The existence and use of Twitter has ruffled the feathers of many a justice worker, as content published on the microblogging site has become fodder for courtroom debacles and cause to imprison in some countries. The U.S. has dealt with its own legal issues involving Twitter — mostly a product of celebrity libel cases. But in Asia, the consequences of publishing certain content in tweets are much more severe than a fine. Benny Handoko — a member of Twitter in Indonesia who has gained prominence through accruing almost 54,000 followers — has been sentenced to a year of probation by a South Jakarta court.
Handoko’s crime was tweeting about politician Muhammad Misbakun, who lost his position in the House of Representatives in 2010 for forging documents related to a Bank Century loan — a conviction that was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2012. Handoko’s tweet characterizing Misbakun as a “crook” occurred in December 2012, after which Misbakun brought him to court on a libel charge, and Handoko has only just been sentenced to a year of probation.
The libel conviction was brought down as part of the Electronic Information and Transactions law that exists in Indonesia, also known as ITE. Legal sites describe the controversial internet law:
In 2008, the Law Regarding Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) was passed in Indonesia’s parliament and contains a provision criminalizing defamation and insult on the Internet. Alleged defamation by an individual communicated over the Internet can be punished with up to six years’ imprisonment and fined up to Rp1 billion (approximately US$106,000).
While Handoko has seemingly gotten off with a light sentence, his case represents one of the first times that Indonesian courts have had to wrestle with Twitter content to implement a conviction. And it probably won’t be the last. The country’s numbers of internet users are increasing year-by-year. Reports note that 19% of Indonesia’s nearly 75 million internet users have Twitter accounts. Even though that number represents only about 30% of the population, it is only set to grow. 2013 witnessed a 13% increase in users.
And Indonesia isn’t the only country instituting severe punishments against Twitter users; a Spanish court sentenced one year in prison to a 21 year-old woman for tweeting content supporting an armed Communist group known as GRAPO. Her tweet called for violence, and she has been convicted of “glorifying terrorism”, although her defense negotiated that she only actually be put in jail if she commits another crime. It looks like it’s time to solidify cyber-conviction rules as global governments wrestle with the legal consequences of convicting using content published on the internet.