Jakarta. Defamation against the president and the vice president is a crime punishable by up to four and a half years in prison, according to the Criminal Code bill submitted by the government to the House of Representatives on Wednesday.
The difference from the existing Criminal Code is that the president or the vice president should lodge a written complaint to make a criminal case against the person he thinks has damaged his reputation with false accusations, according to Article 220 of the proposed Criminal Code amendment.
Under the existing laws, the National Police have the authority to prosecute a person for making defamatory statements about the president even though the president himself doesn’t take any legal action. Any citizen also has the legal standing to report defamatory statements against the president to the police.
According to Article 218, defamatory statements against the president could risk three and a half years in prison.
However, the prison term is added by another year if the defamatory statements are spread through social media.
Article 219 of the bill stipulates that the person who makes defamatory statements in oral, writing, pictures, and/or video contents “with an intent to make it public with the use of the information technology” can face a maximum punishment of four and a half years or a specific amount of fine.
The existing laws carry six years’ imprisonment for insulting the president.
Edward Hiariej, a deputy for the justice minister, said on Wednesday the bill has the distinction of being considered as more democratic than the existing laws with regard to defamation articles.
It excludes criticisms of the country’s leaders from the defamation articles.
"There is an appendix to Article 218 (2) about attacks on the honor and reputation of the president or the vice president,” Edward said at the legislature building in Central Jakarta after handing the bill to lawmakers.
The explanatory section says the person who criticizes or expresses disagreement with the president should not be prosecuted as long as there is “no malice and no intent to harm the president’s or the vice president’s personal life”.
Albert Aries, a spokesman for the Justice Ministry, said on Wednesday the controversial articles are retained in the bill because the president is regarded as “the first among equals” that should be treated differently.
The president is the commander in chief of the military, the head of state, the head of government, and the chief of the diplomatic corps.
The existing Criminal Code also applies special treatment to the president.
“For instance, a life attempt on the president is considered as treason,” Albert said on a YouTube video.
The amended defamation articles also seeks to reach a compromise with the 2006 verdict by the Constitutional Court. The controversial articles were deemed unconstitutional because they could keep the leader from criticism, the key component in a healthy democracy.
Chief legal affairs minister Mahfud MD said last year the proposed articles aren’t meant to protect President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.
“I once asked Mr. Jokowi and his response: ‘It’s up to the legislature to decide what’s beneficial to the country. To me as a person, it’s just the same whether [the defamation articles] are accepted or not. I have been insulted many times but I never took any legal action’,” Mahfud said.