Internet blocking costs
'government credibility'

The government's block on access to websites that carry the controversial Dutch film Fitna is part of an attempt to restrict citizens' freedom in the name of religion, scholars warn.

Political and media expert Wimar Witoelar said the government was on the wrong track and had damaged its credibility with the public by ordering the Internet block.

"This is a really clumsy move by the government. It shows how the government is exploiting certain religious issues to suppress the freedom of its citizens," Wimar told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

"It's like turning back the clock to the Soeharto era, when the government was always suspicious."

Blocked websites include YouTube, MySpace and Rapidshare.

Wimar, who hosts the TV program Perspektif and was previously a spokesman for former president Abdurrahman Wahid, said the block revealed the government's failure to understand why and how people use the Internet.

"Ninety-nine percent of YouTube users are visiting the site for productive purposes, not to watch Fitna," Wimar said.

He said the move showed how easily the government had caved in to those offended by the movie, which has been condemned worldwide.

Political expert Ikrar Nusa Bhakti, from the National Institute of Sciences, said the block could be interpreted as evidence of the government's support for minor extremist groups.

"The government's support of the hardliners justifies the view that Indonesian Muslims often overreact to religious issues," Ikrar told the Post.

He said the ban on the film and its maker Dutch politician Geert Wilders spoke volumes about the government's immaturity despite the democratic era.

"The government's intervention will impede its citizens from becoming mature. The public will never be able to tell good from bad because the government always dictates to them," Ikrar said.

He said the ban would not work, but rather would ignite public curiosity about the film and encourage people to find alternative ways to watch it.

"If the government is seriously concerned that movies could destroy this country, it should ban TV soap operas, which often teach young people negative behavior," Ikrar said.

The Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) said the government's move was a form of censorship that denied the public their right to information, in contravention of Article 28F of the 1945 Constitution.

"We need to be selective, but not reactive and arbitrative," AJI chairman Heru Hendratmoko said in a statement.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced a ban on Fitna for disturbing social harmony in the country. The government recently asked 146 Internet service providers and 30 network access providers to block websites that carry the film.

The film features images of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and the 2004 Madrid bombings, juxtaposed with quotes from the Koran.

Ikrar said the government would have done better to ignore the movie.

"He (Wilders) is just someone who wants popularity. The government should have ignored him instead of dancing to his tune," Ikrar said. (dia)

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