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HRW Urges Indonesian Government To Dismantle Barriers To Academic Freedom

(New York) - In an open letter to new Indonesian Education Minister Juwono Sudarsono, the Human Rights Watch Academic Freedom Committee urges the government to dismantle immediately the mechanisms of control over academic life implemented during President Soeharto's thirty-two year New Order rule.

Students and faculty emerged at the forefront of the reform movement despite a suffocating array of repressive laws, regulations, decrees, and abusive practices. Political background checks, compulsory indoctrination in the state ideology, blacklists banning critical academics, writers, and dissidents from seminars and public fora, state permit requirements for research, and censorship of publications have been the norm for over thirty years.

"The students and teachers who spearheaded the mobilization for political reform," said Human Rights Watch academic freedom specialist Joseph Saunders, "made history by daring to act as if all the far-reaching controls on expression, association, and assembly did not exist." Although the momentum of the reform movement has rendered these controls largely unenforceable for the time being, they continue to threaten free inquiry and expression in Indonesia. Saunders added, "With the word `reform' now on everyone's lips, this is the time to eliminate the controls once and for all. The government's willingness to do so will be an important indicator of its commitment to respecting the full range of rights for all Indonesians."

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