, Sudarto was deemed to have damaged the harmony and unity of the religious community in West Sumatra, specifically in Dharmasraya.

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was “Amnesty International Bela Sudarto, Polri: Tunggu di Pengadilan”.]