Indonesian student Florence Sihombing tried to refuel her motorbike at a gas station pump reserved for cars. When she was denied service, she vented her frustration on social media criticizing the city of Yogyakarta, also known as Jogja.
“Jogja is poor, idiotic, uncivilized. Friends from Jakarta and Bandung, don’t live in Jogja” she said.
Her post was shared on Twitter and Facebook, where thousands of people took offense. She was mentioned more than 55,000 times on Twitter with hashtags such as #UsirFlorenceDariJogja, “get rid of Florence from the city”.
Then she was summoned for questioning by the local police, and charged under the 2008 Electronic Transactions and Information Law for defamation and “inciting hatred”. A few local NGOs also filed a lawsuit against her under the ITE law wanting her to be found guilty for causing “insult, defamation, and provocation”.
Under the ITE law, those found guilty can be sentenced to six years of imprisonment and/or a fine of up to IDR 1 billion (US$84,750). Does this penalty fit Florence Sihombing’s transgression? Might it be a little excessive in relation to her comment?
Especially since Indonesia is a democratic country with a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the freedom of expression.