Jakarta. A popular Indonesian blogger and minor Twitter celebrity has been sentenced to one year of probation over libelous tweets aimed at a former lawmaker.
The judges at the South Jakarta Court ruled that Benny Handoko — Twitter handle @benhan — was guilty of defaming Muhammad Misbakun, a member of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS).
“Defendant Benny Handoko has been proven legally and convincingly guilty of committing a crime,” chief justice Suprapto said on Wednesday. “[The court] sentences defendant Benny Handoko to six months in jail, under the condition that he does not have to serve the sentence unless he commits another crime before his one-year probation term ends.”
The judge also ordered Benny to pay Rp 60,000 ($4.92) for the court administration fee.
The sentence is lighter than the two years’ probation, with the option of one year in jail, requested by the prosecutor.
Misbakhun reported Benny to the police in December 2012 for a tweet that accused the PKS member of stealing money from Bank Century, the now-defunct bank at the center of a 2008 government bailout scandal.
Benny also wrote that Misbakhun was the operator of an anonymous Twitter account that spread lies, and that he was an employee of the tax office of the Finance Ministry when the bureau was frequently accused of corruption.
Misbakhun was sentenced in 2010 to two years in jail for forging documents to obtain loans from Bank Century. He resigned from the PKS after being named a suspect in the case and subsequently lost his seat at the House of Representatives.
In July 2012, the Supreme Court overturned the 2010 conviction, meaning Misbakhun should not have been imprisoned in the first place. Misbakhun therefore argued that the tweet from @benhan calling him a thief was libelous.
Misbakhun, using his twitter account @misbakhun, asked Benny to apologize, which, he said, would be sufficient for him to not file a police complaint. Benny refused, however, and continued to round on Misbakhun on the Internet.
Police named Benny a suspect on May 13, 2013. He was charged with defamation under Article 27 of the Electronic Information and Transaction (ITE) Law.
Prosecutor Fahmi Iskandar said that he would take time to consider the ruling before deciding whether or not to appeal.
“We will mull it over for seven days before coming up with a response,” Fahmi said.
He said the prosecution had successfully proven Benny’s guilt despite a massive outpour of support for Benny on various social media.
“This is not about [being] satisfied or not, but proved right or wrong, and the prosecutor’s indictment has been proven,” Fahmi said. “If the defendant decides to appeal, we’re ready to face it.”
Benny, who currently counts 53.6 thousand followers on Twitter, said he was disappointed by the ruling, which, according to him, did not take into consideration the facts he had presented to the court.
He said that the prosecutor could not prove the validity of the printed out tweets presented to the court as hard evidence, adding that the printouts should have been compared to the data stored by Twitter.
“This can’t be proven by the prosecutor, and it was not considered by the judge,” Benny said.
Benny has not decided whether or not to file appeal.
Misbakhun told the Jakarta Globe on Wednesday that he was sad that Benny had been given a criminal record, as an apology would have been sufficient to preclude legal action.
“But that simple request was not fulfilled by Benny Handoko,” he said. “So there was no option but to take legal proceedings. I chose that step to maintain my dignity and the dignity of my wife, children, parents and extended family.”
The former lawmaker said the verdict should be a lesson for others to use social media responsibly.
“The ruling is proof that someone used Twitter as a medium to defame another’s good reputation with a libelous tweet… the content was incorrect, full of prejudice and hatred and not based on facts,” he said.
“As a democratic country, Indonesia in the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression for all citizens. But please remember that that freedom does not come without regulation: there are rights for other citizens whose dignity and reputation should be maintained.”