INDONESIA: Stop persecution against the right to freedom of expression and opinion

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has become aware that persecution against people who exercise their right to freedom of expression and opinion is very widespread in Indonesia. The violations are mostly committed by hardline groups. This persecution has been prevalent since the Police investigated and prosecuted Mr. Rizieq Shihab, the leader of an anti-tolerant group, the Islamic Defender Front (FPI). Recently the police announced that he had been named a suspect and charged under the Anti-Pornography Law. His actions were suspect due to his porn chat with Mrs. Firza Husein which was circulated through social media by an anonymous user.

Rizieq Shihab is one of the leaders who led a massive public protest with thousands of participants against the Jakarta Governor, Mr. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama. He is currently in jail after the North Jakarta District Court sentenced him to two years imprisonment under the Blasphemy Law. Since then, many people posted comments on Facebook discussing the case of Rizieq Shihab who is facing prosecution. This is the PATTERN of persecution: intimidation, terror attacks, violence, instructions to hunt out and stage protests in targets homes or offices, reports to the Police, using Electronic and Information Transaction (ITE) Laws, and forcing the target to publicly apologize, orally or by writing.

From 27 January 2017 to 31 May 2017, the number of persecutions has increased. According to the Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet), the number of persecution victims in Indonesia totals 59 people. The AHRC notes two exceptional cases which took place recently. The first is the case of Dr. Fiera Lovita (known as Dr. Lola) from Solok, West Sumatera. She commented on the news of an escaped Habib (an Islamic group leader) who allegedly was involved in porn chat and other criminal cases. She removed the posting. However, her comments had gone viral in various social media outlets. It was after this, that police officers came to her house. They informed her that some large Organizations are unhappy with her comments and accused her of insulting ulema (cleric).

On May 22, people surrounded Dr. Lola`s car and forced her to open the car door. Her children were with her and they became frightened and traumatized. The people who introduced themselves as members of the Mass Organization demanded Dr. Lola apologize for her comments on Facebook and an apology letter must be posted on social media. She apologized. But the next day they continued to intimidate her. They circulated Dr. Lola`s photo in social media with comments of a provocative and sexual nature. Due to repeated intimidation, creating terror, her children are now very afraid and have suffered serious distress.

The second case of persecution occurred on June 1. Putra Mario Alvian, a 15 year old boy, wrote on Facebook about Rizieq Shihab who had been charged and named as a suspect by the Police. It was due to his involvement in a porn chat. Mass Organization members came to Mario’s boarding house. They slapped him and unsettled him because of his comments on Facebook. They threatened Mario. He must write a letter of apology and publish it on social media. They told him to stop all remarks about the case against Rizieq Shihab.

The AHRC condemns any form of persecution, in particular against the rights to freedom of expression and opinion. Indonesia is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as enacted by the Law No 12 of 2005. Under article 19, paragraph 2.

“Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”

Under the ICCPR, it is clear that the Indonesian Government has a Duty of Care. They should ensure and protect people so they enjoy their rights to freedom of expression and opinion. As yet, the Police, as the front line institution committed to law enforcement, have not taken any serious action in this regard. They above-mentioned cases are evidence that the police do not have effective mechanisms with which to work. They do not enforce the law, but merely evacuate victims of anti-tolerant groups when they attack them.

However, Indonesia HAS some national legal instruments that can be used to protect such rights. An example in the Indonesian Constitution is Article 28 and Law No. 9 of 1998 on the freedom of opinion in the public area. Most police responses come after a case has already formed. Police failed to develop an early warning system and effective enforcement of the Law. One of the indicators of the failure is that the cases go viral in social media FIRST. Only then, do the Police exert any effort to tackle the cases.

Therefore, the AHRC calls on the Indonesian Government, in particular the Chief of National Police. He must comprehensively investigate persecution cases, dismantle them, and prosecute those individuals behind the cases. He should involve the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) to examine the PATTERN of human rights violations in these cases.

Indonesia is a State based on the Rule of Law. It emphasizes in its Constitution in (UUD 1945), Article 1 paragraph 3:

The State of Indonesia shall be a State based on the Rule of Law.” This means that the Law should seek a solution for any problems that arise in the life of the state. So, the Law is a most important pillar in all aspects of the life of the state. It has an important, strategic position in the life of society, the nation and the State.

The Police should react and act neutrally, avoiding imposing rubber articles that can worsen law enforcement in Indonesia.

Finally, the Police and the Agency of Victims and Witnesses Protection (LPSK) must ensure protection for victims and their families. A Call Centre, if set-up, accessible to the public, could immediately circulate information regarding the next potential target for persecution.