Haris Azhar, Fatia Maulidiyanti in Legal Spotlight: Defamation Case Tests Indonesia’s Free Speech

January 23, 2024
1 min read
Haris Azhar and Fatia Maulidiyanti together
Haris Azhar and Fatia Maulidiyanti together P.C - Instagram

Due to a video that was uploaded to Haris Azhar’s YouTube channel, the human rights activists Fatia Maulidiyanti and Haris Azhar from Indonesia are presently being charged with criminal defamation. This development is concerning. The video raised concerns about how mining operations in Blok Wabu, Intan Jaya Regency, Papua, were affecting human rights. It also indicated a probable connection between the defense of mining companies in the area and the continued operation of military operations in West Papua.

On March 6, 2023, the case file was considered complete and turned over to the East Jakarta District Attorney’s Office. This marked an important turning point in the case, which had been ongoing since 2021. In addition to being charged with defamation under Article 27 paragraph (3) of the Electronic Information and Transactions Law, the defenders are also accused under Articles 310 and 311 of the Criminal Code. These articles deal with defamation and damaging someone’s honor and reputation, respectively.

Human rights activists are concerned about the accusations made against Maulidiyanti and Azhar. They believe that these actions are a reaction to their lawful and nonviolent efforts in Indonesian environmental and human rights defense. In a statement released on September 27, 2021, Front Line Defenders and fifteen other civil society organizations urged the Indonesian government to drop the unjustified accusations against the defenders and stop the legal persecution against them.

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On March 28, 2022, the situation worsened when the police labeled both defenders as suspects and interrogated them for at least six hours. If found guilty, the charges carry a potential six-year jail time. The defense points to a section of the Criminal Code that says an act does not qualify as defamation if it is carried out in the public interest. This supports their claim that the video was made in the public interest.

The lawsuit started on September 23, 2021, when Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, the Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment, filed a defamation case in reaction to the YouTube video. Subpoenas were sent out, demanding an apology and an explanation within five days. In response, the minister’s official position was pointed out by the defenders to support their points of view, rather than the minister personally. The minister’s attorney chose to submit them to the police despite their responses.

This particular case highlights worries over the incorrect interpretation of Indonesia’s Electronic Information and Transactions Law to silence human rights activists and defenders. The defenders, Haris Azhar and Fatia Maulidiyanti, are well-known for their participation in a number of civil society movements.

As the world focuses its attention on these human rights activists’ situation, justice is expected to prevail. Their legitimate work in defense of human rights will be recognized and protected.

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