Free speech in Indonesia is seriously threatened by the Electronic Information and Transmissions Law (2008), often known simply as the ITE Law, which makes it a criminal offense to “defame” people. Inevitably, this law has become a tool of oppression of the ruling elite. Cases brought under this law typically involve a powerful and wealthy individual trying to punish an ordinary citizen who had the temerity to speak out against corruption, incompetence or graft in Indonesia. In this sense, the law can be thought of as a way for vested interests to bludgeon freedom of expression whenever it works against them. One particularly revealing article from this law instructs courts to increase the maximum punishment by “one third” if the defamation takes place against a public official. Therefore, by its very wording, this law envisages that it is a more serious offense to criticize government officials and politicians than ordinary people. This law, by its very design, is a way for the rich and powerful to silence critical voices among the citizenry.
The law firm Kelly / Warner offers a useful and succinct summary of this law, which goes as follows:
In 2008, the Law Regarding Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) was passed in Indonesia’s parliament and contains a provision criminalizing defamation and insult on the Internet. Alleged defamation by an individual communicated over the Internet can be punished with up to six years’ imprisonment and fined up to Rp1 billion (approximately US$106,000).
TBI and the ITE Law
We at this blog have personal reasons to be interested in this law. The very first message we received on our (original) blog about TBI mentioned the Electronic Information and Transmissions Law. It was a warning that defamation was a criminal not a civil matter in Indonesia. We were warned that if we persisted in revealing highly compromising information about TBI’s illegal activities, we might find ourselves in prison, even if the allegations we were making were true. We ignored that warning, but eventually the original blog was blocked in Indonesia due to legal representations made by TBI. At that point we moved to a new domain, tbilanguageschool.org, and it has remained open for the past 2 years. But TBI is still pursuing legal channels to try and shut this blog down. Their complaint is that we are “confusing” (ie. telling the truth) to their “potential customers, employees and partners”. This latest claim was rejected by WordPress, but TBI’s desire to shut down legitimate criticism remains. For us, it is worrying but highly revealing that TBI is so eager to align itself with autocratic, anti-democratic trends within Indonesia.
The true purpose of these laws is surely to try and silence criticism of a system which is riddled with corruption, graft and tax evasion. The parties which voted for this law had been under tremendous pressure due to multiple investigations from the KPK (Anti-Corruption Commission) and this whole law is really just reactionary blow-back. For instance, both the Chairman and Treasurer of the Democrats, the party of SBY, the last President, ended up as graft convicts. It isn’t hard to see why such people would like to make it dangerous to expose corruption and unethical conduct. As Jessica Teeple from the Centre for Security Governance writes:
The types of behaviour that are criminalized by Indonesian Defamation law include peaceful protests against corruption and official misconduct, publicizing consumer complaints and business disputes, and requesting information from or lodging complaints with local or national authorities. The criminalized behaviours greatly limit the freedom of expression Indonesians can practice without facing the threat of imprisonment.
TBI views this law positively for precisely the same reason that corrupt politicians do. They see it as a way to shield themselves from awkward questions about their illegal teacher scams and long record of tax avoidance. Unable to see how guilty this makes them look, they continue to trudge down the same authoritarian path, attempting to use the law as a way bludgeon dissent, rather than adjusting their dodgy business practices.