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Indonesia should set example on safeguarding digital rights ahead of elections, Southeast Asian MPs say

30/05/2023

Indonesia should set example on safeguarding digital rights ahead of elections, Southeast Asian MPs say

JAKARTA — As the region’s largest democracy, Indonesia should lead the way in upholding human rights online, particularly ahead of the upcoming 2024 general elections, Southeast Asian lawmakers said today at the conclusion of a fact-finding mission on internet freedom in the country.

Indonesia has taken great strides in democratic reform following the fall of the authoritarian New Order regime 25 years ago, but we are concerned that if current trends of restrictions on freedom of speech and expression online continue unchecked, this important progress will be lost,” ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights member and Malaysian Member of Parliament Yuneswaran Ramaraj said today.

“The internet is now one of the places where citizens and voters exercise their right to freedom of speech the most; if these digital spaces are closed this poses a risk to the freeness and fairness of the upcoming elections,” continued Ramaraj.

During the fact-finding mission, current and former parliamentarians from Malaysia, the Philippines, and Timor-Leste went to Jakarta and met with civil society organizations, journalists, and technology companies and also made visits to the Ministry of Communication and Information, the General Election Commission (KPU) as well as the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM). The mission culminated in a meeting with members of the Indonesian House of Representatives Commission I, which oversees communication and information.

One of the major findings of the mission is how the Electronic Information and Transaction (ITE) Law – particularly its articles on defamation – has been used by those in positions of power to criminalize and silence peaceful expressions of dissent. This can be seen in the ongoing prosecution of human rights defenders Haris Azhar and Fatia Maulidiyanti, who were reported under the ITE Law by Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Panjaitan merely for discussing allegations of the minister’s involvement in mining activities in Papua in a Youtube video.

The ambiguous provisions in the ITE Law are clearly being misused and pose a great threat to meaningfully discussion of political opinions online, which is particularly concerning with elections on the horizon,” said APHR member and Timor-Leste member of parliament Elvina Sousa Carvalho. 

APHR joins Indonesian civil society in calling on the Indonesian government and House of Representatives to enact a comprehensive revision of the law, and for authorities to halt the use of the law pending the revision. Continued prosecutions under the ITE Law would call into question whether the upcoming elections are truly democratic,” continued Carvalho.

Representatives from civil society and media also expressed their concerns about the increased monitoring of social media content, as well as digital attacks against human rights defenders and media organizations. These threats to freedom of expression online have caused a chilling effect, creating an atmosphere in which internet users are inclined to self-censor themselves in order to avoid legal harassment or online intimidation.

Civil society organizations as well as Komnas HAM have engaged in efforts to safeguard a democratic digital ecosystem, including by fact-checking disinformation about the 2024 election, conducting training for young voters, as well as engaging with state actors. However, many respondents have expressed concerns that state institutions are not opening enough room for civil society and human rights groups to provide their inputs in regulations that affect freedom of speech and expression online.

Elections are not merely about what happens on one day in a voting booth,” said APHR member and former Philippines member of parliament Sarah Elago. “Elections should be a truly democratic process in which all members of society, especially the marginalized, feel comfortable to openly and peacefully express their views and have meaningful dialogues about the future of the country,” Elago added.

APHR therefore calls on the Indonesian government institutions to increase public participation in digital freedom-related policy making and setting measures to promote a healthy and informed online discourse during the election process. We also urge state institutions, such as KPU, Bawaslu, and Komnas HAM, to uphold democratic principles and likewise prevent any backsliding in democratic progress,” said Elago.

Indonesia has often been considered as one of the most democratic and human rights-respecting countries in Southeast Asia. Considering this, and the country’s position as ASEAN chair, Indonesia should continue to set an example and not turn back from the progress made during the past three decades,” said Ramaraj.

Click here to read this statement in Indonesian.

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ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) was founded in June 2013 with the objective of promoting democracy and human rights across Southeast Asia. Our founding members include many of the region's most progressive Members of Parliament (MPs), with a proven track record of human rights advocacy work.

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