Tue, 11 Oct 1994

Interpreting old laws

While national Constitution has since the first day of the republic guaranteed freedom of expression and of association how to regulate the use of the freedom is still a problem here. Until today police still oblige citizens to obtain a permit before holding a seminar or any kind of gathering. And experiences have shown that this is no easy job. Worse still the failure to obtain the license will result in the disband of the gathering.

The legal basis for the obligation is the Indonesian Criminal Code, a leftover of the Dutch colonial system, which stipulates that holding a party of public gathering without a permit from the police or an authorized civil officer is punishable by a maximum fine of Rp. 375 (17 U.S. cents).

The permit problem has emerged to the surface not only because the recent campaign of a legal aid institute but many organizers of seminars and cultural activities have also been fretting about the matter. Certain men of letters have been banned from reading poetry at public places.

A professor of constitutional law of the University of Indonesia warned the authorities almost two decades ago that imposing the people with the obligation to obtain such a permit is against the Constitution.

Although many articles of the present Criminal Code are no longer relevant to the current Indonesian condition, nobody from the legislative or executive branch of government has jumped forward in defense of the citizens' right by introducing a bill to regulate the use of the freedoms and protect them from those who want to curtail them.

In the absence of such a law, the police who work in the field and are responsible for security and order, tend to adopt a safety-first policy, since they do not want to do of a socio- political fire brigade.

In the words of National Police spokesman Brig. Gen. I Ketut Ratta, a permit is needed "not merely for security reasons but also to allow the police to monitor the purpose of a certain gathering." It sounds like in conflict with the concept of presumption of innocence because if the obligation to obtain permit, as he said, is meant for the public interest no application for permit is needed. Any citizen who wants to hold a gathering only needs to inform the officers not to apply for a license because it can be turned down for disputatious reasons.

And a seminar, which is scientific in nature is completely different from the gathering stipulated by the Criminal Code.

The purpose of the article is clear to clamp down on the activities of the Indonesian nationalists, such as Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta -- who later became national president and vice president -- in their pursuit for national freedom. The law was then successfully carried out by the notorious colonial intelligence agency called P.I.D. The enforcement of the law today is not only against the constitutional rights of expression and association but also will be uneducational especially in relation with scientific activities.

We believe that a law on the implementation of the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms can regulate the right to hold meetings or seminars with the sole purpose to guarantee the basic rights the other way round.

While the bill of the new criminal code is still being prepared by the government, in the absence of a law to regulate public gatherings, the Ministry of Defense and Security should consider to take steps to reduce the people's burden of the permit business.

In the provinces several regional commanders have taken initiatives for a more openness by inviting poets to read their poetry at the military headquarters but these activities are not based on a general policy.

If not, while the Criminal Code is implemented right to stern and narrow senses of meaning, we are afraid that our police will have to arrest all people holding birthday parties or arisan, ....

And this nation will not be able to move anywhere if the laws remain regressive.