Jakarta – The acquittal of human rights defenders Haris Azhar and Fatia Maulidiyanti is seen as a milestone and a victory for freedom of expression, and sets a good precedent for the fight against the criminalisation of activists.
The Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR) says it appreciates the court's decision to release Azhar and Maulidiyanti.
ICJR researcher Nur Ansar believes that it was a good decision because the panel of judges provided an interesting consideration in the context of freedom of expression by referring to the Joint Ministerial Decree (SKB) on Guidelines for the Implementation of the Information and Electronic Transaction (ITE) law, where an analysis or assessment is not considered defamation or tarnishing someone's good name.
"The panel [of judges] used this concept in its ruling by considering the fact that Luhut Binsar Panjaitan is indeed a dominant shareholder with PT Toba [Sejahtra] so he did have a relationship with the [Papua mining] company discussed by Fatia-Haris in the podcast", Ansar said in a statement on Tuesday January 9.
This fact was also considered by the panel of judges with regard to other articles used the indictment on false reports and uncertain news. "The judges agreed that Luhut [Binsar] Pandjaitan was indeed involved in the company's operations" Ansar said.
Ansar is sure that the acquittal of Maulidiyanti and Azhar represents a glimmer of hope. Ansar hopes that the court's ruling can prevent the criminalisation of human rights activists in the future because judges can refer to this ruling.
"In the future, the considerations by the panel of judges in the Fatia-Haris ruling needs to become a precedent for the resolution of cases (of other human rights and environmental activists) and the application of the defamation articles in the new KUHP [Criminal Code], the second revision of the ITE Law, as well as in the work of law enforcement officials, that criticism against the authorities is protected in a democratic state", Ansar said.
Ansar said however that the trial, which held 32 hearings, still needs to be evaluated. This trial lasted a long time and drained the energy of the respective parties. Ultimately this still affects the climate of freedom of expression.
"Regardless of [the fact] that they were indeed acquitted, the trial process diverted most of the attention to this case, and unfortunately other similar cases ended differently with the criminalisation [of defendants]", Ansar said.
On January 8 the East Jakarta District Court handed down a not guilty verdict for Azhar and Maulidiyanti in a defamation case brought against them by Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan.
The case began with the airing of a YouTube video titled There is Lord Luhut behind the Economic Relations-Military Operations in Intan Jaya!! There are also State Intelligence Agency Generals!! NgeHAMtam.
The video, which was posted on August 20, 2021, contained a discussion between Azhar and Maulidiyanti about a study by the Indonesian Clean Coalition titled The Economy and Politics of Military Deployment in Papua: Intan Jaya Case, that discussed the relationship between military operations in Papua and an alleged conflict of interest over Pandjaitan's involvement in mining businesses in the region.
In the video, Azhar, who is the Executive Director of the Lokataru Foundation for Human Rights and Maulidiyanti, who at that time was the coordinator of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), alleged that Pandjaitan was involved in gold mining businesses in Papua. The discussion also talked about military operations in Papua which appear to protect mining interests in the province.
Pandjaitan denied the claims discussed by Azhar and Maulidiyanti. The retired army general then summoned the two activists and demanded that they make an apology. Because Maulidiyanti and Haris refused to apologise, Pandjaitan then reported them for defamation with the Jakarta Metro Jaya regional police on September 22, 2021, and sued them for the amount of 100 billion rupiah.
In the prosecutor's indictment, PT Toba Sejahtera's subsidiary, PT Tobacom Del Mandiri, once collaborated with PT Madinah Quarrata'ain but this was discontinued. PT Madinah Quarrata'ain was cited by Azhar and Maulidiyanti as one of the companies in Intan Jaya that is allegedly involved in the mining business. At the verdict hearing, the judges said that Pandjaitan owned 99 percent of the shares at PT Toba Sejahtera making him a beneficiary.
Amnesty International Indonesia Executive Director Usman Hamid is convinced that the not guilty verdict against Azhar and Maulidiyanti will set a good precedent. "It could be a good start for efforts to protect criticism, freedom of expression, and the work of human rights defenders", said Hamid.
Hamid is sure that the legal case that befell Azhar and Maulidiyanti was questionable from the start so the not guilty verdict for the pair is quite proper. "Right from the start, the case experienced by Fatia-Haris should never have happened. Today's verdict must become a reference so anyone who is critical of the behavior of public officials cannot not be silenced", said Hamid.
Hamid also said that the material conveyed by Azhar and Maulidiyanti should be addressed wisely as well as be used as material for an evaluation. "In the future, what Fatia-Haris criticized in the YouTube video must be investigated by law enforcement officials", said Hamid.
[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Kemenangan Kebebasan Berekspresi dalam Putusan Haris-Fatia".]