Silenced by an Elastic Law

Author: Johannes Nugroho, Charis Loke
Published:

45% of Indonesia’s 264 million-strong population were estimated to be active users of social media in 2017,  so it comes as no surprise that the country has a specialised law governing cyberspace.

Known as Undang-undang Informasi dan Transaksi Elektronik, or UU ITE, the law was passed through Parliament in 2008. It was then revised in 2016, in ways that reflected President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s grievances over the smear campaign launched against him in the 2014 election. Yet UU ITE is notorious among human rights activists for often being used to silence dissent or criticism against those in government.

Anindya Shabrina Joediono, 23, a law student from Surabaya in East Java, is one of the latest victims of the draconian law. She’s currently under police investigation for “defamatory comments against law enforcement personnel,” yet remains puzzled about why she’s being targeted.

“I only spoke the truth when I posted on Facebook and commented on a YouTube clip that I had experienced sexual harassment by a police officer,” she tells New Naratif.

UU ITE is notorious among human rights activists for often being used to silence dissent or criticism against those in government

Joediono’s plight started on 6 July 2018 when a film screening and discussion on human rights violations by Indonesian authorities in West Papua that she attended at the Papuans Students’ Dormitory in Surabaya was forcibly disbanded by the police and the municipal government’s public order officers (Satpol PP).

“As a fellow student activist, I was invited by my Papuan student friends to the event. As we finished watching the documentary and were about to start our discussion, hundreds of police officers and Satpol PP, accompanied by district administrators, converged on the dorm and demanded entry. They said our meeting was illegal as it had a separatist agenda, which is untrue,” she says.

Joediono then went out to parley with the police officers who, on being asked to produce their search warrant, were unable to do so. Consequently she, along with other student activists, refused them entry. She also contacted Surabaya Legal Aid (LBH) for support.

“The police and Satpol PP stood their ground and kept demanding entry. As I was trying to reason with them, a number of policewomen came up to me and started dragging me off the premises. It was then that a policeman fondled my left breast. I started to scream and protest,” she explains.

“The worst part was that the officers and those present were cheering, accusing me of being pro-Papuan independence. They shouted that I was a Gerwani [a member of a women’s organisation under the now-banned Indonesian Communist Party], OPM [part of the Free West Papua Movement], and said that I should be taken away. It was demeaning.”

UU ITE Law - New Naratif
Charis Loke

West Papua was formally integrated into the Republic of Indonesia in 1969 after being administered by the Dutch right up to 1962. Indonesia had claimed it on the basis that the region had always been an integral part of the Dutch East Indies which proclaimed its independence in 1945, and that the Dutch had promised its return in the 1949 Hague Agreement. It also claims that Papuans had voted overwhelmingly in the 1969 Act of Free Choice referendum to be part of Indonesia.

Many Papuans, however, have a different view, referring to the controversial referendum as the “Act of No Choice” as only a tiny minority of the population had been allowed to vote under a cloud of intimidation and threats from the Indonesian authorities. Pro-independence activists continue to struggle––in the face of intimidation, arrest, imprisonment, and clampdowns on press freedom––for self-determination and political rights.

For more background on West Papua, read our explainer.

Joediono’s case appears to have been politically motivated due to the Papuan connection. But she denies belonging to or working for any Papuan group viewed by the Indonesian authorities as “separatist”.

“I’m no activist for the Free West Papua movement. I care about human rights, especially the oppressed. I’ve advocated for labour rights as well in the past. With regard to my Papuan students, I believe they have the right to free speech on the fate of their homeland, which is why I stand in solidarity with them,” she says.  

Three days after the raid on the dormitory, Joediono reported her sexual harassment to Propam, an agency within the Indonesian police which deals with internal discipline within the force. Although her report was filed, she has yet to hear back from the agency

The police, however, deny that Joediono had been groped by one of its staff.

“Our officers grabbed her hands to take her away from the scene because she refused to provide us with information on the Papuan students’ discussion. That is all. No inappropriate touching occurred,” said Frans Barung (link in Bahasa Indonesia), a spokesman for the East Java Police.

Instead of getting redress, Joediono then started to experience harassment of another kind.

Taking it to social media

First, Joediono was approached in July by people who self-identified as members of the Papuan Community of Surabaya (IKBPS). She says that, after she had filed her report, these members “turned up at the dormitory to apologise to the Papuan students for breaking up their discussion. They also suggested that I had never been sexually harassed and that I withdraw my report, which the Papuan students rejected because all of them were witnesses to it.”

“I was very angry that they tried to dismiss what had happened to me. Their supporters on social media also attacked me, saying I was just seeking attention. So I posted my story on Facebook. I also countered the accusations against me on a YouTube clip of the time I was physically dragged out.”

