Striking Balance: Freedom of Expression in Post-Soeharto Indonesia

Debates about freedom of expression raise questions about what constitutes its limits. At the level of practice, some individuals or groups of people may impose limits through violence, either direct violence or “proxy violence,” especially when it comes to matters regarding the exercise of faith, such as a blasphemy case, which is irrational in nature and not governed by secular laws. The case of Charlie Hebdo, and in the context of Indonesia, the case of Alexander Aan—a self-proclaimed atheist who served a jail sentence after being charged with tarnishing the image of Prophet Muhammad—how how such limits were imposed.

I argue that such acts are not acceptable, and are not legitimate. Freedom of expression may be in need of limits, but in order to be acceptable and legitimate, these limitations need to be obtained through public deliberation, wherein all parties concerned are free and equal in participation. This enhances the level of acceptance of public deliberation outcomes. The acceptance becomes the basis for the limits to be sanctioned and incorporated into law.