Freedom of the Press Online: Bandwidth Throttling in Indonesia

by | Apr 8, 2024

author profile picture

About Rafsi Azzam Hibatullah Albar and Mwai Daka

Rafsi is an undergraduate law student at Universitas Gadjah Mada, Indonesia. His interest lies at the intersection of international, administrative, and constitutional laws. Aside from writing and researching, Rafsi is a teaching assistant in administrative law and an editorial board member at Juris Gentium Law Review. Outside of class, Rafsi channels his passion for education through FlashCampus, a platform for Indonesian students to prepare for post-campus life. Mwai Daka is interested in Digital Rights, Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Speech and Internet Shutdowns across Africa.

A June 2020 judgment by the Jakarta State Administrative Court will forever become one of Indonesia’s most notable rulings in its judicial history. This case was decided by a panel of three judges in favour of the plaintiffs, the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) and the Defenders of Freedom of Expression of Southeast Asia (SAFEnet), who accused the Minister of Communication and Information and the President of Indonesia of unlawfully cutting internet connection in the West Papua and Papua provinces. 

Alliance of Independent Journalists v Minister of Communication asserts that the government’s decision to shut down the internet in West Papua and Papua province was unlawful. Despite not being the first case concerning a government-imposed shutdown, it is considered a landmark case to this day due to its degree of complexity and wide-ranging consequences.

The bulk of the defence proffered by the Government was related to concerns of national security and public order as a part of their mandate under Law No. 11 of 2008 on Electronic Information and Transactions or the ITE Law [p. 112]. This reflects the classic argumentation previously raised in cases from other jurisdictions like Banashree Gogoi v Union of India and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights v Minister of State, National Security. The government saw fit to quash the protests, which arose following news of racist actions committed against Papuans, by throttling or slowing down connectivity in the region. The Ministry, by way of their own admission through no less than nine press releases between the months of August and September [pp. 81-82], had both throttled and even fully blocked connectivity in parts of the island during the two-month period as a way to deter hoaxes and provocative information reported by various news outlets that were alleged to have caused the series of events [pp. 63-64].

As an organisation that advocates and protects — through legal avenues — journalistic integrity and freedom, AJI dealt with these claims by bringing the State to court. Being one of the few court cases where international law is cited a great amount, two assertions quoting the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) were prominent in this case. First, derogations of human rights under Article 4, as provided in General Comment No. 29, can be made chiefly during a state of emergency. Second, as extrapolated by General Comment No. 34, limitations to the exercise of freedom of expression should be done 1) on permissible grounds as provided in Article 19.3 of the Convention, 2) based on the law, and 3) in a proportional manner [pp. 249].

The latter is worth highlighting due to the depth of reasoning by both sides. The condition set out by Article 19.3, with special attention to national security and public order, is often argued in conjunction with the existence of a legal basis. Although the defendants provided several laws that allow for the limitations of freedom of expression and internet connectivity individually, it is evident from the posture of argumentation that correlation between the two is not strong enough, and especially not to such an extent that warrants two months of on-and-off shutdowns. This is even more true when a connection is drawn between AJI’s interests as an entity representing journalists and the accusations thrown at the media. The media, as General Comment No. 34 suggests broadly and specifically in paragraphs 13 through 17, has a special position in conveying information and is an inseparable part of public opinion-making. Independence and accountability as well as accuracy of reports are among the rudimentary principles of the press, so accusations to the contrary are huge claims that could set a precedent for undermining the press’ role in a democracy.

One could not understate how dangerous the repercussions would have been had the court ruled for the defendants. At a time when freedom of expression is often repressed, the last thing Indonesia needs is a judicial branch that fuels the negative framing of the media as untrustworthy. The fourth pillar of democracy needs to be able to do its main job, regardless of medium and interfering motives – that is, delivering truth to the people.

Share this:

Related Content


Submit a Comment