Govt Looks to Block Offensive Internet Sites

JAKARTA

The national government is considering proposals to block internet sites that are deemed to violate “public decency” and privacy, provoking a barrage of criticism from bloggers and web users.

Fresh from a round of film and book bans, the government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is now turning its sights on the internet in what critics say is a throwback to general Suharto’s “New Order” dictatorship.

“Our main objective is very simple. We want to minimise the negative effects of the internet,” Communication and Information Technology Ministry spokesman Gatot Dewabrata told AFP, without explaining what effects these were.

“There are myriad violations by internet users in Indonesia. We don’t have any intention to move backwards… but we don’t want people to think that the government ignores matters like pornography on the internet.”

Yudhoyono backed a controversial anti-pornography law adopted by parliament in 2008 that criminalises an array of traditions unique to Indonesia’s multicultural society, such as certain regional dances and costumes.

That law, which was passed despite widespread protests, was backed by conservative Muslim groups including the powerful Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), which traces its origins back to Egypt’s outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

The PKS now controls the communications ministry in the rainbow coalition government that was sworn in late last year after voters in the mainly Muslim country re-elected Yudhoyono to a second five-year term.

Almost 8,000 people have joined a Facebook group opposed to the planned internet restrictions. Under certain provisions of the draft regulations, Facebook users or Facebook itself could be blocked.

The new rules would make it illegal to distribute or provide access to pornography or gambling services, anything that spreads religious hatred or threats, and any news deemed “misleading.”

Web content that “humiliates the physical condition or abilities… of other parties” also could be blocked, along with anything that violates privacy by, for example, disclosing someone’s educational background.

Complaints would be handled by a 30-member team comprised of officials and independent experts.

The new regulations, which could be in force within months, will take the form of a decree from Communications Minister Tifatul Sembiring, the PKS leader, based on existing communications laws.

Facebook user Don Ivano wrote on the social networking site: “The draft is an inflexible, authoritarian legal product that imprisons democratic principles. It clearly means we will go back to the New Order regime.”

Another Facebook user, Titiw Akmar, commented: “That’s the impact of having a minister from the PKS.”

Dewabrata dismissed concerns that freedoms of speech deemed fundamental to Indonesia’s post-Suharto democratic reforms were being rolled back.

“It’s not a censorship body. We’ll only respond to public complaints and they’ll go through a lengthy process before they’re acted on,” he said.

Indonesia’s censorship board recently banned Australian movie Balibo, which depicts alleged war crimes by Indonesian forces in East Timor, as well as several books dealing with sensitive historical and political subjects.

Its blasphemy law has been used by Muslim groups to silence critics and intimidate followers of minority faiths, while defamation remains a criminal offence instead of a civil one as it is in most democratic countries.

Yudhoyono recently hit back at protesters who stuck his picture on a water buffalo and led it through central Jakarta, saying he did not appreciate being told he was “big, slow and stupid like a buffalo.”

“Do you think this is an expression of freedom?” he asked reporters.

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