A prominent human rights lawyer in Indonesia has been cleared of charges relating to a text message he is alleged to have sent to his friends and family contacts. Iwanggin Sabar Olif, a member of the Papuan organization ELSHAM (Lembaga Studi dan Advokasi Hak Asasi Manusia, Institute for Human Rights Study and Advocacy), had faced up to six years in prison.
The text message asked people to be careful because Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had ordered a deadly program together with the army aimed at "eradicating" (membasmikan) the Papuan population through food poisoning and other violent actions. However, Iwanggin Sabar Olif always denied having written or sent this message, or even having received it.
He had been charged under Article 160 of Indonesia’s Criminal Code (KUHP, Kitab Undang-Undang Hukum Pidana), which punishes "any person who orally or in writing incites in public to commit a punishable act, a violent action against the public authority or any other disobedience".
This article has been used in the past against human rights defenders in various parts of Indonesia including Aceh, Java, East Kalimantan and Maluku to suppress freedom of expression and assembly.
However, the Jayapura District Court in Papua province, cleared Iwanggin Sabar Olif of all charges on Thursday.
The decision comes nearly two weeks after the Papuan High Court extended the prison sentences of 11 protesters who were appealing their conviction merely because they had displayed a banned flag.
Amnesty International welcomed the acquittal of Iwanggin Sabar Olif, but called on the Indonesia authorities to ensure that Article 160 is no longer used to undermine the right to freedom of expression.
"Iwanggin Sabar Olif should never have been arrested in the first place. His detention from October 2007 to January 2008 and his subsequent trial took over 15 months," said Donna Guest, from Amnesty International. "This prevented him from carrying out his legitimate work as a human rights defender in Papua.
"As Hina Jilani, then Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders, recommended in her report after her June 2007 visit to Indonesia, procedures should be 'instituted to prevent the prosecution of human rights defenders aimed at their harassment for conducting activities that are legitimately a part of their function for the defence of human rights."