Coalition asks public prosecutor to drop defamation case against rights activists

CNN Indonesia – March 6, 2023
Azhar and Maulidiyanti (centre) undergoing examination at Metro Jaya police – March 6, 2023 (Istimewa)

Jakarta – The Civil Society Coalition for Democracy is asking the Jakarta chief public prosecutor to drop the case of alleged defamation against Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Binsar Panjaitan involving human rights activist Haris Azhar and Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) Coordinator Fatia Maulidiyanti for the sake of the law.

"We urge the Jakarta chief public prosecutor to halt the case for the sake of the law. If not, then this situation further shows that law enforcement officials are becoming actors in narrowing the space for [civil] freedoms", said the Coalition in a press release on Monday March 6.

They believe that it is becoming increasingly apparent that the case is being pushed through. The legal process, which has taken around one year and six months, gives the impression of real doubt on the part of the police and the public prosecutor's office that there are elements of a criminal act in the case.

Then today, Monday, all of a sudden, the legal proceedings against Azhar and Maulidiyanti entered the stage of handing over the suspects and evidence, or P21, from the Metro Jaya Regional Police (Polda) to the Jakarta chief public prosecutor.

"We believe, the investigators from the Metro Jaya Polda and the public prosecutors from the Jakarta chief public prosecutors' office are in error in this case", the group said.

They also asserted that Azhar and Maulidiyanti's actions cannot be prosecuted as a crime because it is still categorised as legitimate criticism of a public official, and at the same time a form of public participation in the context of government oversight.

According to the Coalition, it was legitimate criticism as regulated under Article 28E Paragraph (3) of the 1945 Constitution and Article 44 of Law Number 39/1999 on Human Rights.

"This case should not continue and if the police and the public prosecutor comply with and obey the joint decrees Number 229 of 2021, Number 154 of 2021, and Number KB/2/VI/2021 on Guidelines for the Implementation of the ITE [Electronic Information and Transaction] Law, which clearly and explicitly state that it is not a criminal offence if it in the form of an assessment, opinion, the result of an evaluation, or a fact", said the group.

In addition to this, National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) Explanatory Document Number 588/K-PMT/VII/2022, which was issued in July 2022, states that Azhar and Maulidiyanti are human rights defenders.

The group said that if this is associated with Azhar and Maulidiyanti's criticism related to the environment in Papua, then the pair are protected by Article 66 of Law Number 32/2009 on Environmental Protection and Management.

Article 66 reads, "Anyone who fights for the right to a clean and healthy environment cannot be prosecuted criminally or face civil litigation".

Then, Chapter VI of the Guidelines for the Attorney General Number 8/2022 on the Handling of Criminal Cases in the Field of Environmental Protection and Management asserts that if the actions taken are part of fighting for the right to a clean and healthy environment, then the public prosecutor must close the case for the sake of the law by issuing an order to terminate a prosecution (SKP2).

"Freedom of expression and opinion or the people taking a critical position against a public official cannot be silenced by law enforcement officials through the application of rubber [catchall] articles [in the law]", they asserted.

Earlier, Minister Panjaitan reported Azhar and Maulidiyanti to the Metro Jaya Regional Police. The report was registered as case Number LP/B/4702/IX/2021/SPKT/POLDA METRO JAYA, and dated September 22, 2021.

Pandjaitan made the report following a video that was uploaded on Azhar's YouTube channel titled There is Lord Luhut behind the Economic Relations-Military Operations in Intan Jaya!! There are also State Intelligence Agency Generals!!. The video contained a discussion between Azhar and Maulidiyanti about mining interests in Papua.

In the discussion on the video, it was said that the company PT Tobacom Del Mandiri, a subsidiary of the Toba Sejahtera Group, is involved in mining businesses in Intan Jaya, Papua. Pandjaitan is one of the shareholders in the Toba Sejahtera Group.

After looking into the report, investigators from the Metro Jaya Regional Police criminal detectives directorate declared Azhar and Maulidiyanti as suspects in a case of defamation against Pandjaitan. (lna/wis)

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Koalisi Sipil Minta Kejati DKI Hentikan Kasus Haris-Fatia demi Hukum".]