Free speech in Indonesia

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

Indonesia’s transition to a democratic state must go down as one of the greatest achievements made by any country in recent years. Because unlike the overthrow of despotic regimes in countries like South Africa and the communist nations of Eastern Europe, no one really expected Indonesia to pull it off. But there perhaps lies the rap – Indonesia basically became a democratic nation “by accident” rather than because its people hold the values of democracy so dear. And just imagine if the economic crisis hadn’t come along to disrupt the rule of Javanese patriarch Suharto. Do you really think Indonesia would be a democratic nation today? Of course not. More likely we would have Tommy S. ruling the country and expecting everyone to buy Timor cars.

Because Indonesian culture is still basically entrenched in feudalism with the undemocratic notion that its leaders cannot be criticized. Those on the lower rungs of the ladder are expected to bow, or at the very least shut up, and certainly not to say anything too contentious. And if you do decide to vent your spleen, the consequences can be severe:

The Indonesian court on Monday gave a defamation conviction to a former top legislator who earlier said President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was a polygamist.

Zaenal Ma'arif, a former House of Representatives deputy speaker, was put on one-year probation.

"The defendant is convincingly proven guilty of slanderous remarks and deserves a sentence of eight months in prison. But he doesn't need to serve the jail term if the crime doesn't repeat during the one-year probation," presiding judge Agoeng Rahardjo told the court.

Zaenal, himself has two wives, said he accepted the verdict.

He was tried for his July 2007 remarks that the president was already married before entering the military academy in the 1970s,and that first lady Ani Yudhoyono was Susilo's second wife.

Source: China Daily

But isn’t this sentence the very antithesis of what democracy should be? Sure he was wrong to say what he did, but should it not be a civil matter rather than a crime?

If Bush locked up everyone that called him an ####, half the population of the US would be imprisoned for God’s sake. So come on SBY. Take this case as an opportunity to promote free speech in Indonesia and to distance yourself from feudalism. What do you say?


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