Protecting Freedom of Expression


The current allegations towards Sukmawati Soekarnoputri on her poem of ‘Indonesian Mother” during the celebration of ’29 Years of Anne Avantie’s Contribution’ at Indonesian Fashion Week 2018 on March 29th, has added to blasphemy cases in Indonesia. Sukmawati’s poem itself has been seen as an insult to muslims in Indonesia. Although Sukmati has publicly apologized, she has been already reported to the Police by three parties. They are Denny Andrian Kusdayat, an advocate; Organizing Committee of Nadhlatul Ulama of East Java, and Amron Asyhari, a politician from Hanura (Hati Nurani Rakyat) Party. Furthermore, the 212 Brotherhood Alumni also protested to defend Islam from the blasphemy. The group also expect that Sukmawati will get equal punishment as experienced by former Jakarta governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok) for the blasphemy which made him in prison for two years.

Basically the allegations are made because of the concerns that Sukmawati is seen to have an intention to create and share the poem publicly to trigger conflict by criticizing Islam in her poem. They also claim that although Sukmawati is the daughter of Soekarno, Indonesian founding father, she must be treated equally before the law. They also do not want to take out their reports to the police apart from Sukmawati’s statement to apologize to Indonesian muslims. In the reports, Sukmawati is suspected to violate Article 156 and 156 (a) of the Criminal Code. Sukmawati said that she did not have any intention to insult Islam and muslims in Indonesia. She also wanted to understand more about Indonesian Islam which is mostly known as Archipelago Islam or Islam Nusantara by expressing it in her own poem.

This year will be the 20th year of Reformasi in Indonesia. Freedom of expression is one of the results of the struggle. Unfortunately, apart from the achievement of Reformasi, freedom of expression remains fragile for everyone in Indonesia. In relation to the blasphemy, Setara Institute notes that there are 97 cases of blasphemy from 1965 to 2017. Interestingly, more than half of the cases (88 cases) happened after Reformasi, particularly with Ahok’s case. In this case, the research from Setara Institute in 2017 underlines that blasphemy case has increased as religion is seen as the easiest way to build a new power and used as political commodity through uniformity of understanding on religion which is interesting for the public. Most cases of blasphemy happened due to the banning of multi-interpretation of religion.

The increasing cases of blasphemy, defamation, et cetera have shown a serious threat towards freedom of expression. What make the threat is so critical to deal with is because of the existing regulations which prone to make people afraid of expressing their opinion freely. Not only the Criminal Code, the Law No. 18 Year 2016 (the revised Law No. 11 Year 2008) on Information and Electronic Transactions (ITE) apparently does not do much to protect freedom of expression, as for example in Sukmawati’s case, her poem has been spreaded widely through social media.

The revised law only reiterates the strong roles and authority of the government to curtail freedom of expression and provide justification for others who are supporting the uniformity of expression behind their own interests, including by using religion as the strong case against freedom of expression. The fact that the revised law on ITE has reduced the term of the sentence does not automatically mean that the law is protecting freedom of expression as it still refers to the Criminal Code which basically restrains freedom as expression with the stipulations such as on the blasphemy as well as defamation.

On the other hand, the allegations and demonstrations against freedom of expression by several groups of individuals and/or organisations have clearly missed to understand the principle of human rights which is even clearly stated in Article 28 and Article 28E point 2. The articles strongly highlight freedom of expression both verbally and in writing. With this, we must bear in mind that all charges towards freedom of expression must concern the fundamental of human rights. The increasing cases of blasphemy and defamation particularly in the middle of political contestation also give us a red alert of the setbacks of democracy in Indonesia, especially towards our individual freedom.

It is important to understand and protect freedom of expression which encourage human progress and provide the essence for human reflection about their life, the environment, and the people where they live in. No one deserves to be punished because of expressing their thoughts and voicing their ideas. We do not want to have another list of cases against freedom of expression due to public condemnation.

We should take the 20th year of Reformasi as a perfect moment to reflect and to take action together to promote and to protect human rights, including our freedom of expression. We need to open our mind and give room for dialogue to better understand each other’s expression. Rule of law is crucial to protect our human rights. The law must not be misused simply to justify violation against our freedom of expression. This is not about Sukmawati, but this is all about individual freedom of each of us.