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Ideological pressures, censorship, and pervasive militarization under the New Order created a climate hostile to intellectual innovation and vigorous debate in Indonesian universities. Just as important aspects of student intellectual life were driven underground by restrictions on student political activity and expression, critical inquiry by faculty on a wide range of social and political subjects was stymied by the campus controls. Although conditions improved significantly in the 1990s, open academic inquiry and expression continued to be constrained up to the time of Soeharto’s resignation by onerous state research permit requirements as well as blacklists, limitations on academic debate, and periodic government interference with the rights of academics as citizens to express their ideas and views in public fora.187


Under regulations established by the New Order government, all field research in Indonesia requires prior government authorization. Indonesian social scientists must obtain permission to conduct field studies not only from university administrators, but also from the local office of the social and political directorate of the Home Ministry (“Sospol”) where the university is located and the local Sospol office where they wish to conduct research. Sospol has wide discretion to forbid research and maintains a blacklist, periodically updated with information from civilian and military intelligence agencies, of individuals who are to be closely monitored because they have been deemed to pose a threat to public order.

Social scientists interviewed by Human Rights Watch emphasized that although denial of permits is rare, the effect of the permit process is to subject all proposals to government scrutiny. Researchers report that they sometimes ignore the permit requirements, but officials can and do order research stopped when they learn that researchers have not complied with the permit requirements.188 The permit procedures are labyrinthine. As one Indonesian researcher described his experience:

At the time I intended to conduct research in East Java . . . but I lived in Central Java. First I had to make a request to my department for a letter of introduction for the research permit, then request a letter of introduction for the East Java office of Kopertis [Koordinator Perguruan Tinggi Swasta or Private Higher Education Coordinating Agency, the government agency which has jurisdiction over private universities]. With these letters, I then could prepare an application to the West Java Sospol office. Once I had the West Java Sospol permission, I sought approval from the East Java Sospol office, but had to go first to the National Planning Board. Only after I had a recommendation from the National Planning Board would the East Java Sospol office issue a permit. It did not end there. I also had to give notice of my proposed research to each district in which I was to conduct research via the regional Sospol offices (Sospol Dati II).189

This convoluted process invites corruption, with unscrupulous government officials demanding bribes in exchange for letters necessary to obtain permits.190 This practice is particularly likely to occur where researchers are seeking expedited approval of a permitrequest.191 More importantly, however, the requirement of prior government authorization, together with censorship and pressures from the security apparatus described above, steers academics away from controversial subjects, and, under Soeharto, left a wide range of subjects effectively off-limits to independent research. Such topics included not only the business holdings of the president’s family and conditions in provinces such as Aceh, East Timor and Irian Jaya where there have been widespread human rights abuses by military authorities, but also other “sensitive” subjects such as ethnic conflict, land and labor rights issues, alleged government coercion of voters during elections, local political controversies, and the political role of the military under the “Dual Function” doctrine.192

The permit system also makes it very easy for the government to intervene to stop research, as it did prior to the national elections in May 1997, when all permits for “research activities or field studies that involve the public” and could lead to “public unease” were suspended for a period of three months.193 Permits can also be suspended when the president visits the province where research is being carried out, and during and after important national events, such as meetings of the upper chamber of parliament or when Indonesia plays host to important international visitors.194

The permit process for foreign scholars is even more onerous. The process, which often takes from six months to a year, requires a series of letters of introduction and permissions from LIPI, the State Intelligence Coordinating Body (Badan Koordinasi Intelijen Negara or Bakin), Sospol, and national police headquarters. While few researchers are denied research access permanently, many are told that the topics they have chosen are “too sensitive” or “too political” and they are asked to resubmit their proposals with a different research focus.195

Blacklists and Other Restrictions

Military and police authorities had broad power to regulate all public gatherings under the New Order. As described elsewhere, public seminars, meetings and conferences required advance permission from local police authorities, and from national police headquarters in Jakarta if the gathering was national in character.196 Such gatherings were routinely broken up by the authorities.197 Inprinciple, academic seminars and meetings organized by university authorities were exempted from the permit requirement. In practice, campus activities were subject to a wide range of restrictions. Such restrictions included government screening of speakers invited to participate in campus seminars, police and intelligence agency interrogation and, on occasion, arrest of academics for critical remarks made at seminars, and the intimidation of academics for articles in the press or public commentary deemed hostile to the government. Examples of these abuses include:

