Indonesian officials and other powerful people are increasingly using the country's draconian criminal libel laws to silence critics and stall democratic debate, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Tuesday.
Realeasing a research showing how such legislation was being used to intimidate critics and whistle-blowers, the US-based watchdog urged the government to repeal the criminal libel and defamation laws to protect free speech.
"Criminal defamation is a potent weapon for those who want to silence critics in Indonesia," HRW deputy Asia director Elaine Pearson said in a statement accompanying the report.
The 91-page "Turning Critics Into Criminals" report said that in most criminal defamation cases, the law had been used to retaliate against people who had accused officials or "powerful interests" of graft or misconduct.
It cited the example of mother-of-two Prita Mulyasari, 32, who was jailed for three weeks and spent a year in litigation for writing emails to her friends complaining about poor treatment at a local hospital.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono signed a new law in 2008 setting out tougher penalties for online defamation.
"Criminal defamation laws undermine democracy, the rule of law and freedom of expression in Indonesia. The government should not send those brave enough to speak their minds to prison," Pearson said.