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Indonesia president backs amnesty for professor jailed


Indonesian President Joko Widodo has agreed to pardon a tutorial jailed last month for defamation under a controversial internet law, a minister said, following an outcry from human rights groups who say the law dangers curtailing free speech.

Saiful Mahdi, a lecturer from Aceh province, used to be imprisoned for three months over remarks made in a WhatsApp messenger group chat among fellow academics, which criticised a hiring process for lecturers.

Saiful’s case triggered complaints about the ease at which people can be prosecuted in Indonesia for remarks made on messaging platforms, which include remarks about people now not even identified.

Amnesty International has known as the law as “deeply flawed”.

Indonesia’s chief security minister Mahfud MD on Tuesday said Jokowi, as the president is known, had approved amnesty for Saiful and would look ahead to remarks from parliament before granting a pardon.

Asked why Jokowi favoured amnesty in Saiful’s case, a presidential spokesman referred Reuters to the security minister.

A presidential amnesty used to be given in 2019 to a woman jailed beneath the same law for recording lewd phone calls from her boss.

The 2008 digital information and transactions (ITE) law used to be designed to regulate online activity, such as defamation and hate speech.

Between 2016 and 2020, there have been 786 instances involving the law, with 88% of these charged ending up behind bars, according to Damar Juniarto of the digital advocacy group, the Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet).

Jokowi has said he needs to revise the law this year.

The government has formed a task force to oversee that and provide suggestions for law enforcers to observe the law more judiciously.

Syahrul, Saiful’s lawyer, told his customer appreciated the amnesty, except which his experiences could “adversely affect academic and speech freedom.”

He stated 38 scholars in Australia wrote to the president, asking for Saiful’s pardon.

Saiful’s wife, Dian Rubianty, used to be in tears during an online seminar and stated his case “has stolen sleep away from me and my children”.

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