Indonesia police chief urges softer enforcement of controversial internet law

Between 2016 and 2020, there had been 786 cases involving the law, with 88% of the those charged ending up behind bars

  
A police officer wearing a protective face mask gestures towards a colleague as they guard a highway checkpoint following the government ban of the Indonesian Muslim traditional homecoming mass exodus to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Bekasi, on the outskirts of Jakarta, Indonesia, April 24, 2020.

A police officer wearing a protective face mask gestures towards a colleague as they guard a highway checkpoint following the government ban of the Indonesian Muslim traditional homecoming mass exodus to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Bekasi, on the outskirts of Jakarta, Indonesia, April 24, 2020.

Reuters/Willy Kurniawan

JAKARTA - Indonesia's police chief has called on officers to use greater discretion when enforcing the country's internet law, following government signals the legislation, which has ensnared journalists, academics and opposition figures, will be reviewed.

The 2008 electronic information and transactions (ITE) law, which regulates online activity including defamation and hate speech, has long drawn criticism for its broad interpretation.

In a circular issued late on Monday, national police chief Listyo Sigit Prabowo urged officers to use discretion when investigating reports of digital infringements, and prioritise "restorative justice" such as mediation rather than prosecution.

The guidelines, he said, had been issued in response to the law's application, "which is considered to be contradicting the public's right to freedom of expression in the digital space".

Between 2016 and 2020, there had been 786 cases involving the law, with 88% of the those charged ending up behind bars, according to Damar Juniarto of digital advocacy group, the Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet).

In 2019, Baiq Nuril, a woman in Lombok was jailed for six months, after recording a telephone conversation with her boss to prove he was sexually harassing her that was later shared online.

"I was once a victim," Nuril, who was eventually pardoned by President Joko Widodo, told Reuters.

"I don't want any more victims."

The same year an Indonesian singer and opposition figure was sentenced to one year in prison after calling his political rivals idiots in a video blog.

"This (law) is a big rock that is hard to move, that is really blocking democracy," said Damar.

Earlier this month, President Joko Widodo said the law must be implemented "as fairly as possible" and meet the public's sense of justice, while the chief security minister announced this week a team had been formed to review the law.

But SAFEnet's Damar said he was concerned the team did not include independent parties and might not make substantive changes.

"I'm afraid this will only end up by making the guidance for interpretation," he said, and not touch on reform.

(Reporting and writing by Kate Lamb in Sydney and Stanley Widianto in Jakarta; Editing by Ed Davies) ((Kate.Lamb@thomsonreuters.com;))

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