On 21 August, a couple of police officers showed up at her house to present her with a summons to answer questions regarding an investigation against her for defamation. She learned that someone named Pieter Frans Rumaseb had filed a complaint against her under UU ITE for defamatory comments made on social media against the police and Satpol PP.  

Rumaseb is a Papuan who claims to be the chairman of IKBPS—an organisation that both Joediono and her Papuan student friends say they’d never heard of before. He also works for the Mayor of Surabaya in the Satpol PP division. He was unknown to Joediono and hadn’t been present during the dormitory raid. “I noticed that my house was also being watched by plainclothes police and I was being tailed by them whenever I ventured out,” she adds.

“If someone else, a non-activist, had made the remarks she did, they might not have been reported at all.”

On 20 October, Joediono was interrogated by the police for the first time. Although she hasn’t been officially declared a suspect, which usually warrants an arrest, the investigation is still ongoing.

Sahura, a lawyer with the Surabaya Legal Aid who is representing Joediono, says that what her client was within her rights to post what she did on social media. “It should be seen criticism as against the state apparatus [rather than defamation]. Anindya reported the incident to Propam and the investigation [on whether secxual misconduct took place] should take place there. Instead, the victim has been criminalised.”

He also believes that the attempt at criminalising Joediono is ultimately tied to her being an activist who often advocates on controversial issues. “If someone else, a non-activist, had made the remarks she did, they might not have been reported at all.”

A history of activism

Joediono does have a well-documented history of activism on behalf of the downtrodden. In early 2018, she took part in an act of solidarity for the squatter-residents of Keputih Tegal Timur Baru—a district in the eastern part of Surabaya—whose houses were facing demolition by the municipal government. By a strange coincidence, she said that the policeman who fondled her was the same one who’d thrown a bottle at her while she was protesting on behalf of the Keputih residents.

She also created a stir when she criticised Surabaya Mayor Tri Risma Maharani for evicting the Keputih residents without prior consultation. She was quoted by local media as saying that the mayor obviously loved her city parks more than her residents.

UU ITE is often described as an “elastic” law by Indonesian activists because it’s commonly interpreted in ways that enable criminalisation

UU ITE is often described as an “elastic” law by Indonesian activists because it’s commonly interpreted in ways that enable criminalisation. Out of the 245 reported complaints (link in Bahasa Indonesia), public officials or government agencies make up the largest group of complainants at 35.92%.

Doddy Kosasih, a lawyer based in Surabaya, tells New Naratif that defendants charged under UU ITE usually end up being convicted. Statistically, only 6% of those indicted with the law manage to be acquitted. “In my experience, defamation cases in Indonesia have a high rate of conviction because our judges base their ruling on whether the allegation has indeed ruined the complainant’s reputation or caused him or her distress, not whether it is true or factual,” he explains.

This was certainly true in another case involving the sexual harassment of Baiq Nuril Maknun, a teacher and mother from Lombok, who was found guilty by the Supreme Court in 2018 for recording a smutty phone call made by her superior at work. She was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, but is planning to appeal the decision.

The problem with “elastic” clauses

Human rights NGOs such as the Association of UU ITE Victims (PAKU ITE) have called for the revocation of “elastic” clauses within the law, or their revision, to guard against multiple interpretations. There are also some legal practitioners like Sahura who believe that the problem lies in the way the law tends to be interpreted. “Judges should take a more comprehensive view of cases under this law, such as establishing whether the allegation is better placed as criticism rather than slander, especially when it deals with government officials and agencies,” he says.

But amendments to Indonesia’s cyber law will not take place anytime soon. Without support from either the government or members of parliament, there’s a lack of impetus for change.

“The intimidation is very intense and real”

In the meantime, those who’ve been charged under the law, like Joediono, have seen their lives adversely affected and their well-being compromised. In fact, since her interview with New Naratif, Joediono has been informed that another complaint has been lodged against her under a clause in the UU ITE law related to inciting hatred on the basis of race or religion.

“The intimidation is very intense and real. It’s at times overwhelming as the authorities seem to try to attack me from any angle possible, including trying to link me to separatist activities. Sometimes I feel like giving up but I’m not a quitter. I will fight on,” she says.

 

Johannes Nugroho

Johannes Nugroho is a writer from Surabaya. He is currently working to get his first novel on the May 1998 Riots published. He can be contacted at johannes@nonacris.com

Charis Loke

Charis is an illustrator based in Penang, Malaysia. Drawing upon literature and visual culture, she makes pictures that evoke wonder and curiosity. As a member of Arts-ED, she also works on community arts and culture education programmes for youth. Her work can be found at http://charisloke.com. Charis is Comics Editor and Illustrations Editor for New Naratif. Reach her at charis.loke@newnaratif.com

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