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Indonesia tweeters fly in the face of censorship law

Kate Lamb (Sidney Morning Herald) | Feb. 8, 2012
After pulling the plug on more than a million online porn sites, Indonesia's Communications Minister, Tifatul Sembiring, has now set his sights on Twitter.

The Indonesian government wants to put Tweeters back in their cage with new censorship laws.

The Indonesian government wants to put Tweeters back in their cage with new censorship laws. Photo: Getty Images

After pulling the plug on more than a million online porn sites, Indonesia's Communications Minister, Tifatul Sembiring, has now set his sights on Twitter.

In a country known for its voracious online appetite, the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology says it will target and block anonymous and offensive accounts on the popular social networking site.

Exactly what the minister means by offensive tweets remains to be seen, but in accordance with Indonesia's controversial Information and Electronic Law, online users can be charged with blasphemy, fraud, gambling, threats and pornography.

Such could be the fate of Alexander Aan, who was arrested in Sumatra in late January for posting the message "God does not exist" on his Facebook page. Those in violation of the law face between seven and 12 years in prison.

"Sites like Twitter are very important for a country like Indonesia," a renowned Indonesian filmmaker, Joko Anwar, who has more than 195,000 followers on his Twitter account, says.

"We have reached a certain level of freedom, but we still need more. In 2009, most people still thought it was taboo to criticise the government … but now people are talking about it on sites like Twitter and they are becoming more and more aware.''

Despite living in an archipelagic nation plagued by poor infrastructure, Indonesians are the second-highest users of Facebook and third-highest users of Twitter globally.

Gossip aside, the country's 55 million internet users have shown significant support for online sociopolitical movements targeting anything from anti-corruption efforts to sectarian violence.

Given the strong online community, shutting down offensive and seemingly immoral content in the Indonesian cybersphere might not be an easy task.

Professor Suhono Harso Supangkat, an IT lecturer at the Bandung Institute of Technology, says the move is unlikely to be effective.

"If the government closes a Twitter account, for instance, people will find another media to channel their opinions," he said.

Lauded for its role in the Arab Spring and uprisings in Iran, Twitter's announcement that it can block tweets on a per-country basis attracted criticism around its integrity.

For Anwar, the matter is easily solved. ''I don't think the government should be concerned about what is said on Twitter too much. Why? They can just tweet back,'' the filmmaker says.

 

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