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Jakarta court acquits human rights activists in defamation case, APHR calls for stronger protections

On Monday (8 Jan), East Jakarta District Court acquitted human rights activists Haris Azhar and Fatia Maulidiyanti of all charges in a defamation case involving senior cabinet minister Luhut Pandjaitan.

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INDONESIA: In a significant ruling on Monday, the East Jakarta District Court acquitted human rights activists Haris Azhar and Fatia Maulidiyanti of all charges in a defamation case involving senior cabinet minister Luhut Pandjaitan.

The duo was accused of defaming the coordinating maritime affairs and investment minister in a YouTube video discussing his alleged involvement in extractive mining in Papua.

The judges concluded that their comments did not constitute criminal defamation, a decision that was met with relief from rights defenders who have been vocal about the increasing crackdown on government critics.

Haris and Fatia faced serious accusations from the Attorney General’s Office (AGO), which sought four years in prison for Haris and the removal of his YouTube channel, as well as a three-and-a-half-year sentence for Fatia. The case was initiated when Luhut, a former Army general, reported the activists for comments in which he was referred to as a “lord” and “villain”, and for allegations concerning his business dealings and the military presence in Papua.

Following the court’s decision, Haris expressed his acceptance of the acquittal, while the AGO indicated a possibility of appealing the verdict. This case has been a focal point in discussions about freedom of expression and the treatment of human rights defenders in Indonesia.

In response to the acquittal of Indonesian human rights defenders, APHR Member and Malaysian Member of Parliament Yuneswaran Ramaraj expressed his positive reaction to the court’s decision.

He highlighted the importance of accepting robust criticism and diverse opinions in a democracy, reflecting on the judges’ remarks in the ruling: “In a democracy, public officials must be open to lively criticism and differences of opinion.”

Yuneswaran strongly urged the prosecution not to appeal the decision, stating that the charges against Fatia Maulidiyanti and Haris Azhar were unfounded.

Expressing his continued concerns, Yuneswaran remarked, “The Electronic Information and Transaction (ITE) Law, despite its recent revision, remains all too easily misused to suppress political criticism and dissent.”

He emphasized the need for leaders to realize the far-reaching implications of such broad and vague laws, which have often been used to criminalize political opponents.

As Indonesia nears its general elections, Yuneswaran called on candidates and future parliamentarians to recognize that the recent changes to the ITE Law are insufficient.

He said, “Such broad and ambiguous laws have all too often been used to criminalize political opponents, in Indonesia and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. All leaders and politicians must realize that they too can fall victim to such ‘lawfare’.”

Yuneswaran urges Indonesian authorities and legislators to pledge their commitment to protecting freedom of expression, a cornerstone of any lasting democracy. In his own words, “One of the first steps should be fully repealing the ambiguous and draconian provisions in the ITE Law.”

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