25 May 2011

New terrorism bill 'threatens the press'

Jakarta Post - May 21, 2011

Bagus BT Saragih, Jakarta -- The new anti-terror bill, set to enter deliberation this year, provides stronger prevention measures, but contains articles that potentially threaten freedom of expression and speech, activists and experts say.

At least two articles within the bill, set to replace the 2003 Anti-Terrorism Law, could hinder freedom of expression, said activist Al Araf from human rights NGO Imparsial.

Article 13A of the bill, a copy of which was obtained by The Jakarta Post, stipulates that anybody having knowledge of a planned act of terrorism without informing the authorities could be jailed for a term of up to seven years.

Article 13B stipulates that anybody deliberately spreading hate or hostility that could trigger or influence people or stimulate an act of terrorism is subject to a prison term of between three to 15 years.

"The absence of a clear definition of terrorism in this bill would make it a new threat to press freedom," Bambang Harymurti, deputy chair of the Press Council, told the Post.

Article 13A might see an investigative journalist as a terrorist suspect if he or she interviews members of terrorist groups but does not inform the police due to the code of ethics which guarantees journalists' protection for their sources' identities.

Bambang suggested that the term "terrorism" in the article be changed to "actions that, if ignored, would without doubt kill people or cause severe devastation of public facilities".

On article 13B, Bambang expressed his concern on the use of "could", which he said was "dangerous to press freedom". He said that the article was supposed to address "clear and present danger".

With no specific definition of terrorism, the article might be interpreted freely, he said. "Who would determine that somebody has made an action that 'stimulates' terrorism?" he said.

Al Araf cited an example of a news report on the burning of Koran by a priest in the US. "If you published the report, you could be a subject of the article because the report might 'influence' people to commit terrorism," he said.

Human rights activist Hendardi from the Setara Institute shared Al Araf and Bambang's opinion, saying that "unclear and biased articles could potentially disrupt civilian rights".

"Terrorism is a peak of intolerance and intolerance is the starting point of terrorism. But never assume that intolerance is always part of terrorism," Hendardi said in a statement.

He said he always supported the efforts to strengthen preventive measures against terrorism. "However, the bill contains articles that might criminalize innocent civilians," he said.

Al Araf cited another article stipulating that a person could be jailed for up to 15 years for "being a member of an organization or group which clearly aims to commit an act of terrorism". Another article says those who ask or borrow money or goods from those terrorist-affiliated organizations are also subject to imprisonment.

"An organization could be linked with terrorism, but not all of its members know or realize it. We know that most of the groups have never publicly announced that they want to commit terrorism," he said.

Al Araf cited the Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT), a hard-line organization founded by terrorist defendant Abu Bakar Ba'asyir. "Since the leader is a terrorist suspect, should all JAT members go to jail too?"

The bill is set to allow law enforcement officials to detain anyone suspected of involvement in terrorism for a month, up from seven days under the current law.

National Antiterrorism Agency chief Ansyaad Mbai said the new bill was expected to give "broader room" for law enforcement officials "to proactively take action against terrorist suspects before acts of terror take place". "Intelligence has always been blamed for late response. It was because of the lack of 'authorities' given by the current law," he said.

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