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Under Soeharto, student political expression and activity was outlawed on campus, campus-wide student councils were abolished, and all student organizations and activities were placed under the direct supervision and control of university rectors. Rectors, in turn, were accountable to military and civilian authorities for implementation of the policies.146 The ban on politics legitimized interference by the security apparatus on campus and turned the university administration on each campus into what some Indonesian commentators called a “censoring, investigating institution.”147 Since the decrees were enacted in the late 1970s, they have been the subject of constant criticism. In 1990, the restrictions were partially lifted and campus-wide student councils were allowed for the first time in over a decade. With the success of the student protest movement in 1998, the restrictions now have little practical effect, and the new minister of education in the post-Soeharto government has indicated that they are under review.148 At the time this report was written, however, the ban had not yet been formally repealed.

In 1978 and 1979, the government issued a set of decrees which came to be known collectively as “Normalization of Campus Life -- Coordinating Body for Student Affairs” (Normalisasi Kehidupan Campus -- Badan Koordinasi Kemahasiswaan or NKK/BKK). The most far-reaching restrictions were contained in the following decrees:

In intention and effect, these decrees represented the application on campus of the “floating mass” concept, described above, in which political activity was viewed as inherently disruptive and divisive, and thus to be limited to government-prescribed channels and times. The government justified the ban on campus political activities by stating that campuses should be the site of study and research, not “practical politics,” and by asserting that students could engage in political activity through established political parties based off-campus.149 As then-Minister of Education and Culture Daud Yusuf phrased it: “If students engage in political ‘action and policy,’ they are engaging in activity that is inconsistent with their mission as students and therefore it is inappropriate for them to do so as students.”150

The most immediate effect of the NKK/BKK policies was, as described in chapter 3 above, to force student political activity underground, thus contributing to the ideological polarization of the student body and paving the way for the emergence of radical student opposition in the 1980s and 1990s. The policy of rooting out campus activism was doomed from its inception. Although student activists rarely form more than a small minority of the student body, important characteristics of the university facilitate such activism, including an intellectual climate relatively open to debate and expression of controversial ideas, the ease of organizing group activity in the typicallyclose-knit campus environment, and the availability of public spaces suited for assemblies.151 The university typically is home to advocates of ideas and views across the political spectrum but the most active student groups often are vocal critics of the political status quo and proponents of reform. In Indonesia, which has a long history of student protest and in which other outlets for political expression systematically were blocked, these features were even more pronounced than in many other countries. The desire of students to critically engage problems in Indonesian society certainly could not be wiped away by government decree.

A second important effect was the militarization of Indonesia’s campuses. Although the decrees made the office of the rector primarily responsible for enforcement of the ban, they also created a channel for routinized supervision of student life by the military (ABRI) and civilian intelligence bodies. At each regional military headquarters (Korem), an officer was put in charge of establishing regular contact, both in person and by telephone, with the vice-rector for student affairs at each university in his jurisdiction.152 (The role of ABRI on campus is described in more detail in chapter 9 below.)

In addition, the policy drained Indonesian campus life of an important source of intellectual vitality. Instead of directing students, enjoying the newfound autonomy that comes with student life, toward debate and open exchange of ideas on social and political issues of the day, the NKK/BKK policy, together with the P4 ideology sessions described above, emphasized loyalty to superiors and the avoidance of controversy. Students at the Islamic Teacher’s Training Institute in Yogyakarta, for example, visited by Human Rights Watch in September 1997, reported that the rector was requiring all incoming students to sign a declaration stating that they would not engage in any activities not approved in advance by the rector’s office.153

One of the campus institutions that suffered most from the regulations was the student press. In the 1980s, few student papers were established and those that did exist were closely monitored and intellectually timid. In the late 1980s and in the 1990s, the student press again grew bold, but was subject to harassment and censorship from university administrators and from military and civilian authorities. In interviews with Human Rights Watch in late September 1997, student editors at publications in Yogyakarta reported the following:

In the later years of the New Order, implementation of controls on student political activity increasingly came to depend on the political orientation and zealousness of the rector. Where the rector had a high public profile and believed that student political activism was a normal part of student life, the regulations were effectively held in abeyance. In the mid-1980s, for example, Dr. Koesnadi Hardjasoemantri, rector at Gadja Mada University in Yogyakarta and a revolutionary war veteran, forbade the military from entering campus grounds without his prior permission, offered leadership training programs for activists, and even participated in some rallies.158 Where the rector was more responsive to military pressures, however, students were regularly suspended or expelled for participating in rallies. One of the more notorious rectors in this regard was Wiranto Arismunandar, the rector of the Bandung Institute of Technology from 1989-1997. During his tenure, at least twelve students were expelled and sixty-one students were suspended, many for engaging in activities that violated restrictions on campus activism.159 Under the NKK/BKK regulations, students’ freedom to exercise their basic rights thus came to depend on the personal characteristics of the rector.