Foreign scholars were also subject to intimidation. On June 12, 1995, Indonesian police broke up an off-campus seminar on democracy and detained seven people, including an American professor who was the sole speaker at the meeting. Umam Wirano of the Yayasan Indonesia Baru (New Indonesia Foundation), which organized the seminar, told Reuter’s that the police broke up the meeting because it was held without a permit. The police took seven people, including the speaker, Robert Hefner, for questioning, before releasing them early the following day. Hefner, vice-director of the Institute for the Study of Economic Culture at Boston University, was in Indonesia at the invitation of the government-funded National Institute of Sciences (Lembaga Ilmu Pengetahuan Indonesia or LIPI) to address a seminar on Islam and modernization. Witnesses said Hefner and some of the organizers were taken to the Central Jakarta police station by intelligence police officers who had been present during the seminar. They were then interrogated at the police station from 11:00 p.m. until 5:00 a.m. the next day. Hefner and the others were released after an official from the U.S. Embassy came to the police station.205

As the above cases suggest, campus intervention by civilian and military authorities was most often aimed not at academic speech per se, but at the ability of academics to share their views, ideas, and research results openly with the public. The persistence of such controls until the end of the Soeharto era and the new attitude being taken by the new government are both exemplified in the case described below.

On February 21, 1995, scholars from the National Institute of Sciences (LIPI) were invited to the presidential palace and formally instructed by Soeharto to conduct research into the existing “social role” of the military and to evaluate the political election system. The president’s public call for research into these formerly taboo subjects received considerable attention in the press and other public media, and the president’s approval gave the researchers access to military and civilian leaders throughout Indonesia. As one professor not involved in the project commented, such research “could not have been carried out by anyone other than a LIPI research team, a government scientific body directly under the control of the president.”206

The LIPI researchers conducted detailed interviews with approximately 140 government, military, and community leaders in roughly half of Indonesia’s provinces, and found significant opposition to the continuing intrusive political role of the military and to government manipulation of the election system. In draft reports setting forth their findings, they recommended a gradual withdrawal of the military from political affairs, a ten year transition to a direct (rather than proportional) election system, and an end to the government’s “monoloyalty” doctrine, whereby civil servants are expected to give loyal support to the ruling party. The State Secretary’s office, apparently displeased with the results, declared the reports official state secrets.207 After the researchers conducted additional research on the same subjects in 1996 and went public with the results in early 1997, the government sternly forbade them from holding additional seminars, publishing results or publicly discussing any LIPI research into political subjects without prior government approval.

Despite the ban, however, copies of the draft report circulated widely in academic and political circles in 1997. In 1998, when the same subjects—laws governing elections and political parties, the government’s monoloyalty doctrine, the military’s dual function—emerged at the forefront of the agenda of the pro-reform movement, the drafts gained renewed currency. After Soeharto’s resignation, a number of LIPI researchers openly submitted a blueprint for reform to the government. As this report was being prepared, their proposal was under consideration by the government and was freely available to all interested parties.

Although the intellectual climate has now changed, the limitations on academic inquiry and expression set forth above are still in place, and military and civilian authorities continue to have broad discretionary powers over field research and the ability of academicsto share their ideas and views with the public. In order that the ideas and findings of all Indonesian researchers receive a fair hearing and are judged solely on the basis of academic merit, these barriers to autonomous academic inquiry and debate must be removed.

187 Academics also suffered a major legislative setback in 1996-97 when, over widespread and vociferous opposition from social scientists and other researchers, the government enacted a vaguely worded law giving the Central Statistics Agency (Biro Pusat Statistik or BPS) broad power to oversee all social science research conducted in the country. Human Rights Watch interview with Daniel Dhakidae, Jakarta, September 16, 1997.

188 Human Rights Watch interview with Faisal Basri, New York, June 23, 1998. Dr. Basri described the following experience. He was conducting research in Medan, North Sumatra without a permit, and his research included interviewing the directors of a particular printing house. As Dr. Basri put it, he had the “bad luck” of learning too late that the printing house was owned by a local Sospol official. The official reported Dr. Basri’s failure to obtain a permit and he was forced temporarily to abandon the research.

