Activist Interview: Damar Juniarto of Safenet, Indonesia

How would you rate the general status of freedom of expression in Indonesia?

On a scale of 0 to 10, I would put Indonesia at 4; it means it’s poor.

People can’t express themselves freely, especially via social media, because of Article 27 (3) of the law on electronic information and transactions (ITE).

If I join a mass demonstration in front of the presidential palace, the police will use violence either under Law No. 9/1998 created under the New Order regime, or Jakarta City Regulation No. 228. Academic freedom is also under attack through self-censorship of certain issues, such as the mass killings of 1965 or corruption.

As someone working on digital expression how have these challenges impacted on your life and work?

Of course, the chilling effect is quite strong. Now, I barely see anybody expressing their criticism freely.

And for me, I try to avoid using words that make me a sitting duck for the ITE law. I hide when I mention the name or identity of people that I know do wrong things.

Can you tell us about an example that is particularly troubling for you?

Right now, I am helping a netizen from Lombok, east of Bali. He asked for my protection since he feels that the Governor of Lombok wants to see him go to prison as a result of his defamation case. But I can’t add that to my report or campaign since the ITE law will target any people who criticise the status quo.

How are you tackling this challenge? What needs to change?

Right now, empowering the victims. Gathering them together to decide any actions that they want to take and how my organisation Safenet might support. Parallel to this, the regulations should be changed. Ongoing advocacy to drive the government and legislative body to remove the defamation Article from the ITE law is trying to push the decision-makers to take action. And thirdly, schools, classes, or workshops on online freedom of expression that involve the younger generation are needed.

What can other human rights defenders in Indonesia and worldwide do to support you? 

Help us to press the government and parliamentarians to remove the defamation Article from the ITE law. Help us by giving workshops on freedom of expression literacy and digital democracy to communities or schools.