You probably haven’t heard of Ronny Maryanto, but he is a symbol of how criminal defamation laws are being abused in Indonesia to silence critics of corruption and graft. His case is a worrying example of a trend in Indonesia whereby idealistic people who expose corruption are charged as criminals for “besmirching” the name of public officials. These heavy-handed tactics will be familiar to anyone who knows the history of dictatorships and one-party states around the world. Without a doubt, they have no place in a democracy, and their use against Ronny Maryanto is a travesty of justice that must be addressed. The answer is very simple: Ronny Maryanto needs to be set free, and all charges against him should be dropped.
The Orwellian “Law No. 11 of 2008 on Electronic Information and Transactions”
In 2008 the Indonesian parliament passed a very worrying law which has been roundly condemned by human rights advocacy groups. It is known by the Orwellian name of “Law No. 11 of 2008 on Electronic Information and Transactions”. It is often just called the (ITE) Law, for short. This draconian law is something which seems more suited to a brutal military dictatorship like Myanmar than a young democracy such as Indonesia. For example, a person can be charged with ‘penghinaan’ (humiliation) of officials under Article 27 of the law. This offense is punishable by a Rp1 billion ($85,000) fine, or 6 years in prison. Criticizing public officials and corporations is the very crux of political debate in a democratic nation. How can you have a democracy if you can’t criticize politicians?
Human rights activists and journalists have repeatedly called on the government to repeal this controversial law, arguing that it hinders freedom of speech and leads to human rights violations. Under the ITE regime, Prita Mulyasari was sued by the Omni International Hospital in 2009 for defamation after she complained about the hospital’s services via an online mailing list. In 2012, Alexander Aan was accused of insulting Islam and jailed after writing on his Facebook page that God did not exist.
The Ronny Maryanto Case
The Ronny Maryanto case is one of the most troubling to have emerged, as it is an attack on freedom of speech relating to corruption and money politics. It is a very clear case of a brute power being used to crush a well-intentioned individual who was genuinely concerned about corruption in Indonesia. Ronny’s ‘crime’ was to report Fadli, a politician belonging to the Gerindra Party, to the authorities for handing out money to voters during an election campaign. According to Maryanto, he saw Fadli Zon handing out Rp 50.000 notes to voters in a market in Semarang. Zon also handed out Rp 250.000 to a single woman vendor. Maryanto was able to produce several witnesses to support and verify his claims.
Now handing out money to voters is illegal in Indonesia and at first there was talk of Fadli Zon being charged. But in the end Fadli Zon was successful in his campaign and is now Deputy Chairman of the Central Java Parliament. Not only were the charges against Fadli Zon dropped, but Ronny Maryanto was charged under the (ITE) Law instead for besmirching the name of this Gerindra politician. Even worse, as of yesterday Semarang police have launched investigations into Raka Pujangga, a journalist from the Java Tribune newspaper who reported on Fadli’s alleged bribing of voters.
This seems a clear case of political intimidation of the press and activists and is to be condemned. The Alliance of Independent Journalists is now involved, as is the excellent Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW). But this sort of harassment of activists and journalists is a stain on Indonesia’s democracy. Defamation needs to be decriminalized and the ITE law needs to be repealed.