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Indonesia: Stop judicial harassment of human rights defenders – UN expert

26 November 2021

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GENEVA

Indonesia must immediately stop using criminal laws to harass four human rights defenders who have spoken out against alleged corruption, Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, said today.

“I am extremely concerned at the way defamation laws are being used in Indonesia to undermine the right to freedom of opinion and expression,” said Lawlor. “Civil society organisations are being targeted for performing what should be seen as a valuable role in society: ensuring that government and company projects are carried out with good governance in a transparent way, free from corruption, collusion and nepotism.

“More generally, defamation should be treated as a civil matter, not a crime,” she added. “A number of UN human rights bodies have repeatedly called for defamation to be removed from Indonesia’s criminal law, and instead to allow people to sue in civil courts if they feel they have been slandered or libelled.”

Lawlor spoke out about two separate incidents – the publication of a study and a YouTube video – about government and company projects that could see the four defenders facing criminal charges.

In the first, the Presidential Chief of Staff reported Egi Primayogha and Miftachul Choir, human rights defenders and members of Indonesia Corruption Watch, to police in September over a study the group published, following several subpoenas sent in August 2021. The study uncovered possible involvement of public officials in promoting a controversial drug to treat COVID-19 that has not been officially approved for such use.

The Presidential Chief of Staff wants the two defenders charged with defamation and slander or libel, that could carry possible prison sentences of up to six years.

The second, unrelated, case revolves around a YouTube video on the alleged involvement of Indonesian army officials and retirees in plans to mine gold in Blok Wabu in Intan Jaya, Papua. The video was published by human rights defenders Fatia Maulidiyanti and Haris Azhar, who have worked with several civil society organizations, including the NGO KontraS.

A lawyer for the Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment issued cease and desist orders against the two in August and September and followed up with a defamation complaint. If charged, Fatia Maulidiyanti and Haris Azhar could face up to six years in prison.

“These cases are part of a broader pattern where lawyers for government officials and companies use their broad powers as officers of the court to issue subpoenas and cease and desist demands, and then to follow up by referring human rights defenders to the police,” said Lawlor.

“The work of KontraS, Indonesia Corruption Watch and other civil society organizations helps to ensure honesty in projects carried out by the government and companies,” Lawlor said. “Restricting freedom of expression can be hugely detrimental and leads to the silencing of important voices in a society.”

The Special Rapporteur will continue to monitor the two cases and is in contact with the Indonesian authorities on the matter.

Mary Lawlor’s call was endorsed by: Ms. Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health.

ENDS

* Ms. Mary Lawlor is the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. Ms. Lawlor is currently Associate Professor of Business and Human Rights at the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) at Trinity College Dublin Business School. In 2001 she founded Front Line Defenders - the International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders to focus on human rights defenders at risk. As Executive Director between 2001 and 2016, Ms. Lawlor represented Front Line Defenders and played a key role in its development. Ms. Lawlor was previously Director of the Irish Office of Amnesty International from 1988 to 2000, after becoming a member of the Board of Directors in 1975 and being elected its President from 1983 to 1987.

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures' experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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