Jayapura – As many as one hundred and seventy-one (171) individuals from civil society and one hundreds and seventy-nine (179) organisations from various backgrounds have strongly condemned the criminalisation of human rights defenders Fatia Maulidiyanti and Haris Azhar.
In a statement the Civil Society Coalition declared that in the more than seven months that the trial has been taking place the public have been served up with a phenomena that places activists and rights defenders in the position of being enemies of the state that are treated like criminals.
On November 14 the public prosecutor at the East Jakarta District Court demanded that Maulidiyanti and Azhar be imprisoned for three years and six months and four years respectively.
The case began with a podcast uploaded on Azhar's YouTube account that presented a discussion on conflicts of interest in mining businesses in Papua that were linked to the deployment of the military. The discussion was based on research by several non-government organisations.
It ended in Maulidiyanti and Azhar being reported to the police for alleged defamation. The report was lodged by a public official, namely Luhut Binsar Panjaitan, who is the Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment.
This shows the dictatorial character of public officials who restrict space for academic discussion on human rights issues, especially in Papua.
The case that befell Maulidiyanti and Azhar is of course only one of many instances of the use of legal instruments to silence critical voices (judicial harassment).
For years, the Information and Electronic Transaction (ITE) Law, which contains rubber (catch all) articles that are open to multiple interpretation, has frequently been used as tool to criminalise public expression in digital space.
Most recently on November 3, Pakuan University (Unpak) legal faculty senior lecturer Bintatar Sinaga also fell victim to the law after being declared a suspect by the national police's criminal investigations directorate (Bareskrim Polri).
And now, instead of revising the law through a participatory process and removing the problematic articles, the House of Representatives (DPR) and the government have actually agreed to a draft revision without the maximum involvement of the public.
The democratic situation in Indonesia of late has continued to worsen, and has been marked by the narrowing of space for civil liberties and widespread forms of censorship.
This situation has been affirmed by several democratic indexes, such as the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), which has stated that Indonesia's democratic performance has stagnated.
Indonesia was given a score of 6.71 points and is still included in the category of a flawed democracy. Likewise if referring to data from the Freedom House, this showed that Indonesia's democratic index for 2023 had declined again to a score of 58 out of 100.
Meanwhile a significant component that caused this low figure was civic space. Indonesia has also not yet been able to improve the situation after moving out of the classification of a country that is partly free.
It is not impossible that the worsening democratic situation and declining civil freedoms will continue if Maulidiyanti and Azhar are found guilty of defamation.
The views expressed by human rights defenders like Maulidiyanti and Azhar should be appreciated and respected because they represent valid views guaranteed under national as well as international legal instruments as ways to assist the country in advancing human rights.
This case is also a "strong alarm" for democracy that is currently moving in the direction of an authoritarian system of government. The variety of attacks that are currently befalling civil society will continue systematically and widen to target other sectors such as the environment, agrarian conflicts and education.
What is needed therefore is solidarity to fight the repressive actions and excessive restrictions that have had significant implications for the collapse of democracy.
Based on the analysis above we urge that:
First, the panel of judges at the East Jakarta District Court who are hearing and deciding on the case of criminalisation against Maulidiyanti and Azhar to rule that the two activists be released from all charges;
Second, law enforcement officials, both the police and the Attorney General's Office, stop all forms of criminalisation directed at human rights defenders, activists and civil society articulating their views in the public interest;
Third, that the government stop all forms of and efforts to silence civil society activists articulating critical views.
- See: Long prison terms facing rights activists 'a danger alarm for democracy'. Kompas.com – November 14, 2023
[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "350 Koalisi Masyarakat Sipil dan Organisasi Kecam Kriminalisasi Fatia dan Haris".]