Indonesia is set to resurrect a colonial-era regulation that could lead to imprisonment of people who insult the president, in a move that critics said may demonstrate the country's creeping encroachment on free speech and expression. Legislators, later this month, are expected to approve amendments to the penal code that would criminalise contempt of the president and vice-president, as well as of the government, state agencies and the court, South China Morning Post reported.
The law dates back to the 350-year old Dutch colonial rule in the South Asian country and was originally implemented to punish defamation and curb discontent against the Dutch royal family. In 1946, a year after Indonesia gained freedom, the law was revised to protect the dignity of the president and vice-president instead. But it has been off the records since 2006, when the Constitutional Court of the country deemed it was no longer relevant.
As a reason for bringing back the statute, the government explained that the law was "bizarre" if Indonesia had contempt laws to protect "ordinary people, the dead, our flag, national anthem, state symbols, officials, and head of state of our allies" but did not have one that covered the president. "Maybe in Western countries, people have different views about their leaders, but in Indonesia, the people still have a strong respect for the president and vice-president," lawmakers said in a statement.
Meanwhile, critics were further quoted as saying that the attempt to reintroduce the statute showed democracy was deteriorating in Indonesia, which underwent a period of political reform after the downfall of authoritarian leader Suharto in 1998. Those opposing the change said the new statute could be misused to stifle dissent and media freedom, as well as to criminalise political rivals. (ANI)
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