[INDONESIA] Open Space #1: Freedom of Expression

Published by AYF Secretariat on

Internet freedom in Indonesia has been experiencing a downward trend for three years, as indicated by the country’s scores on the latest Freedom House’s report. Repeated restrictions on internet connectivity during protests and targeted attacks on activists as well as journalists have been cited as the reasons for this declining trajectory. Among key developments on Indonesia’s falling internet freedom was the government-imposed shutdown on the online network amid protests against racism in Papua last December. Meanwhile, activists and journalists such as Veronica Koman and Mohamad Sadli have been doxed and imprisoned for voicing their opinions. Adding clouds over the already gloomy image of Indonesia’s freedom on the net, Reuters last January reported that the country’s military has funded several websites to attack government critics.

The declining internet freedom in Indonesia is an alarming situation for the country’s youth who relies on the online network to access information and to voice opinions. Responding to this grim state of affairs, ASEAN Youth Forum held an open space via a Zoom meeting on September 19, in which 26 young participants—ranging from high schoolers to university students—discussed critical developments on Indonesia’s freedom of expression. The participants explored the idea of cancel culture, which was quite disturbing for them because it makes the internet less safe. They also engaged in a lively conversation about Hary Tanoesoedibjo—a media oligarch and a leader of a major political party—who is currently contesting the Act for Media Broadcast (UU No. 32/2002 tentang Penyiaran) in the constitutional court to regulate live streams on social media—which would add more restrictions on the already limited freedom of expression in Indonesia. The discussion then moved to the catchall articles in the country’s information law that have been abused by the authorities to silence critics. 

After the discussion, majority of the open space participants (78 percent) admitted that they had difficulty expressing their opinions due to legal and social restrictions. It even led some attendants to impose self-censorship (39 percent), preferring to air their thoughts in private chats instead of publicly voicing them in social media. However, they agreed that Indonesia’s freedom of expression can improve in the future. The young discussants committed to raising their voices stronger to counterbalance the powerful oligarchs who abuse the nation’s freedom for furthering their capital accumulation.



Here are some highlights from the session

For me, freedom of speech in Indonesia has progressed quite well throughout the years, but sometimes the youth are pretty much afraid to express their opinions because of other’s judgments. There are also rules in Indonesia that hinder freedom of expression. Although the presence of social media is undoubtedly wide, which helps us spreading opinions and information quickly, the youth do not fully utilize social media simply because they fear being judged.


I am a high school student, and my friends enjoy giving out their opinions. However, they only do so through chat platforms like WhatsApp, not social media. Many of us would like to voice our opinions but do not have the courage.


I follow the case on RCTI (against free live streams on social media—ed). This case obviously favors one party, while disadvantages many others. It would add restrictions on giving out opinions. In the Constitution itself (Articles 28A to 28J), it is written that all citizens have the right to express an opinion. Hence, in my opinion, the RCTI case is not compatible with our Indonesian democracy.


If we pay attention, because of what was mentioned earlier—that safe space is getting tighter on social media, space where we previously thought was safe—now we have to think twice or thrice to have an opinion. Therefore, it has become a bad precedent for freedom of expression.


Cancel culture usually preys on public figures, and yes, they make mistakes that can be very ‘bad’. Instead of canceling them, why don't we try to spread education and raise awareness on their actions, while also allowing space for the figures to grow? We cannot judge them based on their wrongdoings and mistakes. As information on social media spreads rapidly, people join the mob to 'bully' and hate the canceled person, instead of giving him the chance to grow and learn from their mistakes. Cancel the “cancel culture”.


As social media users, we should also take the role as educators instead of spreading hate.


Cancel culture is very dangerous and we should stop it. I feel like there is an imbalance of power here. The audience or “netizens” holds more power because they can cancel the public figure. As netizens, we must learn how to identify to what extent ‘canceling’ has gone too far, so that we can mutually achieve the essence of freedom of speech: everyone can feel comfortable stating their opinions. Influencers have the right to show their work/activities and the netizen shows their reaction. And I think as cancel culture itself is a part of a culture, it might be a bit difficult to just stop. We need a powerful figure to use his influence to stop this cancel culture.


we need to have media literacy to differentiate facts and hoaxes. Catchall articles within the law open the possibility for authorities to repress our rights. As future leaders of our country, we must realize that people around us are still unaware of freedom of speech and the power factor that impede its development. Freedom of opinion does not mean there are no rules. Opinions must be constructive, not falling into negative bullying. As for the information law, we hope it will be amended as soon as possible.


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