Jakarta. Rights activists representing several nongovernmental organizations slammed the government’s recent move to block dozens of Islamic websites allegedly containing radical content, saying it threatened freedom of expression.
Last week, on the request of the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT), the Ministry of Communications and Informatics blocked at least 19 Islamic websites considered to be spreading radical ideologies. Hidayatullah.com is among these blocked websites.
“We support the Indonesian government’s effort in banning hate speech in the name of religion or belief … [But] the web blocking has the potential to threaten the freedom of expression, which has long been the character of Indonesia as a democratic state,” rights monitors said in a joint statement issued during a press conference held on Monday afternoon in Jakarta.
According to the activists from, among others, Wahid Institute and the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (Elsam), any such ban should have strong checks and balances.
“The government should file a report to the police if they find any violation committed by the websites, such as publishing hate speech against a certain religion. This should be taken to the court, and the web blocking should be based on the verdict,” said Wahyudi Djafar, a human rights lawyer and researcher at Elsam.
Similarly, chief of the Alliance of Independent Journalists Suwarjono questioned the mechanism of the web blocking.
“It should be done through the court. We see that only a verdict can justify the web blocking. If not, it will likely create a conflict of interest,” he said.
Suwarjono added that the government blocked the websites based on the minister’s 2014 regulation on controlling sites containing negative content.
“We know that the regulation mentions content which can be blocked, such as pornography and something regarded as illegal.”
“The word ‘illegal’ has multiple interpretations. It could be something which is against the government’s interest. It remains unclear,” he said.
Alamsyah M Djafar, a program officer at Wahid Institute, said the ban is shortsighted and fails to address the inherent problem with such content.
“Instead, the government should construct a counter-argument to that of the radicalism promoted by the websites. The government hasn’t yet paid attention to this issue so far,” he said.
Mahladi, the editor in chief of Hidayatullah.com responded to the ban by saying that he didn’t understand why his website was blocked.
“There’s no evidence that our website contains radicalism,” Mahladi said. “After we checked with BNPT, they used two articles as evidence.”
“I, however, think that the articles are journalistic writings as they have sources,” he said. “If the problem lay only in the two articles,” he added, “why was our website blocked, instead of just the two articles?”
On Tuesday, Mahladi met with officials from the ministry.
“They said that they want to talk about the web blocking. We’ll wait for the result before taking the next move.”
Meanwhile, BNPT spokesman Irfan Idris maintained that the government’s effort had been discussed by the ministry as well as the ministries of religious affairs and political, legal and security affairs.
“We have reviewed it since 2012,” he said. “The websites could create violence done in the name of religion.”
This story was first published by Ucanews and was edited for style by the Jakarta Globe.
Ryan Dagur is a special correspondent for Ucanews.
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