Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Persecution Threatens Freedom of Expression  

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  • TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Persecution of social media users accused of smearing Islam and clerics proves that not all citizens enjoy their constitutional right to express opinions. This is a clear violation of Article 28 of the 1945 Constitution which guarantees every citizen the right to freedom of association, assembly and expression, as well as the right to convey information via different channels. 

    In the last two weeks, netizens who posted negative comments about Rizieq Syihab, the beleaguered leader of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) who is embroiled in a pornography case, have been stalked and threatened by a group calling themselves the Muslim Cyber Army. Last month, they confronted dr. Fiera Lovita at her office in the Solok general hospital in West Sumatra and pressured her to delete her Facebook posts which, among others, questioned Rizieq's refusal to return home from his overseas jaunt to Saudi Arabia. 

    Indri Soraya, a travel bureau owner in Tangerang, who posted on her Facebook status a comment about Rizieq, also encountered similar intimidation. A gaggle of people came to her house and harrassed her until she agreed to apologize at the Tangerang police precinct. A Banyuwangi teenager, Afi Nihaya Faradisa, has even received death threats after her post about tolerance and diversity went viral on social media. 

    Terror against those who are critical of clerics was spread on the Internet via the Facebook account named 'Muslims' Database of Fugitives' which displays a slew of hate slurs against a certain race, religion, ethnicity and ingroup (SARA), along with photos of Facebook users who condemn intolerance. The account has since been blocked by Facebook, although there is no assurance that intimidations are over. 

    These acts of persecution are worrying. The Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet), a network promoting freedom of on-line expression across Southeast Asia, recorded that these actions are widespread throughout Indonesia. Zealots usually perpetrate their terror tactics through several phases: from trawling for people who they think defame Islam or clerics, to mobilizing masses and cracking down on their targets. SAFEnet observed that 46 social media users have so far been subject to such acts of terror since last January. 

    Having witnessed the acts of vigilante justice by mobs such as the Muslim Cyber Army should provide reason enough for the police to step in. The police should take concrete action to stop them from enforcing street justice. No civil society organization should be given free rein to persecute other citizens under any circumstance.

    If Rizieq's supporters find some social media posts offensive towards them, they should file complaints with the police. Opinions should be responded to with other opinions, not by intimidation and threats, because freedom of opinion is a fundamental right in a democratic society. The incitement from the cyber army and other groups can lead to vigilantism or mobocracy that overrides an individual's right to presumption of innocence. 

    These cases of intimidation cases should also serve as proof that Law No. 11/2008 on Information and Electronic Transactions threatens freedom of expression. Paragraph 3 of Article 27 is often abused by some parties who use cyber-libel as a pretext to hound and pester people for simply expressing their opinions on the Internet.(*)

    Read the full story in this week’s edition of Tempo English Magazine