Global Freedom of Expression

Indonesia v. Johan Teterissa

On Appeal Contracts Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Non-verbal Expression
  • Date of Decision
    April 4, 2008
  • Outcome
  • Case Number
  • Region & Country
    Indonesia, Asia and Asia Pacific
  • Judicial Body
    First Instance Court
  • Type of Law
    Criminal Law
  • Themes
    Freedom of Association and Assembly / Protests, National Security, Political Expression
  • Tags
    Content-Based Restriction

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

Johan Teterissa was sentenced to life imprisonment on April 4, 2008 after being accused for treason for leading a peaceful demonstration against the then-President of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The sentence was reduced to 15 years after an appeal.

Columbia Global FoE could not identify official legal and government records on the case and information on the case was derived from secondary sources. Global FoE notes that media outlets may not provide complete information about this case. Additional information regarding legal matters will be updated as an official source becomes available.


Teterissa was an elementary school teacher who was accused of leading a demonstration on June 29, 2007 at an event organized by the Indonesian government to commemorate the 14th anniversary of National Family Day at Independence Field in Ambon, Maluku province [3] [4]. Teterissa, along with at least 22 other political activists, walked onto the field and performed a traditional Maluku war dance in front of Yudhoyono. They later unfurled the Benang Raja flag—a prohibited pro-independence RMS symbol—at the end of the dance [3].

It is still unclear how the activists, carrying the flag, managed to pass the security barriers and to perform the dance until the end. They were wearing traditional costumes and were not officially registered to be part of the ceremony [3]. Teterissa and 21 other activists were arrested immediately after the dance, and one additional activist was later arrested in June 2008 [3].

It was reported that the activists were violently and severely tortured after the arrest. Some of them were punched and beaten with rifle butts. Some were also forced to crawl on their stomachs over hot asphalt. Furthermore, the authorities reportedly whipped them with electric cables and put billiard balls into their mouths. The torture also included firing shots close to their ears, causing some of the activists to permanently lose their ability to hear. It was also reported that the activists were repeatedly thrown into the sea. All was to have them confess that they had planned for the independence of the RMS [3].

Teterissa was charged for rebellion under the Articles 106 and 110 of the country’s criminal code. It was reported that the police forced some of the activists to sign statements declaring that they did not want any legal assistance for the pre-trial stage; this occurred again as the trial proceeded. Some of them were given lawyers by the police and these lawyers convinced them to plead guilty and not to appeal. Some of the activists were unfairly sentenced to jail even though they could not be present before the court at their time due to health conditions [3].

Teterissa was told to sign a statement calling on the Moluccas Sovereignty Front (or Front Kedaulatan Maluku)—a pro-independence organization banned by the Indonesian government—to dissolve [4]. When he refused to sign the statement, he was beaten by police for at least 12 hours every day for 11 days with iron rods and stones. He was also reportedly slashed with a bayonet. On June 30, 2007, Teterissa was repeatedly beaten by the authorities with sticks, kicked, and pushed under water. He was also kicked out of a second floor room and down a set of stairs [4]. It was reported that no independent investigation has been carried out regarding the allegations of torture as of June 2015 [6].

Teterissa’s family was also targeted by the authorities. His sons had to go live with relatives, while his wife had to hide in the jungle for seven months [4].

Teterissa received life imprisonment on April 4, 2008 by the Ambon District Court [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]. The panel of judges stated that there were no mitigating factors because Teterissa was also sentenced for a similar offense in 2003 [5]. His sentence was later reduced to 15 years after an appeal three months after he was sentenced to life imprisonment. He is now imprisoned at Batu prison on the island of Nusa Kambangan [5]. Being in Java has prevented his family to visit him due to travel costs [4].

[1] “Indonesia Activist Gets Life Term.” BBC News, April 4, 2008.

[2] Budianto, Lilian. “‘Nonsense’ life sentence for separatist.” The Jakata Post, April 5, 2008.

[3] “Indonesia: Jailed for Waving a Flag.” Amnesty International, 2009.

[4] “Prosecuting Political Aspiration: Indonesia’s Political Prisoners.” Human Rights Watch, June 22, 2010.

[5] “Johan Teterissa Jailed for Waving a Flag in Indonesia.” Amnesty International UK, July 11, 2014.

[6] “Indonesia: Release Johan Teterissa and Other Prisoners of Conscience.” Amnesty International, June 29, 2015.

Decision Overview

There is no official court document available for this case. However, the Constitution of Indonesia officially protects the right to freedom of expression in Article 28(e), which states that “every person shall have the right to the freedom of association and expression of opinion”; and Article 28(f), which prescribes that “every person shall have the right to communicate and obtain information for the development of his/her personal life and his/her social environment, and shall have the right to seek, acquire, possess, keep, process, and convey information by using all available channels.”






Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Contracts Expression

Unfortunately no court documents are publicly available for this case but according to news reports and human rights organizations, Indonesia is in violation of numerous international laws and standards in their treatment of the protesters. Indonesia is a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”) which protects peaceful protests. The alleged torture would also constitute a violation of the United Nations Standards Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

Global Perspective

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Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

Related International and/or regional laws

National standards, law or jurisprudence

  • Indo., Crim. Code, art. 106
  • Indo., Crim. Code, art. 110 (1)

Other national standards, law or jurisprudence

Case Significance

Quick Info

Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

This case did not set a binding or persuasive precedent either within or outside its jurisdiction. The significance of this case is undetermined at this point in time.

Additional Citations:

Official Case Documents

Official Case Documents:

Amicus Briefs and Other Legal Authorities

Reports, Analysis, and News Articles:


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