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Criminalisation and limitation towards expressions of religiosity and faith in the online sphere remain a concerning issue, despite the protection of human rights being guaranteed by the Constitution, as written in the report by Diani Citra (Sintesa Consulting) and Pradipa P. Rasidi (EngageMedia) from 2022. Concerns have been raised that the latest revision of the Criminal Code, which will take effect in 2026, will only exacerbate this problem.
The enactment of the new Criminal Code into law has been successful in bringing about reform towards the practice of capital punishment through the inclusion of additional requirements regulated under Article 100 clause (10) and commutation of the life sentence of a convict (Article 69). For civil society organisations, this is undeniably a small victory in the history of Indonesian legal developments. At the same time, it cannot be said that their advocacy and campaign efforts, which have been carried out since 2019, have been completely successful. There are at least 12 problematic articles in Law No. 1 of 2023 on the Criminal Code (KUHP), which was passed in December 2022. Threats against human rights and criminalisation continue to loom over anyone found insulting the government, cohabiting outside formal marriage, or accused of religious blasphemy, not to mention the adoption of several provisions from the Electronic Information and Transactions Law (UU ITE).
EngageMedia initiated three informal meetups (kopi darat, #KopDar) last May on the continuation of advocacy post-enactment of the Criminal Code. As many as 45 invitees joined the meetup, consisting of the National Alliance for Criminal Code Reform, independent media, university students, and relevant civil society organisations (CSOs). In the first session, we facilitated a reflection process among the CSOs involved in monitoring the Bill on the Criminal Code leading up to its promulgation in December 2022. Civil society representatives in attendance revealed that there was a need for further consolidation between fellow alliance members and coordination between the teams in charge of the content and the campaign. This had not been accomplished since their focus had been split by other controversial legislation, such as the Government Regulation on Job Creation, #PoliceReform, Revision of UU ITE, and the Health Bill. Since the CSOs’ resources are limited, each person is expected to “multitask” and simultaneously monitor other controversial legislations.
The second meetup was attended by several youth media organisations, student unions, and freelance journalists. University students felt the mass action routine (taking to the streets) was becoming monotonous, recurring after the enactment of yet another repressive policy. Instead of accomplishing its goal of raising the awareness of the masses, the campaigns end up being co-opted into aimless street action. To make matters worse, the COVID-19 pandemic moved learning activities online, creating the absence of intensive interaction between students and their seniors. Students found themselves stumped in establishing fully-developed advocacy plans. Due to these challenges, the student movement has only been able to take a reactive approach and cannot come up with strategic plans. Failure to read the government’s pattern in enacting legislation which tends to clash with the protection of human rights and the lack of political imagination as reflected by the 1998 Indonesian Reform Movement or the Yellow Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong are also some of the biggest shortcomings that need to be addressed.
The series of #KopDar meetups were concluded through the third session with friends from marginal communities, who tend to have their unique ways of amplifying their campaigns and stances after the passage of the Criminal Code. For example, the LGBT community carried out their outreach to the regions, due to the emergence of many discriminatory local bylaws rife with anti-LGBT policies. Some have opted for less vocal avenues out of concern that their efforts may backfire: instead of resisting the discriminatory policies successfully, the LGBT community could instead come under greater pressure. Another issue being worked on together with freedom of religion and belief groups is the Elimination of Discrimination Bill. It is hoped that the bill would shield against the new Criminal Code which will take effect in the coming year of 2026.
In summary, we only have two more years until the new Criminal Code comes into force. Based on the results of our informal meetup sessions, there are several “pockets” which could be targeted for advocacy efforts on problematic articles in the Criminal Code as well as balancing counternarratives against the government’s glorification of the new Criminal Code as a “homegrown” product of decolonisation. In every #KopDar, we found that participants felt the need to target campuses as an opportunity to seize the interpretation of the new Criminal Code. Universities, especially their faculties of law, play an important role, as the need for legal experts to interpret the Criminal Code during trial could be instrumentalised in putting pressure on the problematic clauses in the Criminal Code. To this end, socialisation and critical discussions taking place in a university setting could serve as the foundation for university students.
It is for this reason that, in line with EngageMedia’s mission, we have decided to cooperate with PANDHEKA UGM, Radio KBR, and Project Multatuli to produce a series of content in the form of articles, podcasts, and videos, as part of a continued public advocacy campaign on the new Criminal Code. In a broad sense, the campaign will provide room for interaction between the public and the experts on the Criminal Code. Moving forward, EngageMedia will specifically examine the problematic clauses encompassing religious blasphemy, defamation, and pornography, collaborating to bring together resource persons from each stakeholder group, academics, CSOs, university students, and possibly relevant government representatives.