Feb 2, 2013

Indonesia - Indonesia state secrets bill a 'threat to free press'

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The Indonesian Press Council is calling for a rethink of the draft state secrets bill that has been given priority on the House of Representatives’ legislative agenda for 2013.

If enacted into law, the current bill would jeopardise press freedom, which is one of the pillars of democracy, the council said.

The bill, drafted by the Defence Ministry, stipulates that state information about security, foreign relations, law enforcement, intelligence and encryption should not be made available to the public, Press Council member Agus Sudibyo said.

“The TNI [Indonesian Military], for example, is a public institution funded by a state budget, and thus has to be transparent,” Agus said during a recent discussion at the Indonesia Institute of Sciences (Lipi) in Jakarta. “It will be dangerous if this bill is approved.”

Lipi defence expert Jaleswari Pramodhawardani echoed Agus, saying that the bill would limit press freedom, since things such as the defence budget would remain top secret.

“I understand that things related to state security, such as defence strategy, should be kept secret. The defence budget, on the other hand, should be made available to the public,” Jaleswari said.

Agus said that the bill would be at cross purposes with the 2008 Freedom of Information Law, which came into force in April 2010.

According to the law, all information, including that held by the TNI, should be made available to the public, as long as its revelation does not pose a threat to state security.

“Unlike the state secrets bill, the 2008 law regulates the type of the information that is confidential, instead of the institution,” Agus said.

He criticised the bill for stating that whoever revealed a “state secret”, as broadly defined by the bill, could be given hefty punishments, such as a maximum sentence of life imprisonment or required to pay a maximum fine of 1 billion rupiah (US$103,231).

“This is so unfair. The punishments should be imposed on the officials and institutions who fail to protect the state secrets,” Agus said. “Instead, the bill gives severe punishment to the public, including the media, who may not even realise that they have leaked classified information.”

The council has repeatedly urged the government to revise the bill in accordance with the principle of freedom of information. Government officials and lawmakers failed to complete deliberations on the first version of the bill sent to the House in 2008, citing an unclear definition of what comprised a state secret.

The chairman of House Commission I overseeing defence, foreign affairs and information, Mahfudz Siddiq, said that the Freedom of Information Law mandated the enactment of a state secrets law.

He said that the House would focus on clarifying the concept of state secrecy before making a list of information that should be kept secret from the public.

News Desk

The Jakarta Post

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