Indonesians could get 4.5 years in prison for insulting the president on social media under proposed Criminal Code revision

Photo illustration. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Photo illustration. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Got a gripe about the way the country is run? Don’t tweet about it or you may find yourself in a prison cell, should a proposed revision to Indonesia’s Criminal Code (KUHP) get ratified.

Indonesians are now talking about the widely circulating draft revision to KUHP (RUU KUHP) due to some of its draconian content. The draft contains articles outlawing insults that violate the dignity of the president or the vice president. Should you do it in public, you may be imprisoned for up to three years and six months or fined IDR200 million (US$14,013). 

If this sounds awfully familiar, that’s because lawmakers tried to include articles that outlaw insulting heads of state in the 2019 iteration of RUU KUHP, which, thankfully, did not get ratified then.

In the time since, however, lawmakers have tacked on a clause saying that should one insult the dignity of the president or the vice president online or on social media (the language on the draft seems to suggest that this includes memes), they may be imprisoned for up to four years and six months or fined IDR200 million.

In addition, the draft also contains articles on insulting the House of Parliament (DPR), which is punishable by up to two years in prison, which also includes other public institutions. These punishments may be more severe if the insult causes public unrest or disturbance.

Crucially, but what may be a point of ambiguity in practice, openly criticizing the government or its policies would not be considered a criminal offense.

Incidentally, the Constitutional Court (MK) revoked an article criminalizing insulting the dignity of heads of state in 2006. Despite that and the widespread pushback from the public, the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights said the new articles in the fresh draft contain clauses that prosecution can only be initiated by the offended party, which, in this case, is the president or vice president.

Only time will tell if DPR will pass RUU KUHP into law this year. Should the draft be ratified, Indonesians may also, among other things, get six months in prison for cohabitation, five years for blasphemy, and fined IDR10 million (US$700) if their poultry trespasses into other people’s property.

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