Bambang Wuryanto, head of the parliamentary commission overseeing the revision of Indonesia's criminal code, is seen at the legislature in Jakarta on December 6, 2022. CPJ expressed concern that the new code threatens press freedom in the country. (Reuters/Willy Kurniawan)

Indonesia adopts new criminal code that undermines press freedom

New York, December 6, 2022 – In response to news reports that Indonesian lawmakers passed a new criminal code with provisions that restrict press freedom, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued the following statement Tuesday calling for authorities to rescind the legislation:

“President Joko Widodo and the Indonesian legislature must reverse course and revise the country’s new criminal code, which poses a severe threat to press freedom,” said Beh Lih Yi, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Frankfurt, Germany. “This code marks a significant setback for Indonesia as the world’s third-largest democracy, and could cause members of the press to be jailed for simply reporting the news.”

Lawmakers unanimously passed the code on Tuesday, December 6, and it is scheduled to go into effect in three years, according to news reports.

The new code imposes prison terms of up to three years for insulting the country’s president or vice president, and also imposes up to 18-month prison terms for insulting state institutions.

The new code also criminalizes opposition to Pancasila, the country’s state ideology, saying that those who spread “ideologies that contradict Pancasila” could face up to four years in prison.

A coalition of local journalists’ groups, including the Alliance of Independent Journalists, staged a protest against the proposed new code on Monday, and cited 17 provisions in the text that they allege impinged on press freedom.

The revised code is part of a decades-long effort to replace a Dutch colonial-era code, which has largely remained unchanged since the country’s independence. A previous draft of the code was put on hold following mass protests in 2019.

[Editors’ note: This article has been changed in its sixth paragraph to reflect the Alliance of Independent Journalists’ updated statement on the criminal code.]