Indonesia: Social media users threatened with legal action for posts

FPI grand mufti Rizieq Shihab (C) gives a speech to followers in Jakarta, Indonesia. Credit: Adek Berry/AFP

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate, Aliansi Jurnalis Independen (AJI), Indonesia, in strongly criticizing the latest action by members of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) against social media users across Indonesia. The IFJ and AJI call on the Indonesian police to investigate and to protect the right of Indonesian citizens to freedom of expression on every platform, including the digital media.

Over the past two weeks, dozens of reports have surfaced of FPI intimidating social media users who publish what FPI deems to be ‘derogatory’ posts about Rizieq Shihab, the FPI grand mufti. On Sunday, May 21, dozens of members of the FPI went to Indrie Sorayya, a businesswoman from Tangerang, Banten’s house, to protest a Facebook post about Rizieq Shihab. In a separate incident, Fiera Lovita, a doctor from Solok in West Sumatra, was harassed by members of FPI. Both women, and many others, have been forced to issue apologies on social media or face legal action.

According to SAFEnet, a network of supporters of freedom of expression in Southeast Asia, tracking had revealed at least 48 individuals across Indonesia who are currently under threat of being hunted down, terrorized, and silenced by these patterns of violence. Vigilante acts perpetrated by FPI is a threat to the protection of human rights guaranteed by Article 28 (E) of the 1945 Indonesian constitution. The article states that every person has the right to the freedom of association, to assemble, and to express opinions.

Shihab was named as a suspect in a pornography case, and since then, FPI has been protesting and harassing social media users posting about him. On Tuesday, after police issued a warrant for Shihab’s arrest, the Indonesian Government issued a statement telling supporters of Shihab to respect the police and the legal process.

AJI president Suwarjono said: “AJI strongly criticizes the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) for encouraging, or at least allowing its members to hunt down citizens for exercising their right to express their opinion on social media. AJI criticizes the police for allowing intimidation and terror against freedom of expression, even facilitating the prosecution of citizens posting on social media with the Information and Electronic Transaction Act. This should not have been allowed as it will only serve to perpetuate public fear of free and open expression of opinions.”

AJI also said: “We call for everyone's active participation in safeguarding the civil and political liberty that the nation had enjoyed since the May 1998 reform. Support may be expressed in solidarity for victims of social media intimidation or by directly pressuring the government to consistently protect the civil and political rights of Indonesian citizens. Do not let anyone rob us of our rights and freedom.”

The IFJ said: “The vigilante action of FPI members shows a blatant disregard for freedom of expression and opinion in Indonesia. Social media users should be free to publish what they wish, without fear of retribution. We stand with AJI and call on the Indonesian police to investigate each incident of harassment and also guarantee freedom of expression in Indonesia.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0946 

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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