Social media scamming is on the rise, but authorities need to stop prosecuting people for exercising freedom of speech.
About 10 years ago, I worked in a busy Jakarta office alongside a New Zealander whose repertoire of tasteful office pranks included setting my internet browser to a gay porn website whenever I got up from my desk to make a coffee. I quickly learned how to lock my screen.
These days, such a prankster could be arrested under multiple Indonesian laws – although vulgar jokes should never be grounds for legal action. Instead, police and prosecutors should be dealing with real crooks, including cyber criminals.
Police commenced 2016 by warning that scammers are using increasingly convincing fake social media profiles, sometimes posing as state officials, to prey on the unwary. Victims are tricked into transferring money for investments, charities, prizes or jobs – or they may be invited on dates and then raped. Identity theft is a growing problem, with scammers hacking social media accounts and offering goods at unfeasibly low prices.
Much online fraud goes unreported in Indonesia because victims don’t want to pay for a police investigation. News portal detikcom reported that Jakarta Police handled a mere 46 cases of cybercrime in 2015. West Java Police dealt with 124 cybercrime cases, of which 77 were resolved. Worryingly, most of these “crimes” involved “insults and defamation via Facebook”.
Law No. 11 of 2008 on Electronic Information and Transactions, which carries a six-year jail term, was supposed to protect the public from online fraud. Unfortunately, it is being used to repress freedom of speech. More than 100 people have been arrested under the law for posting content deemed defamatory or indecent.
Punishing the Victim
Consider the case of Wisni Yetti, a 47-year-old mother of three children, from the West Java capital of Bandung. She was jailed last year for chatting with an old school friend via private messages on Facebook.
In 2008, Wisni created a Facebook account on her Blackberry smart phone. In 2011, she joined a Facebook group for alumni from her old junior high school, SMPN 1 Solok in West Sumatra. Among the old friends she reunited with was a man named Nugraha Murshid. The two exchanged messages over three months until October 2011, when Wisni’s husband, Haska Etika, looked through her phone and discovered the chat. He accused her of having an online affair and beat her so badly that she was hospitalized.
Haska sought to shame Wisni by having her younger brother, Harry Budiman, make a print-out of the private messages, which totalled about 200 pages.
Wisni says her husband again assaulted her during an argument in March 2012 and the domestic violence continued until she reported Haska to police in July 2013. The couple divorced that year.
In February 2014, Haska launched a counter-attack to his ex-wife’s domestic violence complaint. Accusing her of indecency, he presented 900 pages of alleged Facebook messages to police as evidence. In October 2014, police arrested Wisni at her parent’s house in Solok. “I felt like a terrorist because there were so many police involved,” she recounted. She was flown to Jakarta, driven to Bandung and locked up for six days.
Wisni went on trial at Bandung District Court in February 2015, charged with “distributing or transmitting electronic content that violated decency”. She denied that her Facebook chats were immoral. She argued they were private and had subsequently been retyped to stretch them out to 900 pages. The state prosecutor recommended a jail sentence of four months and a fine of Rp.10 million. Presiding judge Saptono chose a harsher penalty. In March, he found her guilty and imposed a five-month sentence and a fine of Rp.100 million.
Saptono ruled Haska was justified in accessing Wisni’s Facebook account because the two had been married. He said the defendant had set a bad example to social media users, and her actions had harmed her husband and her family. He said the only extenuating circumstance was that it had been her first “criminal offense”.
Wisni appealed. She suggested the verdict was rigged because Haska had boasted of knowing the sentence one month before it was handed down. Indonesia in 2005 established a Judicial Commission to combat misconduct by judges, but it has proved to be largely powerless. Saptono was never reprimanded for his ruling. Instead, Bandung District Court this month proudly awarded its judges a plaque of appreciation as “Role Models”.
Bandung High Court in September 2015 announced it had overturned Wisni’s guilty verdict, on the grounds that copied print-outs of electronic documents cannot be considered valid evidence.
Haska is appealing to the Supreme Court. He is also back at Bandung District Court, this time as a defendant, over the domestic violence complaint. His lawyers have demanded the case be thrown out because of a discrepancy in charges filed by police and prosecutors, and because they claim there is no hard evidence that Wisni was seriously injured during the beatings.
Slightly luckier than Wisni was Ervani Emi Handayani (30), who was detained for almost three weeks before spending five months on trial. Her offense? Complaining on Facebook about her husband’s dismissal from a jewellery store in Jogjakarta.
It was back in July 2014 when she made the Facebook post referring to the manager of Jolie Jogja Jewellery, Sarastuti Dias alias Ayas, as “childish” and “unstable” for firing her husband, Alfa Janto, after he had declined a transfer to the West Java town of Cirebon.
Ayas was upset by the post and reported Ervani to police. She was arrested on October 2014 and locked up for 20 days. Her trial began in December 2014 and ended in May 2015 with an acquittal.
Ervani said she hoped there would be no more cases of people being wrongfully arrested under the Electronic Information and Transactions Law.
Communications and Information Minister Rudiantara last month said the government had produced a draft revision of the law. The proposed revision merely reduces the maximum jail sentence for online slander and defamation from six to three years. It is unlikely to be passed any time soon, as it is not even on this year’s agenda for discussion by the House of Representatives.
In September 2015, police in Ternate, Maluku province, arrested an anti-corruption activist, Adlun Fiqri, for electronic slander after he uploaded a video that showed a policeman accepting a bribe from a motorcyclist.
The motorcyclist did not have a license and had been carrying a passenger not wearing a helmet. The National Police insisted the video did not show corruption, as the officer had merely collected “a deposit” of Rp.115,000 for a fine.
After a public outcry, the slander charges were dropped and Adlun was released on October 3. Police said they had reached an “administrative settlement” with Adlun’s family.
Although such cases make it easy for snide foreigners to criticize Indonesia, all of the suspects were eventually released or exonerated. But the fact that people can still be arrested, convicted and jailed for sending private messages – while massive corruption, human rights abuses and environmental crimes go unpunished – does Indonesia’s image no favours.