Indonesia: offensive Tweets potentially punishable by years in prison


When Tifatul Sembiring's minstry isn't shutting down non-salacious gay rights Web sites, it's threatening obnoxious Twitter users with a dozen years behind bars.

Tifatul, who heads Indonesia's Ministry of Communications and Information, has suggested that offensive Tweets can be punished with up to 12 years in prison. 

Given the often rancorous nature of Twitter, proactive enforcement would require Indonesia to build lots of new prisons: the nation is the world's third-biggest Twitter market.

But is this campaign driven by the whims of one man?

An Indonesian media commentator, Wimar Witoelar, tells Radio Australia that the Tifatul pays "less heed to the constitution than through his own personal notions of propriety and morality" and that his statement "goes against the grain of most internet users and observers."

Indeed, Islamic piety appears to be Titaful's pet subject and his role as information minister is largely marked by a crusade to rid the Web of wickedness. He's an appointee from the Prosperous Justice Party, which seeks to entrench Islamic values into government. The party, however, can't win elections outright and has pulled in only a marginal percentage of votes in past elections.

Policing online porn with keyword flags is one thing but policing "offensive" Tweets — whatever that means — is hugely difficult.

As Wimar suggests, the pious minister may be " just crying wolf and shouting in the desert."

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