Don't Jail Different Mind

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  • TEMPO.CO, JakartaThe police arrested activists from the Save Indonesia Coalition for spreading hate. This is a foolish way to deal with differences of opinion.

    THE way the police arrested and named as suspects people who criticized the Job Creation Law is a realization of bad democracy in this country. Our Constitution clearly states that freedom of expression and assembly is a fundamental right of every citizen. Opinions and thoughts are not criminal acts that can result in prosecution.

    As well as arresting labor activists opposed to the Job Creation Law, the police's cybercrimes division also detained activists and leaders of the Save Indonesia Coalition (KAMI). Among other things, they were charged with spreading hatred and enmity between people of different ethnicities, faiths, races, and groupings according to the Electronic Transactions and Information Law, and for provocation as defined by the Criminal Code.

    In their investigation, the police invaded people's privacy by tapping into chats on WhatsApp groups and using the data as evidence. According to the police, these conversations on social media and by message chatting triggered the violence in the demonstrations against the Job Creation Law in a number of areas.

    This charge is clearly excessive. In 2009, the Constitutional Court revised Article 160 of the Criminal Code on incitement, changing it from a formal to a material offense. With this change, the police cannot immediately arrest somebody accused of incitement. A person can only be prosecuted if their words are proved to have had an impact on another crime, such as violence or acts of anarchy.

    It is undeniable that in its criticism of the Joko Widodo-Ma'ruf Amin government, KAMI's supporters frequently raise sectarian issues. On a number of occasions, they have revived the ghost of the Indonesian Communist Party, have made anti-Chinese comments and have made intolerant statements about minority groups.

    However, intolerance must not be met with more intolerance. The police must not arrest people because of their opinions -- no matter how stupid the views expressed. The law cannot forbid people to think. A desire cannot be punished before it is translated into a criminal act.

    The government may well suspect that KAMI will be used by a small number of people to achieve their short-term political aims. A number of KAMI activists have track records that strengthen this suspicion. However, as long as this cannot be proved conclusively, KAMI must be seen as a public organization protected by law.

    The reactive stance of a number of Jokowi supporters towards the presence of KAMI is regrettable. The establishment of the Indonesia Motherland Congress (KITA) as a counter for KAMI could spark violence between supporters on the ground. KITA is sponsored by politicians from the National Awakening Party (PKB), a member of Jokowi's coalition. This organization is also backed by Bravo Lima, which was established by Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan to help Jokowi win the election. Luhut is now the coordinating minister for maritime affairs and investment.

    Nevertheless, if they claim to be a part of civil society, KAMI should play role in strengthening democracy. Its members must promote the establishment of a government that is transparent and responsible, propagate the ideas and the values of democracy, promote equality, and strive for inclusive political participation.

    The ideological basis of KAMI must be in line with the values of democracy. It must not use force and violence to gain power or political support.

    Read the Complete Story in Tempo English Magazine