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Indonesia: Several People Arrested for Alleged Treason

(Dec. 13, 2016) On December 2, 2016, Indonesian police arrested 11 individuals, on charges that they committed treason by trying to create a movement to overthrow the government.  Eight of the accused were released the next day, but three remain in detention.  (Moses Ompusunggu, Nurul Fitri Ramadhani, & Marguerite Afra Sapiie, Jokowi Treason Arrests Questioned, JAKARTA POST (Dec. 5, 2016).)  The charges relied on several articles of the Penal Code, which punish attempts to cause a revolution (with imprisonment of up to 15 years upon conviction, which is increased to up to 20 years or life for leaders of such attempts) and conspiracy to commit that crime (with imprisonment for up to six years).  (Penal Code of Indonesia (1982, as last amended May 19, 1999), arts. 86, 107, & 110, World Intellectual Property Office website.)

On December 7, the authorities announced that police had located evidence of a transfer of cash, which they said corroborated the treason allegations.  (Indonesian Police Find Evidence of Cash Transfer in Treason Case, JAKARTA POST (Dec. 7, 2016).)

The arrests had taken place at the same time as some large rallies of Muslims were held demanding that Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, also called Ahok, the Governor of Jakarta, be arrested and charged with blasphemy.  Purnama, a Christian and of ethnic Chinese descent, is thought by conservative Islamic groups to have made critical comments about the Quran.  Massive demonstrations against Ahok have taken place since late October.  Authorities claim that the people who were arrested for treason were hoping to take advantage of the rallies to foment revolution.  (Joe Cochrane, Indonesian Police Arrest 11 for Suspected Treason, NEW YORK TIMES (Dec. 2, 2016).)

Sri Bintang Pamungkas, one of the three suspects not released, was also charged with offenses under the Electronic Information and Transactions Law, which contains provisions prohibiting hate speech.  (Ompusunggu, Ramadhani, & Sapiee, supra; Law of the Republic of Indonesia Number 11 of 2008 Concerning Electronic Information and Transactions (Apr. 21, 2008), art. 28, Boston University website (bilingual Indonesian/English text).)  He had been seen in a YouTube video encouraging people to demand that President Joko Widodo, often called by the shortened name Jokowi, be overthrown by the People’s Consultative Assembly (Majelis Permusyawaratan Rakyat, or MPR), stating “[i]f [we all] unite, let’s go together and the MPR revoke Jokowi’s mandate as president.”  (Ompusunggu, Ramadhani, & Sapiee, supra.)

The MPR is Indonesia’s legislature, with two houses, the People’s Representative Council (the main, national law-enacting body) and the Regional Representative Council.  The MPR has the authority to amend the Constitution or adopt a new one, to inaugurate the president and vice-president, and to dismiss the president or vice-president during their term of office, in accordance with constitutional provisions.  (The 1945 Constitution of the Republic of Indonesia (as amended through 2002), arts. 2, 3, 7A, & 7B, Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia, Washington, D.C. website (unofficial translation).)

Reaction to the Arrests

The arrests have raised concern that the treason provisions are being used to silence opposition voices.  Megi Margiyono, a cyberlaw expert, said the government has to be cautious in processing these cases, because freedom of expression is protected under the Constitution and international law.  He also said, however, that the press should not “make the public negatively assume that this is an attempt [by the authorities] to silence those who strongly criticize the government.”  (Ompusunggu, Ramadhani, & Sapiee, supra.)

Asep Komarudin, of the Legal Aid Institute for the Press, did consider the arrests a threat to freedom and said that in the past the government had used the Criminal Code treason provisions to silence critics.  He added that “[i]t’s bad for the public image of the President and the government.  Government intelligence should have waited for them [the arrestees] to take concrete action before arresting them.”  (Id.)

The arrests did receive some support.  Refly Harun, an expert on the Constitution, said that the police were right to make the arrests, as a preventive action, but that “the authorities should ensure they uphold the rule of law and have strong evidence.”  (Id.)  Inspector General Boy Rafli, a spokesperson for the National Police, said that the arrests were not arbitrary or designed to suppress dissent and that the police had solid grounds for their actions against the suspects.  He also said:

There is a clear line of distinction between delivering criticism and attempting to conspire and provoke people to commit treason.  [The arrested individuals] used their freedom to spread provocative ideas that could create a reaction, mislead people and drive public opinion. … We are now investigating whether [labor activists] also had a treason plot. (Id.)