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The political reform movement that precipitated Soeharto’s resignation has opened the door to a new political future for Indonesia. Students and faculty were at the forefront of the movement, and many paid a high price for their commitment. Hundreds of students were wounded in clashes with the authorities between mid-March and mid-May. There can be no question, moreover, who will be remembered as the heros of 1998. When four students were shot dead by security forces during a rally at Trisakti University in Jakarta, they were immediately dubbed “Martyrs of Reform.” After the fall of Soeharto, newspapers came out with “Victory of Reform” editions, a major boulevard in Ujung Pandang on the island of Sulawesi was renamed “Reform Boulevard,” commemorating the student rallies and marches that were held there, and a street in Yogyakarta was renamed “Mozes Gatotkaca Street” in memory of a bystander who was beaten to death by security forces during a student demonstration. If the promise of reform is to be fulfilled and lasting changes made, however, the ideological and institutional barriers to citizen autonomy and political participation erected during Soeharto’s thirty-two-year rule must be systematically dismantled.

As described in this report, students and faculty were among those most directly harmed by the suffocating ideological controls, constraints on inquiry and expression, and denial of citizens’ basic freedoms that characterized the New Order government. Such far-reaching and often institutionally embedded policies and practices will not be easy to eradicate. Some of the barriers have important roots in the national trauma of 1965-67; others date from the late 1970s, when broad institutional controls were imposed on the universities in direct response to student protest movements. All of the restrictions were enforced and in important respects implemented by an entrenched military with a doctrinal mandate to “supervise” the citizenry and intervene in social and political affairs in the name of “national stability.” In this respect, the New Order government’s treatment of the academic community was not exceptional. Many of the controls described in this report applied not only to members of the academic community but to all Indonesians; others, although specifically directed against the academic community, were the manifestation on campus of comparable controls applied elsewhere. The impact on academic life, however, was especially pernicious because of the fundamental incompatibility between such controls and the spirit of critical inquiry at the heart of the academic mission.

At the time this report was being prepared for publication, only two months had elapsed since Soeharto’s resignation. The intellectual and political climate was more open than it had been in over two decades, and the success of the reform movement had prompted wide-ranging public discussion of the problems facing the country, including a severe economic crisis which was continuing to impose hardship throughout Indonesian society. Such open discussion and debate was a hopeful sign for Indonesia’s future.

Human Rights Watch believes that to secure the gains won by the reform movement and avoid the imposition of any new orthodoxy, Indonesians must confront the Soeharto legacy head on. Each of the institutional controls and abusive practices inherited from the Soeharto era, including those detailed in this report, must be examined one by one to determine whether they truly serve the interests of all Indonesians or serve to protect those in power from accountability for their actions. Students and scholars are well-situated to contribute to and help inform and shape those discussions, but can do so effectively only if their right to state their ideas and views is respected. Members of the academic community played an important role in opening the door to reform because they spoke their minds notwithstanding the obstacles in their path. The country needs more of the same if reform is to achieve lasting results and if academic freedom is to be placed on a secure foundation.

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