Legislators prepare revisions to controversial ITE defamation law including lighter sentences and ‘right to forget’

Indonesia’s Law on Information Electronic Transactions (UU ITE) was passed in 2008 with the stated goal of preventing the spread of false and defamatory information online, but it has been heavily criticized by human rights activists as flawed since it was first passed. The law stipulated heavy punishments of up to six years in prison for violators, but its vague definitions of defamation and slander have often made it a tool to criminalize internet users who have offered honest or harmless criticism of politicians, religion, their spouses and many other ridiculous examples.

The government claims to be listening to these criticisms and have been working on revisions to the controversial law. The vice chairman of Parliament’s Commission I, TB Hasanuddin, said a revision on UU ITE was almost complete and ready for debate on Thursday of next week. However, it is questionable whether the revision address the main criticisms of the law.

According to TB Hasanuddin, one of the major changes is that the maximum criminal penalty for defamation under the law will be decreased.

“Before the maximum [punishment was] 6 years in jail but with the revision it will be 4 years, which means that the offender cannot be arrested. Laws which stipulate punishments of less that five years do not require the suspects to be secured before trial,” TB Hasanuddin said today as quoted by Detik.

Another change to the law would be the addition of a clause making wiretapping illegal for anybody except for law enforcement agencies. 

Perhaps the most contentious revision to the law that is being proposed is an addition giving citizens the right to have posts erased from social media that contain erroneous information about them. Such request would have to be brought through the court system and the Ministry of Information and Communication (Kemenkominfo) would be charged with enforcing it. 

“There is ‘right to be forgotten’ for those who feel they have been harmed by defamatory statements and bring it to the court. The state would remove [the offending post], through Menkominfo. We respect our citizen’s freedom of expression, but when it hurts someone, we will protect them,” TB Hasanudin said.

With misinformation about political candidates such as Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama going around right now, we can understand the good intention behind such a law. But we seriously wonder how courts would adjudicate the veracity of the innumerable false social media posts out there, as well as force social media networks to delete the posts they were ordered to.

But more importantly, the revisions there doesn’t seem to offer any clarification to the law’s vague terms, which means it will still be ripe for abuse by those who don’t want to have anything bad written about them on social media.

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