02/19/2010, 00.00
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Indonesians in uproar over proposal to censor internet

by Mathias Hariyadi
Communication Ministry spokesman announces draft bill to regulate internet use. The proposal provokes protests among ordinary Indonesians who oppose the idea. President Yudhoyono speaks out, defending “freedom of speech and freedom of expression.” The minister backtracks, claiming he is innocent since he knew nothing of the initiative.
Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Controversy over a bill to limit freedom of expression on the internet continues in Indonesia. In a public statement on the matter, President Yudhoyono said that freedom of speech was of paramount value. The Communication and Information Technology minister is forced to backtrack, saying that he was not aware of the new draft proposal presented by his spokesman. On the internet, more and more people have come out against the ministerial regulation on internet content.

It all began at the start of the week when Communication and Information Technology Ministry spokesman Gatot Dewa Broto announced that a planned 30-member Multimedia Content Monitoring Team would act on public complaints filed against so-called disturbing content, which includes porno sites, dirty jokes, sexy pictures and other online offences.

If adopted, the new regulation could become a large net that filters all sorts of content, including critical opinions, or impose preventive censorship. Article 8 was especially singled out because it would require providers to “monitor all content contained, transmitted, publicised or stored using their services”. Critics note that such sweeping powers would kill the country’s information technology industry.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono spoke out on the issue, giving words to the anger many Indonesians feel. Taking a shot at the minister, he reminded him that “freedom of speech and freedom of expression” are highly prized in the country. What is more, the president said that no cabinet minister should make comments or issue statements on matters that are so sensitive that they would cause uproar in society.

Communication and Information Technology Minister Tifatul Sembiring, a former president of the Justice and Prosperity Party (PKS), said he knew nothing about his spokesperson’s statement.

Back from a visit to Sweden, the minister said he was not aware of the proposal. “The draft does not come from me. I have not read it or even known about it," he said. It “might date back to 2006 and be no longer suitable for today.”

Despite the minister’s claims of innocence, few are willing to believe him. For most Indonesians, his words are unbecoming of a minister. Many in fact are asking themselves how a minister “could not know what his subordinates are doing”, especially since what they say or do “requires prior approval from higher up”.

In the wake of the controversy, the minister announced the withdrawal of the draft proposal; however, for many Indonesians, that is not enough—they want him to resign because his failure of judgement casts a shadow on the capabilities and reliability of the government.

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