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Hate Speech in Indonesia

In its simplest form, Hate Speech is a statement intended to demean and brutalize another.

It is the use of cruel and derogatory language, gestures or vandalism often directed towards an individual or group. The Indonesian National Commission of Human Rights (Komisi Nasional Hak Asasi Manusia or Komnas HAM) defines Hate Speech as “any action and effort, either direct or indirect, committed based on hatred towards a tribe, religion, belief/faith, race, skin color, ethnicity, disability, and sexual orientation which are incitement against an individual or group of individuals to inispire discrimination, violence, loss of life and/or social, through various platforms”. 2

Today, Indonesia is seeing increasing Hate Speech through a modern form: social media. As Indonesians flock to channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, the number of recorded Hate Speech cases in the country is on the rise.

Director of the Cyber Crime Unit at the Indonesia State Police Criminal Investigation Agency, Brigadier General Rachmad Wibowo, stated that 122 people were arrested in 2018 alone for committing Hate Speech over social media. At least 3,000 accounts were detected to actively spread prejudiced language online.

Recently, Indonesian rock star Ahmad Dhani was arrested by the police for a Hate Speech crime. In a vlog recorded at the Ganti Presiden event in Surabaya, he used the word “idiot” to describe a group of people rejecting the political movement against the Joko Widodo presidency. He later tweeted: “Blasphemers are cunts who should be spit on in the face”.

Edi Firmanto, Chairman of a community organization called Koalisi Bela NKRI, filed a criminal complaint against Dhani. Following an investigation, the Court of First Instance found Dhani guilty of Hate Speech – for his crime, he was given an 18 month prison sentence.

While laws against Hate Speech are intended to prevent discrimination and prejudice in the public arena, many question whether these same laws infringe on the freedom of speech Indonesia prides itself on respecting.

But, taking a step back, how exactly is Hate Speech handled in Indonesia?

In 2015, Chief of Police, General Badrodin Haiti issued the Circular Letter No. SE/06/X/2015 (the ‘Circular Letter’), which contains internal guidelines for the police in handling Hate Speech crime. Though it provides a comprehensive legal definition for Hate Speech, as it is not in itself a legislation, the Circular Letter is not binding for the general public.3

Based on the Circular Letter, the legal basis to initiate criminal proceedings on Hate Speech in Indonesia follow these legislations:

  1. The Criminal Code (Kitab Undang-undang Hukum Pidana)
  2. The Electronic Information and Transaction Law (Law No. 11 of 2008 as amended with Law No. 19 of 2016)
  3. Eradication of Racial and Ethnic Discriminations Law (Law No. 40 of 2008)

The provisions in Articles 156 and 157 of the Criminal Code as well as Article 28 paragraph (2) of the EIT Law and Article 16 of the Racial and Ethnic Discrimination Law specifically regulates against public expression of hostility, hatred, contempt, or dissention against any group of populations in Indonesia. Therefore, their categorization as Hate Speech crimes are straightforward. However, grey areas emerge in Articles 310 and 311 of the Criminal Code in the Circular Letter, which states that defamation and libel – both of which are more subjective and ambiguous in definition – also constitute Hate Speech.

The inclusion of defamation and libel in the Circular Letter allow for wide interpretation of Hate Speech, making the enforcement of these legislations in Indonesia far-reaching and often controversial. For this reason, it is critical for one to take caution when making or endorsing critical statements in public, especially on social media where sharing thoughts has become as easy as the touch of a button.

Schinder Law Firm can provide legal assistance on issues related to Hate Speech. We believe in multiculturalism and the idea of strength in diversity, which rests on mutual understanding and freedom of expression.

2Buku Saku Penanganan Ujaran Kebencian (Komnas HAM, Chapter 2, page 9. 3The Circular Letter even acknowledges LGBTQ groups and individuals’ rights to state protection.

About the author:


Prisca AnabellaPrisca Anabella
Prisca Anabella was awarded a Bachelor of Law (Sarjana Hukum) degree by Atma Jaya Catholic University in 2018, majoring in Criminal Law. When she was a law student, she also served internship in another law firm in Jakarta, where she gained invaluable insights into the day-to-day operation of a law firm.

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