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Jakarta Post

WhatsApp messages trap Surabayan housewife in defamation case

  • Kharishar Kahfi

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sun, March 3, 2019   /   04:42 pm
WhatsApp messages trap Surabayan housewife in defamation case A housewife was found guilty of defamation based on a screenshot of a chat message sent to bank officials via Whatsapp. (Reuters/Dado Ruvic)

A higher court must acquit Saidah Saleh Syamlah, a housewife living in Surabaya, East Java, of all charges of defaming textile company PT Pisma Putra Textile, the Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet) has said.

On Feb. 26, the Surabaya District Court found Saidah guilty of defaming the textile company by sending text messages through WhatsApp messaging service. The bench sentenced her to 10 months of imprisonment and a fine of Rp 5 million (US$354.55).

The case started on Sept. 12, 2017, when the company’s lawyer, Muhammad Bayu Kusharyanto, reported the owner of a certain mobile phone number to the Surabaya Police.

The owner of the number had allegedly sent text messages to officials of Eximbank Indonesia and Bank Negara Indonesia (BNI) that disgraced the company. The messages were claimed to be affecting the company’s loan application to the banks.

During the investigation, the police found Saidah to be the owner of the phone number. While admitting to owning the number, the housewife claimed she had not used it because her mobile phone was broken and the number itself was blocked by the operator. She also claimed never to have sent the reported messages because she did not know the banks’ high officials.

The evidence used in the investigation and trial was only a screenshot of the chat message.

“A screenshot shouldn’t be valid evidence, as there should be a digital forensic investigation into what the device had been used for in order to prove that Saidah really sent those messages,” SAFEnet member Bimo Aria Fundrika said in a statement.

Another flaw, he added, was related to articles 310 and 311 of the Criminal Code. The articles stipulate that a case is only considered defamation if it is based on reports by individuals and conducted in the public sphere.

“The chat messages were sent through WhatsApp. Therefore, they were a private conversation and couldn’t be seen by the general public,” Bimo said.

The group urged the Surabaya High Court, which is currently handling the appeal filed by Saidah and her lawyers, to declare her innocent and free her from all charges.

“We also urged the National Police Commission to respond to the complaint about the absence of digital forensics in this case, as well as the Attorneys Commission to investigate prosecutors working on this case for forcing this defamation case to court despite a lack of valid evidence,” Bimo said.