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Indonesia: Proposed Secrecy Law Controversial

(Sept. 16, 2009) Indonesia's government and House of Representatives have agreed on a state secrecy bill that includes the death penalty for those convicted of revealing state secrets. The punishments in the working draft range from a minimum of four years of imprisonment and a fine for possession of secret information to a maximum of 20 years or capital punishment for leaking the secrets. Possessing, repeating, photographing, recording, or otherwise acquiring state secrets are acts that are considered crimes in the draft law. (State-Secrets Law Would Carry Death Penalty, THE JAKARTA POST, Sept. 10, 2009, available at
; Markus Junianto Sihaloho, Rights Group Calls for Halt to Indonesia's State Secrecy Bill, JAKARTA GLOBE, Sept. 10, 2009, available at

According to the chair of the legislative committee working on the bill, Guntur Sasono, state secrets have been defined as “information or materials and activities, which are classed as secrets by the president, and could potentially endanger the state, its existence and integrity if they are leaked to people who do not have the right to possess them.” Effendi Choirie, another member of the committee, responding to public concern that the definition was too general and could be abused, stated that “only intelligence-sensitive information is classified as secret.” (JAKARTA POST, supra.) Information could be classified as secret for 25 years. (JAKARTA GLOBE, supra.)

The human rights group Imparsial has criticized the bill, arguing that even though some of the controversial provisions have been eliminated, the text that remains restricts public access to important information. According to the group's research coordinator, Al Araf, “[i]t is already difficult for us to investigate human rights violations in the absence of a state secrecy law, let alone with one.” (JAKARTA POST, supra.) Imparsial's Executive Director, Rusdi Marpaung was concerned about the long lifespan of state secrets, arguing that since information may be in that protected status for many years, officials might be able to act with impunity, knowing that documents that might incriminate them could be held secret for a quarter of a century. (JAKARTA GLOBE, supra.)

Imparsial was founded in Indonesia in 2002 and describes itself as committed “to upholding the fundamental equality of the rights possessed by all human beings, with special concern given to promoting the rights of the less fortunate.” (Imparsial website, (last visited Sept. 10, 2009).)