Video-sharing website Vimeo became the latest casualty of Indonesia's Anti-Pornography Law this week, joining Reddit and Imgur on the country's list of blocked sites. Information and Communications Minister Tifatul Sembiring announced the ban on Monday, saying that 'negative or pornographic elements' had been discovered on the website.
Introduced in 2008, the Anti-Pornography Law bans the production, sale and distribution of explicit material featuring nudity or sexual content. A press release issued by the Ministry claimed that several Vimeo channels had been found to contain pornographic material. Vimeo claims it does not allow pornography on its site, but nudity is not banned.
The Anti-Pornography Law has resulted in several controversial cases in Indonesia, including the arrest of the editor of a short-lived Indonesian edition of Playboy magazine, which did not include any nudity, and the sentencing of a pop singer to three-and-a-half years jail after his personal sex tapes went viral online. The latest move to ban Vimeo has brought a backlash against the Communications Minister, with critics becoming especially vocal over Twitter.
'I'm voting for whichever presidential candidate throws out Tifatul Sembiring's overzealous, draconian, counterproductive internet policies,' tweeted Hasief Ardiasyah, associate editor of Rolling Stone Indonesia.
'Listen @tifsembiring, it's not about the blocked sites. We're smarter than you. That's a piece of cake. The abuse of power we concern about,' tweeted another user, Rahan Galileo.
It's not the first time that Tifatul, a member of the Islamist Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), has faced criticism on Twitter. Earlier this week he was also criticised for his flippant response to a query on Twitter regarding the legality of a terrorist website that supported the rebel group Boko Haram. The Minister responded with a series of tweets that side-stepped the question, ending each one with a grinning emoticon. Earlier this year he was also criticised for following a pornography account on Twitter, which he claimed was accidental.
The outraged public response to the Vimeo ban suggests Indonesians will not easily give up the freedom of expression they have discovered online. Media freedom in Indonesia has vastly improved since the fall of Suharto, but traditional media remains in the hands of New Order-era moguls with their own political and business interests. Online, Indonesians can make themselves heard by those in power.
In an election year, efforts to curtail internet freedom will reflect badly on the Minister's party, PKS, and whichever side it chooses to back in the presidential race. At present, the party appears to be close to forming a coalition with presidential hopeful Prabowo Subianto's party, the Greater Indonesia Movement (Gerindra). Indonesia's netizens will be watching closely to see how conservative elements such as the PKS are accommodated.
Photo by Flickr user Ikhlasul Amal.