In response to the ban of allegedly radical websites, Vice President Jusuf Kalla said, '[The Communications and Information Technology Ministry] can’t just block a site whenever they receive a report [against the site].' (Antara Foto/Vitalis Yogi Trisna)

Users Decry Curb on Free Speech as 'Radical' Sites Are Banned

APRIL 01, 2015

Jakarta. The government’s move to block several websites believed to promote extremist Islamic teaching has triggered a backlash among some members of Indonesia’s Muslim community, who have accused officials of being Islamophobic and demanding that the ban on some of the websites be lifted.

The Communications and Information Technology Ministry recently issued a list containing 22 sites that it has blocked, citing their allegedly radical content, based on recommendations from the National Counterterrorism Agency, or BNPT.

The move was made following the arrests of several Indonesians around the Greater Jakarta area and in East Java over the past fortnight, for their alleged connections to the extremist group Islamic State.

Among the reportedly blocked sites are arrahmah.comvoa-islam.comdakwatuna.comhidayatullah.comaqlislamiccenter.comeramuslim.comkiblat.net and daulahislam.com.

They reportedly became inaccessible earlier this week, but on Wednesday most were back up again — reportedly the result of a wave of protests against the policy.

Even so, as of Wednesday many Indonesian netizens continued to criticize the ban, calling ministry and BNPT officials Islamophobic and accusing them of restricting free speech.

“What? aqlislamiccenter will be blocked too? There must have been a mistake. This [website] is a mere Koran study forum,” Farah, not her real name, posted on her Facebook page on Monday.

“It is partnering with a national TV station to organize a Koran recitation contest for children. The ban is outrageous.”

On Twitter, @itemkuitemic commented in a series of tweets on Wednesday: “The rash ban may wrongly impact good Islamic sites, and even some credible news sites. Please consider the freedom of information law.”

“What’s the difference with Suharto’s regime when they easily ban this and that,” wrote @arieardhana. “We call this an oppression of freedom of expression. Think!”

“They let porn sites be, but are blocking Islamic sites. Weird #BringBackMyIslamicMedia,” tweeted @Dhyan_Khilafah.

Some Internet users accused the government of an assault on free speech, while others worried a no-platform policy toward firebrand fundamentalism would drive it underground and could boost its appeal among some young people.

An alliance of nongovernmental groups calling themselves Friends of Just Information and Communications, or SIKA, also criticize the ban, which it argued should have been based on a transparent and just legal process.

“The Communications and Information Technology Ministry’s move to ban those sites believed to have spread radical teachings is despotic,” said Anggara Suwahju, a researcher with the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, a SIKA member.

“The ministry is not authorized to block or remove those sites because it is not a law-enforcement institution.”

Former Constitutional Court chief justice Jimly Asshiddiqie called on local Muslim communities not to be baited by the Islamophobia accusation.

Nevertheless, he advised the ministry to be more selective about the BNPT’s recommendations, saying not all of its suggestions should be followed.

“The BNPT has its own perspective. It is fully within the BNPT’s rights to suspect [certain sites]. But the government, in this case the Communications Ministry, doesn’t need to partner with the BNPT,” Jimly said in Jakarta on Wednesday.

“The public should first listen to the government’s explanations. Admittedly, though, [the government] is doing this [blocking sites] recklessly. They only want an easy way. In the future we must evaluate these kind of policies.”

The site owners, meanwhile, can appeal against the bans placed on their sites if they believe they have been wronged.

“Site owners who can prove [that there’s nothing wrong with their sites] can have the ban lifted,” Jimly said.

Legislator Syaiful Bahri Anshori of the pro-government and Islamic-based National Awakening Party (PKB) reminded the government that such a ban was a sensitive issue, and it should have been implemented more thoughtfully.

“The government should be using a persuasive approach [against the allegedly radical sites]. Don’t do this rashly,” Syaiful told Republika.co.id on Tuesday.

Gerakan Pemuda (GP) Ansor, the youth wing of Nahdlatul Ulama, the country’s largest Muslim organization, supported the government’s decision to block the websites.

“If the sites are teaching intolerance and declaring people with different beliefs as infidels, then of course it is dangerous for our country,” said GP Ansor chairman Nusron Wahid.

“What is expressed through those sites as Indonesian values are not suitable with Islam,” Nusron said. “This is dangerous.”

Review panel

Most of the previously blocked sites were accessible on the Internet again on Wednesday, after Vice President Jusuf Kalla said earlier on Tuesday that he had ordered the Communications Ministry to review the policy in order to avoid blocking sites that should not be blocked.

“I have talked with Rudiantara [the minister] and told him that if any of those sites are clearly part of pro-radicalism propaganda, then they should be automatically blocked,” Kalla said.

“I also ordered the ministry to study this matter carefully. They can’t just block a site whenever they receive a report [against the site]. They said they would review [the ban].”

Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin said he was supportive of the Communications Ministry’s move to block the sites, but, echoing Kalla, reminded officials to implement the policy carefully.

“There should be no sites blocked when they in fact have spread no radical teachings. We must avoid doing such things,” Lukman said.

On Tuesday, Communications Minister Rudiantara told BBC Indonesia that in response to the protests, the government would form a panel specifically tasked with reviewing complaints against allegedly pro-radical sites in order to correctly block only sites that should indeed be blocked.

“The panel will consist of public figures, experts in their respective fields, who will review [complaints] and issue recommendations on negative contents [of websites], including on pornography, racism and child abuse,” he said.

On Wednesday, legislator Saleh Partaonan Daulay of the Islamic-based National Mandate Party (PAN) said the panel should include representatives from major Indonesian groups who represent the voice of moderates among the country’s Muslim communities — such as the Nahdlatul Ulama, Muhammadiyah and Persatuan Islam.

“The BNPT and the Communications Ministry must sit together with representatives from these different Muslim groups,” Saleh said.

“This is not new because the BNPT has held such meetings before with these groups. Only this time the focus should be on the content of sites that should be blocked.”

Tedjo Edhy Purdijatno, the chief security minister, emphasized on Wednesday that the government’s move to ban the Islamic news sites was a curb on radicalism and not an attack on free speech.

“This was not done on a whim,” Tedjo said. “It was done as a precaution.”

He argued that the government’s position was that it could not lend credence to any racist, misogynistic or violent ideology by permitting the dissemination or publication of content promoting such ideas.

He did, however, say that the ban could be lifted if the affected websites stopped carrying extremist content.

“We will lift the ban if the sites don’t spread propaganda,” he said.

Legislators from the House of Representatives’ Commission I, which oversees intelligence, security and communications affairs, said on Tuesday that they planned to summon Rudiantara for questioning about how the ban was being carried out, given the increasingly vocal opposition to it.

The ban is part of the government’s wider efforts to stop the spread of ideology linked to Islamic State. A growing number of Indonesians are believed to have gone or are planning to head to Syria or Iraq to join the group’s self-proclaimed caliphate, including a group of 16 arrested in Turkey last month near the border with Syria.

An estimated 300 Indonesians are believed to have joined Islamic State, with more sympathizers in Indonesia.

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