The precise status of the NKK/BKK decrees today is not clear.160 The restrictions were partially lifted in 1990 when then-Minister of Education Fuad Hassan issued a decree allowing the formation of campus-wide student senates. Rectors continued, however, to supervise closely all student activities and continued to have the power to override student election results. During the student protest movement of 1998, the NKK/BKK regulations again became the subject of national attention. In March 1998, Soeharto named Wiranto Arismunandar (see above) to be Minister of Education and Culture. On April 2, at a time when the student protest movement already had achieved a nationwide following, Arismunandar publicly reiterated the prohibition on political activity on campus, defining it to include “any attempt, direct or indirect, to implement or influence political decision-making.”161 In response to a reporter’s question, he stated that calling for removal of a public official would violate the policy and suggested that university rectors should sanction offending students “without hesitation.”162

Because of the strength of the protest movement, the minister’s remarks were widely criticized and completely ignored in practice by students and administrators. The minister’s invocation of NKK/BKK at the very moment when campuses were emerging as the only outlet for autonomous political expression illustrates the partisan potential of the policy and the ease with which “practical politics” was equated with student expression of dissenting views. A uniform ban on the exercise of basic rights is offensive wherever it is applied. The Indonesian experience, consistent with experience elsewhere throughout the twentieth century, suggests that universities flourish as centers of academic excellence not when the government aggressively attempts to depoliticize campuses, but when there is space for autonomous political activity off campus and students’ basic rights as citizens are guaranteed.

146 Indonesian law gives the president, on advice of the minister of education and culture, the authority to hire and fire the rectors of all public universities. See Lembaran-Negara Republik Indonesia, No. 38, 1990: Peraturan Pemerintah Republik Indonesia Nomor 30 Tahun 1990 Tentang Pendidikan Tinggi (copy on file at Human Rights Watch), Article 38(1). Rectors of private universities must be approved by the minister. Ibid., para. 38(2). The law also gives the minister broad authority to supervise the administration of universities. Ibid., Art. 121(4).

147 Mulya T. Lubis and Fauzi Abdullah, Human Rights Report, Indonesia 1980 (Jakarta: Sinar Harapan, 1981), quoted in Edward Aspinall, “Student Dissent in Indonesia in the 1980s,” Center of Southeast Asian Studies Monograph, Monash University, 1993, p. 9.

148 See "Bakal Berakhir,” Era NKK/BKK,” Kompas Online, May 29, 1998; “Mendikbud Juwono Soedarsono: Konsep NKK/BKK Ditinjau Kembali,” Republika Online, May 29, 1998.

149 Suprianto, Perlawanan Pers Mahasiswa, pp. 38-48.

150 Ibid., p. 39.

151 See “Student Political Activism,” in Philip G. Altbach, ed., International Higher Education: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland, 1991), pp. 247-260.

152 Human Rights Watch interview with Mochtar Mas’oed, Yogyakarta, September 23, 1997.

153 Human Rights Watch interview with Adi S., Yogyakarta, September 22, 1997.

154 Human Rights Watch interview with Paradigma staff, Yogyakarta, September 25, 1997.

155 Human Rights Watch Interview with Sintesa staff, Yogyakarta, September 23, 1998.

156 Human Rights Watch Interview with Arena staff, Yogyakarta, September 22, 1998.

157 Human Rights Watch Interview with Balairung staff, Yogyakarta, September 25, 1998.

158 Human Rights Watch Interview with Koesnadi, Jakarta, September 19, 1997. Many former students interviewed by Human Rights Watch confirmed that Koesnadi’s policies were widely admired among students and, in particular, among student activists.

159 "Kegiatan Politik Dilarang di Kampus,” Kompas Online, April 5, 1998.

160 Compare “Bakal Berakhir, Era NKK/BKK,” Kompas Online, May 29, 1998 with “NKK/BKK Sudah Dicabut Tahun 1990,” Kompas Online, May 30, 1998.

161 "Kegiatan Politik Dilarang di Kampus,” Kompas Online, April 5, 1998.

162 Ibid.

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