Defamation Laws In Indonesia

In Indonesia, defamation constitutes a criminal act under Articles 310 up to 321 of the Penal Code of Indonesia.  Proof of truth is permissible under Article 312 of said Code.  Although it is worthy to note that in an article entitled, “Turning Critics into Criminals,” by the Human Rights Watch said, “deliberately ‘insulting’ a public official, even if one’s statements are true, can land in prison for 18 months.”  The crime of defamation prescribes in one year under Article 78(1) of the Penal Code of Indonesia.

Articles 1365 and 1372 of the Civil Code of Indonesia allow an aggrieved party to seek compensation through an ordinary tort action.   In civil defamation, truth is only a limited defense, opinions are not protected, it contains a no “good faith” exception with only a limited “public interest” defense, and it places the burden of proof on the defendant rather than the person claiming to be defamed.

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).

Perhaps the most significant story related to violation of the ITE law is the case of Prita Mulyasari, who was prosecuted with criminal defamation charges under the ITE law for sending her grievances through an email to her friends and doctors regarding the treatment she experienced with a certain Indonesian hospital.  Although Prita was finally acquitted on December 29, 2009, she suffered imprisonment for three weeks and was not released until the arrival of her criminal trial for defamation.

Another case which is noteworthy to consider is the case of Tukijo, a farmer who was convicted of defamation under Article 310 of the Penal Code and was sentenced to six months probation and a three-month suspended jail sentence.  This defamation case merely resulted from a heated argument between Tukijo a local official, Isdiyanto, regarding disclosure of the regent’s land assessment on Tukijo’s real property.

As further reported by the Human Rights Watch, some of the criminal defamation cases as initiated by government officials and wealthy individuals and companies were found out that “conflict of interest existed, violations of standard police procedures had taken place, or authorities had acted in an improper or intimidating manner that suggested bias or ulterior motive.”

However, Leo Batubara, in an interview by the Human Rights Watch on October 2009, stated:

“In the US, criticism is thought to lead to good governance.  The reverse is true in Indonesia.  Many in government think that the last 10 years of press freedom has been excessive, that the press has gone too far, and that there is chaos and a lack of respect for state officials.  That’s why we see setbacks today.  Politicians still think they need the criminal law.”

According to the Constitutional Court, the constitutionality of the ITE Law remains “because it protects the police’s work not only in conducting the investigation but also in the prevention of crime…. [W]hen various forms of cyber crime are allowed to flourish but there is no law that regulates and enforces them, then the cyber crimes will destroy and kill the community where the crimes have flourished.”