Criticism of President Part of Democracy…for Now
Criticism of the President is part of democracy according to Foreign Advisor Teuku Faisasyah, defending SBY’s controversial award for religious freedom.
Public criticism of the President in regards to religious intolerance or other controversial topics may soon be silenced.
If the government is successful in implementing changes to the Criminal Code, it will reinstate an article referred to as an “Insult Ban”.
The article, previously part of the Criminal Code, makes insulting the President or Vice President punishable with a fine of up to five years in prison or RP300 million ($31 000).
Nurhayati Ali Assegaf, Chairwoman of the Democratic Party at the House of Representatives, supports the plan and cited a lack of respect for the President.
“It seems we need to instill a sense of respect in the people so that there’s no more moral degradation,” she said in Detik.com.
The line between insult and valid criticism will require fine wording and even finer adjudication if it is to avoid severely infringing on freedom of expression and on the ability of civil groups to hold the President accountable for rights abuses.
Ahmad Basarah, another lawmaker, pointed out that the article would need to clearly define insults and criticism, so that the public could still speak out if criticism was warranted.
In the Jakarta Globe on Friday, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s (SBY) foreign advisor, Teuku Faisasyah, was reported as saying criticism is part of the dynamics of Indonesian democracy.
SBY has been heavily criticised after announcements he will receive a World Statesman Award for upholding religious freedom, from the US based Appeal of Conscience Foundation.
The merit of the proposed award has been met with objections from increasingly vocal rights groups and civil society organisations.
SBY’s circle has been busy defending the honour; and a criminalised insult ban would make this even easier by chilling protest deemed illegitimate.
Presidential advisor, Julian Aldrin Pasha, was reported in the Jakarta Post as stating that those groups opposing the award hold “narrow minded opinions based on a political philosophy without ethics”.
Morals and ethics are clearly rallying cries against criticism.
Activists however, allege SBY does not deserve the award because he has ignored the plight of minorities, in particular religious minorities.
Last week the Asia Pacific Solidarity Network issued a statement on their website appealing against the award, on the grounds that the foundation has not seriously examined the situation in the country to see if the recipient deserves the award.
They said due to continuing religious violence, government inaction, and official impunity, the award is a mockery.
“President Yudhoyono has established an unprecedented discriminatory legal infrastructure in Indonesia. He has issued a discriminatory regulations, defended the blasphemy law at the Constitutional Court, and promulgated a decree threatening five years in jail for anyone who ‘propagates’ the Ahmadiyah teaching.”
The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network launched a petition on Change.org, asking activists to sign for the Foundation to withdraw the award.
Priest, Rev. Fans Magnus Suseno also wrote a letter to the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, wherein he highlights the present situation for Ahmadis and Shiites who have been expelled from their communities and bombed in vicious attacks, as examples of the precarious state of religious minorities under SBY’s leadership.
Suseno pointed out how difficult it is to obtain church permits, with increasing numbers of churches forcefully closed or prevented from holding sermons under the onus of local administrations.
Recently around 200 minority group leaders banded together to protest their rights outside of parliament in Jakarta.
The award has made religious tolerance in Indonesia appear farcical after Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International issued reports this year confirming rising violence toward religious minorities amid several new cases of forced church and mosque closures and demolition, and violent attacks on Shiites.