Cablegate: Indonesian State Secrecy Bill May Threaten Press

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R 101026Z SEP 09



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) SUMMARY: Respected journalists and media
advocacy groups have urged Indonesian President
Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to veto the so-called
state secrecy bill. Articles in the state secrecy
bill state that journalists who publish information
the Government of Indonesia deems as a state
secret can be jailed and fined. The Ministry of
Defense and Indonesian lawmakers who support the
bill are attempting to pass the legislation before
the end of the current legislative term in late
September. Press freedom advocates see the
legislation as a threat to the press freedoms, and
to the public's right to information. If the
proposed bill passes, it may be seen as a setback to
Indonesia?s press freedom. END SUMMARY


2. (U) The state secrecy bill defines a state secret
as any information, or activity that has been officially
declared confidential by the President, or Ministry
acting in the authority of the President, and that the
dissemination of such information could threaten the
sovereignty of the state. Originally proposed in 1999,
the bill was meant to protect the country's vital
strategic information from spies. Several changes to
that bill were made after the Ministry of Defense became
responsible for drafting the state secrecy bill in 2004.
Violators could face up to twenty years in prison, and a
maximum $100,000 fine.

3. (U) Press freedom and democracy advocacy groups are
concerned about the potential passage of the bill. The
groups accuse Indonesian lawmakers of not carefully
deliberating the state secrecy bill before legislative
session ends in September. As a result of high turnover
in legislative elections last April, outgoing lawmakers
have been accused of not considering the ramifications of
the bill. Several lawmakers were noticeably absent from
legislative committee hearings to discuss the bill.
Press freedom groups remain worried that there are not
enough lawmakers to oppose passage of the bill.


4. (U) The implications of the state secrecy bill
remain ambiguous to many opponents of the bill. If the
bill were to pass, press freedom advocates cite
violations in international transparency agreements
signed by Indonesia. Opponents claim that the bill would
give the Indonesian government the authority to revoke
media permits charged with revealing state secrets.
Public information, such as the state budget and defense
contracts, would be deemed a state secret, thus could be
ripe for corruption. Academics assert that the bill is
inconsistent with the Freedom of Information Law, which
could implicate researchers and university lecturers if
they are caught revealing supposed "state secrets."
Lastly, human rights advocates state that human rights
violators could escape justice if information pertaining
to them is classified as a state secret.


5. (U) The lack of clarity in the proposed legislation
is a cause of concern among journalists. The bill does
not provide adequate disclosure on what exactly is deemed
a state secret. As a result, journalists unknowingly
reporting on sensitive matters may fall prey to threats
from government officials. These journalists would face
prosecution on revealing information that was previously
deemed a state secret.


6. (U) Working with supporters in the legislature,
Indonesian Defense Minister Sudarsono is now pressing for
legislative approval of the bill. The Defense Minister
said that such a bill is necessary because sensitive
information could easily leak onto the Internet, making
it impossible to protect state secrets. Minister
Sudarsono denied that the bill would infringe on press
freedoms and democracy. Minister Sudarsono stated that
the "ambiguity of clauses [in the bill] are the essence
of democracy because in a democracy, there are many
interests that need to be served." Minister Sudarsono
also stated that the Freedom of Information Law served as
the basis in drafting the state secrecy bill, and that
the government was committed to upholding transparency
and accountability.

7. (U) There is little indication from President
Yudhoyono on whether he would sign or veto the state
secrecy bill. Surprising, the bill did not solicit much
discussion during the presidential elections in July 2009.
However, an advisor to President Yudhoyono stated that
the President would not pressure the lame duck
legislature to pass the bill before September. The
advisor continued that the bill was necessary in order to
protect Indonesian interests, but it must also adhere
towards maintaining an open and transparent democracy

8. (U) Many democracy and press freedom organizations
believe that passage of the state secrecy bill would be a
step backwards in Indonesia's strengthening democracy
movement and existing press freedoms. Disagreements
within the legislative and executive branches only cloud
the issue surrounding the bill. If it does pass,
Indonesian journalists could be denied public information,
and may be threatened by government official for
revealing state secrets that were not initially revealed
as state secrets.


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