Alert Issued: November 4, 2009
On October 12, 2009, Ms. Illian Deta Arta Sari and Mr. Emerson Yuntho, two staff members of Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW), a nongovernmental organization (NGO) based in Jakarta, were named as suspects in a criminal defamation case. Indonesians accused of corruption are increasingly filing criminal defamation complaints with police in an attempt to silence their critics. This case is especially worrying because the complaint originated from the Attorney-General’s Office itself. This office should be preventing baseless investigations, rather than bringing their own unfounded complaints.
At the time that Ms. Deta Arta Sari and Mr. Yuntho were summoned by the police for questioning, ICW and other civil society organizations in Indonesia were advocating against the opening of a criminal investigation into two of the deputy chairmen of the Indonesian Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). ICW has also called for the suspension of the head of the National Police’s Criminal Detective Body (Bareskrim).
Threatening critics with imprisonment is the wrong way for the Indonesian government to build a foundation of free expression and vigorous political discourse-unhindered by the corruption that continues to plague Indonesian society.
TAKE ACTION NOW to urge President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to end the politically-motivated investigation of Indonesian Corruption Watch staff members, to investigate efforts to criminalize their legitimate criticism of a state agency, and to work to amend laws criminalizing defamation.
Update: Although on November 5th, 2009 the New York Times reported that two Indonesian law enforcement officials were forced to resign for undermining the work of staffers from the Indonesian Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), the case against ICW anti-corruption activists Ms. Illian Deta Arta Sari and Mr. Emerson Yuntho still remains.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is the first Indonesian president to be directly elected following more than thirty years of authoritarian rule by President Suharto. Yudhoyono was elected to a second five-year term in July 2009, due in large part to his focus on economic reforms during his first term. While Indonesia has taken significant steps on the road toward stable democracy since the fall of Suharto, much work remains to be done to ensure that human rights of all Indonesians are protected and corruption diminished in every sector of society.
During his campaign this year, President Yudhoyono committed to strengthen the rule of law in Indonesia. As an important step toward replacing the rule of man with the rule of law, Yudhoyono should ensure an end to the repressive practice of bringing criminal defamation charges against citizens who peacefully challenge those in power. Criminal defamation charges have no place in a stable democracy, yet less than two months ago similar charges were brought against another human rights defender. Human Rights First asked for your help in that case against Usman Hamid, Coordinator of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (KontraS).
Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) campaigns against corruption in Indonesia, promoting fair and clean political, economic and administrative systems that are based on social justice. ICW also works to improve public participation in policy-making. Ms. Illian Deta Arta Sari is the Deputy Coordinator for ICW, and Mr. Emerson Yuntho is the organization’s Law and Justice Monitoring Division Coordinator.
On October 12, the National Police (MABES Polri) summoned Mr. Yuntho and Ms. Deta Arta Sari for questioning as suspects in a criminal defamation case under Articles 311 and 316 of the Criminal Code. The case is based on a report made to police on January 7, 2009 by a lawyer in the Attorney General’s office. His report followed the publication of a newspaper article two days earlier, which reported that Illian Deta Arta Sari and Emerson Yuntho had expressed skepticism about the amount of money that prosecutors claimed to have saved the state through corruption prosecutions. While the headline raised the possibility of embezzlement, none of the comments by ICW staff included such an allegation.
Mr. Yuntho and Ms. Deta Arta Sari had made their statement on behalf of ICW, basing it an official document-the Supreme Audit Agency’s (BPK) audit report.
While any criminal defamation case against civil society actors raises concerns, these charges are particularly misplaced. The statements made by Illian Deta Arta Sari and Emerson Yuntho were primarily factual, drawing on a published government document. There is no apparent link between their actions and any personal defamation of either the State or the lawyer who reported them in January.
There is a possible connection, however, between the charges against the ICW staffers and the fact that at the time that the staffers were summoned, ICW and other Indonesian civil society organizations were advocating against the opening of a criminal investigation into two of the deputy chairmen of the Indonesian Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). In addition, ICW has called for the suspension of the head of the National Police’s Criminal Detective Body (Bareskrim).
If Indonesia is to make necessary progress on its road to a stable democracy that respects and protects the basic human rights of all its citizens, human rights defenders must not be forced to work under the shadow of possible criminal charges. Emerson Yuntho and Illian Deta Arta Sari were pursuing their work on behalf of all Indonesians who seek a fair government free of corruption. Such human rights defenders should be applauded, not silenced.
March 10, 2010
Subject: End Investigation of Illian Deta Arta Sari and Emerson Yuntho
I was troubled to hear that Ms. Illian Deta Arta Sari and Mr. Emerson Yuntho of Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) are the subjects of a criminal defamation investigation.
I was gratified to note that you made strengthening the rule of law a high priority in your campaign earlier this year. Yet charging human rights activists, journalists, and other civil society actors with criminal defamation has, alarmingly, become an increasing trend in Indonesia. Such charges are out of place in a society seeking a strong and stable rule of law.
Under your leadership, Indonesia has made significant progress toward becoming a stable democracy. But yet more progress must be made before the job is done. Your recent re-election allows you the opportunity to ensure that the rule of law is fully implemented in Indonesia. I urge you not to delay in taking all necessary steps to end the investigations of Ms. Deta Arta Sari and Mr. Yuntho, but also to ensure that those officials responsible for the investigation are themselves investigated for possible misuse of their authority.
Ensuring that Indonesian society is free of corruption is a critical piece of building a stable, free, and fair democratic society. The work of Ms. Deta Arta Sari and Mr. Yuntho, their colleagues at ICW, and the other human rights defenders with whom they work should be protected, not repressed.
In addition to taking action on the specific case of Ms. Deta Arta Sari and Mr. Yuntho, I hope you will ensure that Indonesian police and prosecutors consistently and correctly distinguish between defamation and legitimate criticism or other forms of free speech. Furthermore, I urge you to recognize that criminal defamation laws have no place in a government that welcomes political opposition. Freedom of expression, which such laws violate, is a critical element to any stable democracy. I therefore hope you will work to ensure that Indonesia’s criminal defamation laws are repealed-and soon, in light of their increased use against human rights defenders.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. I will continue to monitor this case closely.
General Bambang Hendarso Danuri
Head of National Police of the Republic of Indonesia
Jl. Trunojoyo No.3