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Indonesian police chief calls for smoother internet law enforcement




By Kate Lamb and Stanley Widianto

JAKARTA, February 23 (Reuters) – Indonesia’s police chief has called on police officers to exercise greater discretion when enforcing the country’s internet law, following government signals that the legislation, which trapped journalists, academics and opposition figures, will be reviewed.

The Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) 2008 Act, which regulates online activities including defamation and hate speech, has long drawn criticism for its broad interpretation.

In a circular issued late Monday, National Police Chief Listyo Sigit Prabowo urged police officers to exercise discretion when investigating digital crime reports and prioritize ‘restorative justice’ such as mediation rather than lawsuits.

The guidelines, he said, were issued in response to the application of the law, “which is seen as contrary to the public’s right to freedom of expression in the digital space.”

Between 2016 and 2020, there were 786 cases involving the law, with 88% of those charged ending up behind bars, according to Damar Juniarto of the digital advocacy group, the Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet).

In 2019, Baiq Nuril, a woman from Lombok was jailed for six months, after recording a phone conversation with her boss to prove he was sexually harassing her, which was later shared online.

“I was once a victim,” Nuril, who was eventually pardoned by President Joko Widodo, told Reuters.

“I don’t want any more victims.”

That same year, an Indonesian singer and opposition figure was sentenced to one year in prison after calling his political rivals fools in a video blog.

“This (law) is a big, hard rock to move, which really blocks democracy,” Damar said.

Earlier this month, President Joko Widodo said the law must be implemented “as fairly as possible” and respond to the public’s sense of justice, while the chief security minister announced this week that a team had been formed to revise the law.

But SAFEnet’s Damar said he was concerned the team would not include independent parties and make substantive changes.

“I’m afraid that will only end up giving indications for interpretation,” he said, not to mention reform. (Reporting and writing by Kate Lamb in Sydney and Stanley Widianto in Jakarta; editing by Ed Davies)

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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