INDONESIA: Critics Using Meme Against Public Authority is Part of Freedom of Expression

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has learned about the following situation. Mr. Setya Novanto, speaker and Chairman of the House of Representatives, was summoned by the KPK(the Corruption Eradication Commission) to take part in an examination process. He is a bribery suspect in the gigantic corruption case of the Electronic Identity Card (E-KTP). There are many meme critics against Setya Novanto who was allegedly pretending to be sick. He was hospitalized for a few days to avoid the examination process by the KPK.

Various memes on Novanto suddenly became the trending topic in the Social Media such as Tweeter, Facebook and Instagram. Most of the contents of the memes mocked Novanto who allegedly pretended to be sick. Apparently social media activists and community internet users issued the memes to criticise the law enforcement procedures used against Novanto. They seemingly were not going anywhere particularly since Novanto won the pre-trial case in the South Jakarta District Court against the KPK. Judge Cepi Iskandar in his judgment removed the suspect status from Novanto. Therefore, the examination process carried out by the KPK must also be stopped.

For instance, take the case which occurred on October 31, 2017. The Jakarta Metropolitan Police Office (Polda Metro Jaya) arrested internet user, DKA, initial name, in Tangerang city at 10.00 pm. DKA, a female, was arrested and charged with criminal defamation under Article 27 paragraph 3 of Law No. 19, 2016 on the Electronic Information and Transaction (ITE). Under Article 45 paragraph 3 of the ITE Law, DKA faces four years imprisonment and a fine of IDR 750,000,000 (Seventy-Five Million Rupiah). DKA was arrested after Novanto’s lawyer filed a Police Report with the Jakarta Metropolitan Police on October 10, 2017.

Disappointment abounds with the Public, Social Media Activists and Internet Users in general. It concerns law enforcement procedures against Novanto which are seemingly very weak. Therefore, many of them produced and circulated satire memes (images) which are allegedly insulting to Novanto. The Civil Society Anti-corruption group believes that the satire image or memes appeared as part of the public’s expressions of criticism of Novanto. He did not cooperate with the KPK to take part in the examination process. We regret to say that the public critics were refuted by Novanto’s lawyer. He then reported the case to the Police. Shortly thereafter the Police arrested one of them and further investigation is still ongoing.

The AHRC notes that public criticism against Novanto through meme is part of the right to freedom of expression and should not be criminalized. Take into consideration that Indonesia is a State party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) by the enactment of Law No. 12, 2005 on the Ratification of the ICCPR. Article 9, paragraph 2 states: “Anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him.” Furthermore, Article 19, paragraph 2 requires that “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression [.……].”

As a policy maker and public figure, Novanto should not be over-reactive in responding to public critics. Rather, he should give good example to the Public by obeying the Rule of Law. Novanto should not hide behind his position as speaker and Chair of the Indonesian Parliament to avoid the examination process by the KPK. When the KPK again summoned Novanto, they finally named him as a bribery suspect. At this juncture, Novanto was involved in a single car accident. His car hit an electricity pole and he became unconscious. He was rushed to the Emergency Room of Medika Permata Hijau hospital, South Jakarta. After a few days he was transferred to the Central Hospital of Cipto Mangunkusumo (RSCM), for further examination by the Doctors there. In the end, the Indonesian Doctors Association (IDI) Team recommended that Mr. Novanto was fit to be examined and questioned in the investigation process.

After the car accident, many meme and satire images were again circulated by social media activists and internet users. Most of the meme critics insinuated that the car accident was yet another effort by Novanto to avoid the investigation processes.

Therefore, the AHRC calls for the Indonesian Government, in particular the Police, to stay any form of criminal charges against critics. This can be either written or in the form of pictures (meme), which fall within the scope and criteria of the right to freedom of expression and opinion. The Police should stop all efforts to arrest social media activists and internet users in general. They simply expressed their concerns about the Rule of Law in the case of an allegation of bribery involving Mr. Setya Novanto. The Police investigators should have a clear understanding of the following: the boundary of criminal defamation under the ITE law and the right to freedom of expression under the ICCPR, Indonesian Constitution (UUD 1945) and Law No. 39, 1999 on Human Rights. These laws clearly guarantee the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression and opinion.

Last but not least, the KPK should consider the meaning behind the massive public criticism of Novanto. We could say that it is part of the Publics’ awareness to support the eradication of corruption in Indonesia. It is to strengthen the KPK itself. They are responsible to the citizens of Indonesian as they deal every day with a variety of corruption cases involving many levels of Government officials.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-145-2017
Countries : Indonesia,
Issues : Administration of justice, Fabrication of charges, Freedom of expression, Institutional reform, Rule of law,