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A Separation of Insult and Criticism

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[Jakarta, LTTW] In January 10, 2018, Joko Widodo along with the government and Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat or the People’s Representative discussed a bill that contains a law that prohibits people from insulting the President. This proposed regulation titled Rancangan Kitab Hukum Undang-Undang Pidana (RKHUP) is a revision attempt for the existing law, the bill of Indonesian Criminal Code.

If we look at article 263 section (1), a person who publicly insults the President or Vice President will be sentenced to jail with a maximum of 5 (five) years or pay a fee. The bill sparked criticism, dubbed controversial by some, because it limits people’s freedom to express and criticize in the democratic nation.

As reported by, the Chief of Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR), Erasmus Napitupulu said the bill must be erased because it could be utilized as a repression tool by the government. Andreas Marbun as Head Division of Legal Policy in Indonesian People’s Court Watch from University of Indonesia writes in, arguing that the bill is opposed to the nation’s constitution. It seemingly revives the Dutch Indies colonial law which then sent one of Indonesian founding fathers, Ki Hajar Dewantara into prison for writing a critical script and published in De Express newspaper titled Jika Saya Seorang Belanda (If I Were A Dutchman).

“Penghinaan,” or insult in English, is written in the bill. To know the meaning is the first path to understanding; being able to separate between insult and criticism is a must, if one wishes to avoid misconception. In the dictionary, insult means to treat with insolence, indignity, or contempt; it can also mean to affect offensively or damagingly – without responsibility and often irrelevancy. Discordantly, criticize means to consider the merits and demerits of and judge accordingly; indicate the act of finding or pointing out the faults. It also needs to be well pondered, in a wider term, that criticism is in the domain of self-awareness that gazes and evaluates one’s personal viewpoint. With this process, criticism brings constructive value and also elevate people’s consciousness to improve not others, but themselves first.

The two differ in definition; if insult can be seen a destructive offense, to criticize is to give a constructive fact-based judgment. Regarding the bill, ideally it would only prosecute those who insult the executive leaders of the nation. The emphasis on “insult” is written on the bill and the word “criticize” is nowhere to be found.

Concerns arise when there is no definite meaning of insult in the bill and no explanation of what constitute as an insult and what does not. A clear line of separation for both concepts must first be concluded by the government and must be clear in the bill.

The Consensus of Separation

In reality, a separation of insult and criticism are not as simple as what the dictionary can define. Insult could also contain truth and facts, making it as a criticism with harsher delivery in some terms such as intonation and chosen words. Sometimes it can also be hurtful and even hostile when someone makes these fact-based insults to others — blurring and seemingly combining both definitions.

The freedom to insult Presidents and governments do happen in other democratic countries. One perfect example would be The United States of America which protect and enact freedom of speech in The First Amendment of their constitution, a consensus that make ways for voices to be delivered; from criticism, insults, nonsense, and some combinations of the three. Donald Trump as the current President of USA would know this. Insults have been made since he announced his bid for presidency and have gotten worse since he was voted and crowned as Uncle Sam’s number one man. From fact-based criticism to pure insults, it keeps coming in and no law could interfere those who taunt and heckle the nation’s leader.

In the context of Indonesia, separating what is criticism and what is insult must be made as clear as possible. Aside from the consensus that the government made, it is also important for the people to agree on the same definition with them or each other — A consensus from parties to shape and define which is which.

Whether Indonesia need a law that bans insult is necessary or not is up for debate. But the main question is, can a consensus be made with the agreement of all parties in Indonesia?



Web Admin

Author: Web Admin

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Geoffrey Danziger
Geoffrey Danziger
3 years ago

Don’t know much the legal system in your country, but yes I agree with you that there should be a clear line between insult and criticism. I think the “millennials” should pay more attention to the definitive borderline, particularly since they’ve grown [up.Ed] in which hate speech has become the new normal while the older generation should stop behaving like “the new morons”.

3 years ago

Thank you for you’re reply. It seems that the generation gap of the young and old is always existent but a constructive dialogue from both is needed to discuss important issues such as insult and criticism. It can eventually lead to s consensus that separate both definition.