Reforms of Indonesia’s Cyberlaw Are Inadequate, Say TrialWatch and ICJR

During its upcoming review of Indonesia, the United Nations Human Rights Committee should push Indonesia to explain why touted reforms to limit the abuse of its cyberlaw have failed, the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR) and the Clooney Foundation for Justice’s TrialWatch Initiative said in a submission to the Committee.

The Law on Electronic Information and Transactions (EIT Law), passed in 2008, regulates online transactions and cybercrimes. However, the authorities and powerful actors have repeatedly used the cyberdefamation and hate speech provisions of the law to criminalize dissent: according to data obtained by ICJR, from 2016-2020 768 people were charged under the EIT Law, with 37 percent of these cyberdefamation cases and 28 percent hate speech cases. Nearly 97 percent of the cases resulted in convictions. These trends have continued, with hundreds more charged over the past several years, including journalists and human rights defenders.

 The ICJR/TrialWatch submission responds to the UN Human Rights Committee’s request for information on how Indonesia plans to curb abusive prosecutions under the EIT Law. Indonesia’s review by the UN is scheduled to begin on March 11, 2024.

ICJR and TrialWatch’s submission reveals new data showing that the government’s proposed solutions to protecting freedom of expression in EIT Law cases have floundered. In 2021, the government adopted a Joint Decree meant to limit abusive prosecutions by explicitly excluding certain types of cases. The Decree, for example, forbids the police from bringing cyberdefamation charges for speech that is an opinion or is just insulting, and makes clear that hate speech cases should only be brought where there is a specific intent to incite hatred. However, in 62 cyberdefamation and hate speech cases identified by ICJR and TrialWatch that were either initiated or pursued after the Joint Decree, a startling 88 percent appear likely to have been excluded by the Joint Decree. This makes it urgent for the Committee to ask Indonesia why police and prosecutors have seemingly been disregarding the Joint Decree and how Indonesia will ensure implementation going forward.

Troublingly and as explained in the submission, despite recent amendments to the EIT Law, which “remed[y] some but not all of the problems of the previous iteration, the threat of abusive prosecutions persists,” as it does with the new Criminal Code, “which will replace the EIT Law in 2026 and which contains defamation and hate speech provisions inconsistent with international standards on freedom of expression.” Meanwhile, prosecutions under the older version of the EIT Law have continued to violate Indonesians’ right to free speech.

ICJR and TrialWatch have urged the UN Human Rights Committee to ask the Government of Indonesia the following specific questions:

  1. Can Indonesia respond to reports that the Joint Decree has not been effective and clarify how it has monitored/is monitoring compliance with the guidelines in the Decree?
  2. Given that the new Criminal Code and the revised EIT Law lack key protections of the Joint Decree, can Indonesia explain what steps it will take to ensure that those exercising their right to free speech are not criminalized?
  3. In light of the Joint Decree’s reported ineffectiveness with respect to defamation and hate speech cases, will Indonesia consider incorporating the protections provided in the Joint Decree into law as opposed to relying on guidelines?
  4. If Indonesia instead intends to adopt implementing guidelines either for the new Criminal Code or the amended EIT Law, can Indonesia explain how it will ensure that these guidelines are put into practice and their implementation monitored?

ICJR and TrialWatch call on Indonesia to cease abusive prosecutions under the EIT law and ensure that individuals exercising their right to free speech are not criminalized.


Adhigama A. Budiman – ICJR Researchers

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The Clooney Foundation for Justice’s Media and Communications team

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About the Clooney Foundation for Justice’s TrialWatch initiative: 

TrialWatch monitors criminal trials globally against those who are most vulnerable—particularly journalists, democracy defenders, women and girls, LGBTQ+ persons, and minorities. TrialWatch’s work covers more than 40 countries and has led to persecuted individuals being freed or acquitted, and unfair laws reformed, in dozens of cases. TrialWatch is now building a Global Justice Index that will be the first to rank countries on their justice systems through real-world data.