February 22, 2018 / 5:38 AM / a year ago

Indonesian president puts off signing law protecting parliament

FILE PHOTO: Indonesian President Joko Widodo waves to the student performers (not pictured) upon his arrival to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and related meetings in Clark, Pampanga, northern Philippines November 12, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian President Joko Widodo has delayed signing a draft law that would allow parliament to crack down on criticism aimed at its members or the legislature, suggesting it could undermine the quality of the country’s democracy.

Members of parliament have proposed modifying laws governing parliament to allow an internal ethics council to take legal action against any individual or group that insults the house or its members.

But Widodo, citing concern among the public, who widely see parliament as corrupt, said he had put off signing it.

“The draft is on my desk but I have not signed it yet. I understand the public’s concern about this issue. We all want the quality of our democracy to improve, not deteriorate,” Widodo said on Twitter late on Wednesday.

He did not say if he would sign it.

Rights groups and anti-corruption activists have criticized the proposed law, saying it could harm freedom of speech and slow a fight against endemic graft.

Surveys show that Indonesians have for years perceived parliament to be among the country’s most corrupt institutions. An anti-graft watchdog has said the majority of its investigations involve members of parliament.

Legislators say the law would protect them from “false allegations” of corruption and other criticism.

“It is important to differentiate between criticism and insult. People should not make accusations without legal facts that they can be held accountable for,” said one member of the assembly, Firman Subagyo.

Reporting by Kanupriya Kapoor and Agustinus Beo Da Costa; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Robert Birsel

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