Fear of Speech

By Dioputra Ilham | 01 Sep 2017
Issue of the Month | 0 Responses | 925 Views

By: Alif Suhada/Editor & Translator: Rizkina Aliya

Freedom of speech is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Indonesian constitution. Article 28E of the 1945 Indonesian Constitution (UUD 1945) explicitly states how every individual has the freedom of association, assembly, and expression; however, it is apparently now common knowledge that Indonesia is currently still in the midst of a difficult situation  regarding its people’s right to freedom of speech. The present-day hostile social-political climate results from the combination of questionable government policies and societal behaviors.

Before diving in to restraints made by the government, a comprehensive understanding of the freedom of speech must be established. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) defines the freedom of expression and opinion as the freedom, “to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” With that definition, it goes without saying that the freedom of speech is an indispensable right for every Indonesian citizen as acknowledged both by the UDHR and UUD 1945. Conclusively, every citizen can be assured that they can express their own opinions and attitudes without fear of retaliation from any side.

But comprehending that every human being has the right to speak without fear is not enough because to fully understand what freedom of expression means to Indonesia, one must also understand what positive laws and regulations are in place. Article 28J of UUD 1945 states that it is mandatory for every individual to respect the rights of others; thus, an expansion of the definition made by Article 28E of UUD 1945 on the freedom of expression can be inferred, “one only has full freedom to express their thoughts and opinions so long as they do not impinge upon the rights of others.” Another exception was established by a stipulation made by the People’s Consultative Assembly (Tap MPRS No. 25 Tahun 1966 about the Indonesian Communist Party [PKI]) that forbids the dissemination of information about the PKI and/or communism. Thus, the final applicable description for the Indonesian form of freedom of speech is really, “the freedom to seek, receive, and disseminate information or opinions so long as it does not demean the fundamental human rights of others and it does not contain any element related to communism or the PKI.”

The 72 year-old state has experienced severe oppression of expression during the New Order regime. During the era of Soeharto, freedom of speech is nothing but a fantasy since the government smothered any opinion or channel of information, holding the reins to whatever media are left available; the press was silenced, newspaper and magazine offices were shut down, and a misspoken word or two may lead to a charge of public provocation.

But even after 20 years have passed since the Soeharto regime, in the current Reformation era, there are also numerous instances where the present government has curbed its people’s freedom of expression. During 2014-2015, based on a report made by the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (Lembaga Studi dan Advokasi Masyarakat) among many undocumented cases perpetrated by the state, 17 films were disallowed, 4 forced dissolutions of assemblies held by victims of the 1965 human rights violations, and other instances of intimidation.  The most recent repression towards the freedom of expression by the state is the dissolution of Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), a national Muslim community organization. Universities were urged to identify and question any of their lecturers and employees who associate with the disbanded organization, and it is alleged that the government withheld funds for the national scouts pending clarification of its head Adhyaksa Dault about his connections and support to HTI. Despite the defense that the organization’s existence and activities fundamentally oppose the Pancasila (as Indonesia’s national principle) and the Indonesian state, as well as a distinct polarization of opinions among the public, the very act of dissolving the organization without going through any forms of fair judicial process illustrates how even the post-New Order state still has a tendency to repress its people’s right to freedom of expression.

But the state is not the only contributor to the fear of speech and expression in Indonesia. Repression of people’s thoughts and opinions also come from certain elements of the public. This is evident in the persecution (persekusi) of a child with the initials PMA by members of a certain community organization because of his social media post that is against the ideals and beliefs of the said organization. The massive demonstrations made by certain groups of Indonesian society against former Governor of Jakarta Basuki Tjahaja Purnama can also be viewed as a form of repression by the public against the former governor’s right to freely express his opinions without being threatened by condemnation, violence, and criminal charges.  

But after 72 years of independence, why does it continue to occur? Why is the enforcement and protection of such a fundamental human right as bestowed by God and the constitution the moment a human being is born has been and continues to be so poor? Why does its suppression continue to happen from both the government and the public? It is apparent that in terms of freedom of speech, opinion, and expression, an individual can never be truly rid of fear.


Further Reading

“Indonesia: Freedom of Opinion and Expression Under Serious Threat” (Asian Legal Resource Center): http://alrc.asia/indonesia-freedom-of-opinion-and-expression-under-serious-threat/

Freedom of the Press 2016 Report (Freedom House): https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/2016/indonesia

"Government Disbands HTI" (TJP): http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2017/07/19/govt-disbands-hti.html

"Adhyaksa Dault to Seek Other Source of Scout Fund" (Republika): http://www.republika.co.id/berita/en/national-politics/17/07/26/otnocf414-adhyaksa-dault-to-seek-other-source-of-scout-fund

"Government to Take Harsh Actions Against Lecturers Involved in HTI" (TEMPO): https://en.tempo.co/read/news/2017/07/24/055893813/Govt-to-Take-Harsh-Actions-against-Lecturers-Involved-in-HTI

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