Penulis Irfan Kamil, Jakarta – As many as 38 academics from Australia sent a letter to President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo on Thursday September 16 requesting that he give amnesty to jailed university lecturer Saiful Mahdi.
Mahdi is a lecture who was imprisoned after sending a message to a private WhatsApp group criticising the Syiah Kuala University's (Unsyiah) state civil servant recruitment process. He was sentenced to three months jail and a fined of 10 million rupiah on charges of defamation.
"One form of support for him is asking the president to release Saiful Mahdi", Amnesty International Indonesia Executive Director Usman Hamid told Kompas.com on Sunday September 19.
The Supreme Court earlier rejected an appeal submitted by Mahdi and upheld the sentences handed down by the district court and high court in Banda Aceh.
The court said that Mahdi was guilty of tarnishing the [university's] good name after writing a message to a WhatsApp group which was critical of what he suspected were irregularities in the recruitment process for lecturers at the university's faculty of engineering (FT).
Mahdi was charged based on Article 27 Paragraph 3 of the Information and Electronic Transaction (ITE) Law.
According to Hamid, Amnesty believes that a presidential amnesty would improve Indonesia's reputation which has been stifling freedom of expression.
"We trust in your willingness to give amnesty to and release Dr Saiful Mahdi from jail and prevent damage to Indonesia's reputation in the international community", wrote the academics in the letter to Widodo.
As has been reported, the case began when Mahdi criticised the recruitment process for lecturers at the university’s faculty of engineering on February 25, 2019.
Mahdi criticised the recruitment process because he knew that there were candidates which allegedly did not meet the requirements but were still accepted by the campus authorities. The criticism was made on a WhatsApp group.
The message which Mahdi posted on WhatsApp read as follows:
"Innalillahiwainnailaihirojiun [We belong to Allah and to Allah we return]. [I've] received distressing news of the death of common sense among the ranks of the Unsyiah FT's leadership during the PNS [state civil service] test the other day. Evidence that engineering determinism is easily corrupted? Gong Xi Fat Cai!!! [Happy Chinese New Year] How is it that there's a faculty which was once glorious which has then turned bad? Why is there a faculty which until recently has been so proud? Because mediocrity has been applied since it has recruited only the mediocre or those ensnared in 'debt' that are afraid of mediocrity".
Unwilling to accept the criticism, the deacon of the engineering faculty, Taufiq Mahdi [no relationship], then reported Mahdi to the Banda Aceh metropolitan district police on charges of defamation.
After being reported, Mahdi was then questioned by police. On September 3, 2019, the police declared Mahdi a suspect on charges of defamation using Article 27 Paragraph 3 of the ITE Law.
Mahdi was subsequently found guilty and sentenced to three months jail and a fine of 10 million rupiah by a panel of judges at the Banda Aceh District Court on April 4, 2020.
[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "38 Akademisi dari Australia Surati Jokowi, Minta Amnesti untuk Saiful Mahdi".]