Jokowi backs defamation law, House may reject provisions
Ina Parlina and Arya Dipa
The Jakarta Post
President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo said on Wednesday that he supported the government's proposal to reinstate insulting the president as a criminal offense, although he said that he was personally not a big fan of the idea.
The government is seeking to re-introduce criminal charges for insulting the president in the draft of a Criminal Code (KUHP) amendment, a provision that had been annulled by the Constitutional Court.
'It is still a draft, so why the fuss? I have said I have been mocked and scorned since I was a [Surakarta] mayor, a [Jakarta] governor and now President. I am used to it,' Jokowi told reporters at the State Palace on Wednesday.
Jokowi also reminded those concerned that the idea to restore the provisions had actually been proposed by Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's administration in 2012, but the deliberation had been delayed.
The Constitutional Court scrapped three articles on insulting the president from the KUHP in 2006, but a person can still be charged for defamation if someone files a report against that person, as stipulated in articles 310 and 311.
The most recent case involved South Jakarta District Court judge Sarpin Rizaldi, who sued Judicial Commission (KY) members Suparman Marzuki and Taufiqurrohman Syahuri for publicly criticizing his controversial verdict on the pretrial hearing of Comr. Gen. Budi Gunawan.
Sarpin reported the two KY commissioners to the police after both said that Sarpin had acted beyond his authority to clear Budi of criminal allegations. The KUHP amendment is a legislative priority for the House of Representatives for this year.
Article 263 paragraph 1 of the draft bill says that a person might face a maximum of five years' imprisonment for insulting the president or the vice president.
In addition, the article also stipulates that a criminal charge is not applicable for criticism or self-defense.
The proposed article 264 stipulates that a person who distributes or displays writing or imagery defaming the president in public may also face a five-year term of imprisonment.
In the 2006 ruling, the Constitutional Court almost unanimously ruled that the three articles in the KUHP ' articles 134, 136 and 137 ' undermined the right to freedom of speech mandated by the Constitution and caused uncertainty, as those articles were subject to multiple interpretations.
At that time, the court's ruling, which was made in favor of lawyer Eggi Sudjana and activist Pandapotan Lubis who were facing charges for slandering Yudhoyono and his aides, was applauded by human rights and political activists.
The KUHP, which also ruled that burning pictures of the president and vice president and mocking them in public were insults and the violators were subject to a maximum of six years' imprisonment, was often used by former President Soeharto to silence critics during his 30 years in power.
Jokowi said that he would leave it up to the House to reject the provisions.
Separately, Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna H. Laoly defended the plan, saying that charges for those insulting the president would ensure equality before the law, arguing that the president, as the head of state, needed to be protected.
'It's unfair and discriminatory if we [common people] can sue [someone for defamation], but the president is excluded,' Yasonna said in Bandung, West Java, on Wednesday.
Yasonna also questioned why the plan had only now sparked criticism despite the provisions that were already proposed by the previous administration.
Human rights activist Wahyudi Djafar, who is also a researcher with the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM), criticized the plan, saying that it would be a setback for democracy. 'Re-introducing the provisions is against the spirit of the reform of the Criminal Code that aims to move on from the legacy of colonialism,' he said, adding that the scrapped articles aimed to protect a king or a head of state, not a president or a head of government.
'The lÃ¨se-majestÃ© provisions are not in line with today's democratic system given that those articles curb freedom of speech, particularly criticism of the government,' he added.
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