Twilebrity gets jail term
for defamation

Benny Handoko, a Twitter celebrity user known for his critical tweets from his handle @benhan, has been given a one-year probationary period for defaming Muhammad Misbakhun, a former lawmaker and Golkar Party politician.

A panel of judges at the South Jakarta District Court on Wednesday found Benny guilty of violating Article 27 of the 2008 Electronic Information and Transaction (ITE) Law on defamation.

“[The court] sentences the defendant, Benny Handoko, to six months in jail, but he does not have to serve the sentence if he does not commit another crime during his one-year probation,” said presiding judge, Suprapto, as he read the verdict.

The sentence is lighter than the prosecutor’s demand of one year in jail with two years probation.

The case began in December 2012 after Benny sent a tweet to his 46,000 followers, referring to Misbakhun as “a Bank Century robber”.

Misbakhun is one of the initiators of the legislative inquiry into the controversial Rp 6.76 trillion (US$554.3 million) bailout of the now-defunct Bank Century, which subsequently led to him being convicted of falsifying a document to get a loan from the bank.

The allegation led to the dismissal of Misbakhun, who was then a Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) lawmaker, from his position at the House of Representatives.

The Supreme Court, which previously upheld a ruling by the Jakarta High Court sentencing Misbakhun to two years in prison, acquitted him of all charges in July 2012.

Misbakhun ordered Benny to apologize for making what he deemed to be a false and libelous accusation.

Benny declined to meet the demand, arguing that the tweet was based on news reports. This prompted Misbakhun, who only joined the Golkar Party last year, to file a police complaint against Benny.

Speaking after the court session, Benny said that he was disappointed with the ruling as it would discourage Indonesian netizens from participating in democracy.

Benny said that he would take time to decide whether he would appeal the verdict.

“I will think about this in the next seven days. My main concern is my wife,” he added.

Misbakhun said in a statement that he felt sorry for Benny, saying that an apology could have ended the dispute long ago, without it ending up in court.

“I had to go with the legal process because he refused to retract tweets that included libelous material about me,” Misbakhun said. Misbakhun hoped that his legal battle with Benny could serve as a cautionary tale for those who often post opinions on social media that are not supported by solid evidence.

“Don’t abuse freedom of expression by posting statements that could hurt others,” he said.

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