189 Akadun, “Deregulasi Izin Penelitian,” Surabaya Post, October 25, 1996.

190 Human Rights Watch interview with Faisal Basri, New York, June 23, 1998; see also Akadun, “Deregulasi,” Surabaya Post, October 25, 1996. One scholar interviewed by Human Rights Watch also emphasized that nearly all research is government funded andproject oriented, and expressed concern that political pressures combined with economic pressures lead to what he called “academic corruption” on the part of researchers themselves. Interview with Ariel Heryanto, Singapore, September 11, 1997. An official at the Jakarta offices of a large international donor agency, who frequently commissions social science research in Indonesia and spoke with Human Rights Watch on condition of anonymity, said that, although the quality of research he has seen in recent years has improved, research continues to be marred by “problems of factual honesty, analytical rigor, and presentational accuracy. The government pays for the research and it is difficult for professors, as government employees, to express independent opinions.” Human Rights Watch interview, Jakarta, September 20, 1997. See also open letter from Arief Budiman to Mr. Hans-Eberhard Kopp, World Bank, February 20, 1995 (copy on file at Human Rights Watch) (noting the failure of social science researchers to gauge properly the extent of opposition among farmers and peasants to the World Bank-funded Kedung Ombo dam project, which required the forced relocation of many local inhabitants, and stating: “In many instances, research is used only to justify what the government wants to do. . . Consequently, knowing that the findings will not be taken seriously, many academic researchers do not conduct their research as they ought to do. This is, I think, common knowledge among Indonesian academic researchers.”).

191 Human Rights Watch interview with Faisal Basri, New York, June 23, 1998.

192 This list is based on Human Rights Watch interviews in September and October 1997 with the following Indonesian academics: Arbi Sanit, George J. Aditjondro, Mochtar Mas’oed, Ong Hok Ham, Baltazar Kehi, Ashadi Siregar, and Th. Sumartana.

193 “Dilarang, Kegiatan Muktamar, Kongres, Sampai Seminar,” Kompas Online, February 4, 1997.

194 Human Rights Watch interview with Faisal Basri, New York, June 23, 1998.

195 Ibid.

196 See Hairus Salim HS and Angger Jati Wijaya, eds., Demokrasi dalam Pasungan: Politik Perizinan di Indonesia (Yogyakarta: Forum LSM/LPSM DIY, 1996).

197 See Human Rights Watch/Asia, “Press Closures in Indonesia One Year Later,” A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol.7, no. 9, July 1995, pp. 2-4.

198 "Dari Polisi ke Rektor,” Gatra, January 6, 1996; George Junus Aditjondro, “A Test Case in Repressing Academic Freedom in Indonesia” (paper on file at Human Rights Watch, dated October 34, 1994), pp. 1-2.

199 Ibid.; see also ELSAM, “Dari Jiwa yang Melayang hingga Isi Pikiran yang Diawasi: Penilaian atas Penegakan Hak Asasi Manusia Tahun 1996" (copy on file at Human Rights Watch) (describing campus seminars cancelled by rectors in 1996 because the program included controversial speakers or political subjects); Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation, “Indonesian Human Rights Forum,” Newsletter on Development and Human Rights in Indonesia, July-December 1995, no. 9, p. 28 (listing campus seminars dispersed or cancelled by rectors in 1995 because of the reputations of the invited speakers).

200 Human Rights Watch interview with [name withheld], Abepura, September 27, 1997.

201 Ibid.

202 This case previously was reported in Human Rights Watch/Asia, “Press Closures in Indonesia,” p. 3; see also George Junus Aditjondro, “A Test Case,” p. 6; Forum-Asia, Stability and Unity, p. 149.

203 Human Rights Watch interview with Arbi Sanit, Jakarta, September 18, 1997.

204 Human Rights Watch interview, New York, June 23, 1998.

205 This case previously was reported in Human Rights Watch/Asia, “ Press Closures in Indonesia,” pp. 3-4.

206 Arief Budiman, "Kondisi Ilmu Sosial di Indonesia,” Kompas Online, March 31, 1997.

207 Ikrar Nusa Bhakti, “Polemik Sekitar Masa Depan Peran Sosial Politik ABRI,” Tempo Interaktif, no. 53/01, March 1997.

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