Armando Siahaan & Farouk Arnaz
Half the country has excitedly watched them, experts lined up to dissect them, schools rifled students’ pockets to find them, plans for a new law have been dusted off to banish them … but if anyone still doubted that the Ariel sex videos were mainstream news, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has now broken his silence on them.
A fortnight since Web pages, phones and e-mail inboxes let millions of people pruriently start eyeing the explicit clips of what appeared to be Peterpan singer Nazril “Ariel” Ilham and TV presenters Luna Maya and Cut Tari having sex, Yudhoyono on Friday waded in to the controversy, signaling his support for curbs on the Internet.
Until now, the president had steered clear of the scandal, but when reporters at a media gathering at the palace in Cipanas, Bogor, asked him to comment, he unleashed a volley of criticism at the Internet and its supposed threat to Indonesian values.
“In relation to an open society, an information society, we have increasingly realized that the country should not stay ‘naked’ and be steamrolled by an information technology frenzy, as the stakes are huge,” he said.
Other countries already regulate information technology, he stressed, calling the current controversy a “wake-up call” on the need to deal with a growing problem.
While human rights and basic freedoms should not be compromised, the potential “negative impacts on society” meant doing nothing was not an option.
Religious teachers, parents and the Communications and Information Technology Ministry had all showed their impetus to act to control the Internet “to fulfill the wish of the people,” he added.
IT Minister Tifatul Sembiring, of the conservative Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), has used the “Peterporn” scandal to revive plans to filter the Web for content deemed “negative” and immoral.
He received the backing of influential lawmakers this week and has promised a decree by the end of the year to “save the young” from Internet porn.
Meanwhile, Yudhoyono said police had to keep probing to see if any laws had been broken, such as the Anti-Pornography Law, Electronic Information and Transaction Law (ITE) or film law.
“I support the steps taken by the National Police, who have entered the investigation phase,” he said. The celebrities deny uploading the clips but could yet face up to 12 years in jail. The police insist they were the ones in the videos.
The president also said it was vital that Indonesia maintained its image as a country with strict moral values. “Let’s keep the morality of this country, it’s embarrassing, especially as the news spread internationally,” he said.
He acknowledged to a reporter that he had not seen the clips. “I don’t have any comment, because I have never seen the videos,” he said.
Also on Friday, Ariel and Luna went separately to the National Police for more questioning.
Police had said they planned to physically examine the celebrity couple, presumably to try to match distinguishing body features with those seen in the clips.
Meanwhile, the director of the transnational crime unit said two men questioned for first uploading the video to the Web would be released.
“We believed the footage was uploaded on June 3 and 4 from Kendari and Cianjur, but then we found evidence suggesting it was there by May 22,” Brig. Gen. Saut Usman Nasution said.
“We had actually summoned six people to be questioned as witnesses. We were suspicious that they were the uploaders, but we were wrong,” he said.