Responding to the acquittal of two human rights defenders, Haris Azhar and Fatia Maulidiyanti, of defamation charges initiated by an Indonesian cabinet minister, Amnesty International Indonesia Executive Director Usman Hamid said:
“This brings a new hope. Following recent incidents of intimidation against people for exercising their right to freedom of expression, today’s acquittals send a clear message to Indonesia’s law enforcement authorities.
“Critics must not be silenced. No one should be jailed for holding a discussion on YouTube about mining interests or any other issue critical of the authorities.”
“The acquittal should now trigger the release of more activists, journalists, and anyone else detained solely for opposing or criticizing government policies or raising concerns about conflict of interests among state officials.”
“In the context of next month’s presidential elections, all candidates should fully demonstrate their commitment to freedom of expression, and publicly promote respect for human rights in their election platforms.
“To further uphold human rights, we call on the Indonesian authorities to repeal defamation from the criminal code and other related laws to ensure it is only treated as a civil matter in keeping with international human rights law and standards.”
On 8 January 2024, the East Jakarta District Court acquitted Haris Azhar and Fatia Maulidyanti of a criminal defamation, initiated by a member of Indonesia’s cabinet, the Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan.
The charges stem from a YouTube video in which the two speculated about links between government military operations in Papua and Pandjaitan’s alleged mining interests in the area.
The minister filed a defamation case against Maulidyanti and Azhar in September 2021 after the video appeared on discussion on 20 August 2021 under the title “Lord Luhut Behind Economic-Intan Jaya Military Ops Relations.”
In the video, Azhar who leads the Jakarta-based human rights NGO Lokataru and Maulidiyanti, who at the time was the coordinator of the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (Kontras), an NGO focusing on human rights issues, alleged the minister’s involvement in controversial gold mining activities in Papua Province. The discussion also revolved around military operations in Papua which seem to protect mining interests in the province.
Pandjaitan denied the claims. The retired army general then officially reprimanded the activists, demanded a public apology and expressed dissatisfaction with being referred to as “the Lord” in the video.
As Maulidiyanti and Azhar refused to apologize, Pandjaitan filed a police report on 22 September 2021 for criminal defamation against the two activists at the Jakarta police headquarters. Pandjaitan also sought 100 billion rupiah (approximately USD 6.5 million) in compensation.
The trial began on 3 April 2023, before the East Jakarta District Court. Based on the indictment read by the Public Prosecutor, the defendants are accused of violating criminal defamation provisions stipulated under Article 27(3) and Article 45(3) of the Electronic Information and Transaction Law (EIT Law) as well as Article 55 (1) of the Criminal Code.
According to Amnesty Indonesia’s data, there were at least 504 cases of the EIT Law being misused in violation of the right to freedom of expression against 535 people during 2019-2023. Those accused under the law include activists, human rights defenders, journalists, academics and other individuals.