[PRESS RELEASE] Active Call for Government Criticism: Sincere or Trick? | Difussion #51

August 6, 2021 12:31 am || By

Yogyakarta, May 27th, 2021 – Earlier, President Jokowi had issued a statement to invite the Indonesian people to be more active in criticizing the Government. The invitation aims to improve the Government’s performance. However, there is a contradiction in this invitation. To discuss further, Center for Digital Society (CfDS), in collaboration with BEM FISIP Diponegoro University, held Diffusion #51 titled “Active Call for Government Criticism: Sincere or Trick?”. This discussion also invited Wijayanto as a Lecturer in Governmental Sciences at Universitas Diponegoro, Director of the Center for Media and Democracy, as well as a researcher from LP3ES; Arfi Bambani as Indonesia Digital Rights Manager EngageMedia; and Izzatul Isma, Student from Universitas Diponegoro, as the moderator of the event. The event was held through the Google Meet platform and broadcasted live on Youtube Livestream (link: https://youtu.be/RqHRlne_Mcc).

Criticizing the Government is a Human Right
“Criticism is part of freedom of expression, freedom of opinion which is difficult to limit,” said Arfi Bambani. He argued that the President’s statement to invite the Indonesian people to actively criticize the Government is actually our right as the people. Therefore, the invitation does not need to be taught by the President. Under the contents of the First Amendment to the American Constitution, the government cannot reduce freedom of speech for any reason. Therefore, Congress cannot make laws restricting freedom of speech or freedom of the press. Likewise, in Indonesia, the Government needs laws to enforce human rights, such as press freedom. In the theory of legal studies, press freedom is associated with freedom of opinion, freedom of expression, and freedom of information. Until now, the Government is committed not to make rules that restrict the enactment of the Press Law. However, in its development, the right of expression is less powerful than the freedom of the press. Arfi stated, “Freedom of the press which is based on freedom of expression is even stronger than freedom of expression itself.” For example, the Minister of Communications and Informatics has just issued a regulation that allows the Government to request access to electronic system users from providers for surveillance reasons. This is a form of regulation that goes beyond human rights. Therefore, we need other laws and/or other implementing rules that can guarantee freedom of expression, opinion, and information, as part of human rights.

Civil liberties in Indonesia continue to decline and are under threat. This can be seen from the data released by Freedom House. The freedom index in Indonesia is partly free, where the most visible aspects are political rights and civil liberties. Can freedom of expression be limited? The answer is yes. Freedom of expression may be limited by law, for a legitimate purpose, and where necessary. This restriction is often a state problem because it tends to be made arbitrarily by one party and without a proper legal legislation process. Amnesty International states some signs which could indicate that government will disrupt freedom of expression. The signs include illegal restriction to access the information, defamation prosecution using criminal law, some rules restricting the freedom to criticize the authorities, and discrimination of opinion using hate speech offenses, hate crime, or religious insults. To close his presentation, Arfi gave tips on how to criticize safely, including:
– Talk about public interest
– Do not criticize someone personally
– Be careful with sensitive topics in Indonesia (e.g., religion and separatism)
– If you have classified data, do not share it yourself; look for journalists or trusted law enforcement NGOs such as the KPK to cooperate in opening it up
– Use social media and make sure the media account is secure (e.g., by using 2FA/Two-Factor Authentication)
– Avoid adjectives; try to use verbs in conveying criticism

Freedom in Indonesia Turns Back Towards Authoritarianism
What is criticism? Criticism is a response that is sometimes accompanied by a description of a work of opinion’s good or bad considerations. When a person critiques, they must evaluate and combine the information. Wijayanto explained that criticism is an important thing. This is in line with the expression, “Power tends to corrupt. The more absolute a power is, the more that ruler abuses it.” Therefore, power in Indonesia has been separated into executive, legislative, and judicial powers. The President’s invitation to the public to actively criticize is a good thing. Criticism is essential and can help the government to identify the shortcomings of its performance. However, the President’s invitation contradicts the condition of freedom of expression in Indonesia. Wijayanto stated that various scientific literature examining Indonesian freedom has concluded that Indonesia is experiencing a democratic decline and is leading towards authoritarianism.

Nationalism was built from print capitalism in the form of newspapers, which led to a common destiny. However, now it has turned into digital capitalism that covers globally. The study from LP3ES titled “Nestapa Demokrasi” describes all forms of restrictive policies, especially during the pandemic. For example, Omnibus Law policy and communication blunders regarding the absence of COVID-19 in Indonesia at the beginning of the pandemic. The survey from LP3ES also shows that almost 70% of the people are increasingly afraid to express their opinion. This is further driven by cyber police who work specifically to fight civil society who criticize current issues on social media. “Digital attacks happen to people who are critical on social media and end up being hacked,” said Wijayanto. The development of freedom of expression in Indonesia can be seen in the terror of academics who took action against the KPK Law and ended up being hacked. The government also carried out repression against activists and journalists. Students as agents of change also receive a ban from their campus to take protest. At the end of the presentation, Wijayanto emphasized, “There is a narrowing of public space in Indonesia, where criticism on social media is affected by the ITE Law, in the campus is being banned by the Rector, taking to the streets there will be repression. This narrowing of public space is accompanied by an increasingly repressive state.”

Author: Farida Ari Anggarawati
Editor: Ruth Simanjuntak & Aridiva Firdharizki