Drop hate speech charge against interfaith activist

(TEMPO/ Gunawan Wicaksono ; 20050726)

Responding to the arrest on 7 January of Sudarto, an interfaith activist from West Sumatra, Amnesty International Indonesia’s Executive Director, Usman Hamid, said: 

“Sudarto is defending a minority’s right to practice their religion. His own freedom of expression should be protected and there are no grounds for his arrest. These charges should be immediately dropped. 

“This so-called ITE law is often used and abused by authorities to restrict freedom of expression. The law is overbroad, it should be revised or repealed.” 

Background 

Authorities allege that Sudarto used social media to criticize a ban on Christmas services in a village in Dharmasraya Regency, West Sumatra. They charged Sudarto under the 2008 Electronic Information and Transaction Law, or ITE law. 

Prior to his arrest, Sudarto was summoned to a police station with eight officers reportedly sent to his home. 

The charge followed a complaint that Sudarto was spreading hate speech as, they claimed, the Christmas service had never been banned in the first place. 

Previously, Baiq Nuril, a school teacher from city of Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara, has pushed back against Indonesia’s ITE law, after she was convicted for recording and sharing a phone call in which her boss sexually harassed her. 

Nuril was granted an amnesty by President Joko Widodo last year. However, hundreds have been charged under the ITE Law since 2011. 

The right to freedom of expression is guaranteed by article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Indonesia is a state party. The right to freedom of expression applies to information and ideas of all kinds. Restrictions can only be placed on the right where they are necessary for protecting specified public interests (national security, public order, or public health or morals) or the rights or reputations of others. To be considered hate speech a statement would have to advocate “national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence” (Article 20 of the ICCPR). 

The International Covenant also protects the right to freedom of freedom of thought, conscience and religion.  The Electronic Information and Transaction Law (ITE), contains vague language which has been misused by the government to criminalize freedom of expression, thought, conscience and religion in Indonesia.