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Indonesia: Letter to Minister of Education and Culture

Dr. Juwono Sudarsono
Minister of Education and Culture
Republic of Indonesia

Dear Minister Sudarsono:
On behalf of the Human Rights Watch Academic Freedom Committee, we are writing this open letter to urge you to make protection of academic freedom your highest priority in your new position as Minister of Education. The success of the campus-based protest movement in forcing the resignation of President Soeharto and in opening the door to more comprehensive political reform provides an historic opportunity for Indonesia to build a more open and democratic society. We are encouraged by the government's recent embrace of reform initiatives. We believe, however, that on campus as well as elsewhere in society, the push for greater openness can achieve lasting results only if the rights to free expression, association and assembly, so forcefully claimed by students, faculty and alumni in recent months, are given full legal and institutional protection.

Students and faculty emerged at the forefront of the reform movement in large measure because they publicly spoke their minds, courageously and consistently ignoring a variety of repressive laws, regulations, decrees, and abusive practices that have long limited political and intellectual freedom on Indonesia's campuses. Although the momentum of the reform movement has rendered such constraints largely unenforceable for the time being, they continue to exist on paper and in principle, and thus continue to threaten the future autonomy of Indonesia's academic community.

We call on the government of Indonesia to dismantle immediately the mechanisms of centralized government and military control over academic life implemented during President Soeharto's thirty-two year New Order rule. The government should immediately take the following steps:

1. Repeal the set of ministerial decrees known collectively as "Normalization of Campus Life -- Coordinating Body for Student Affairs" (Normalisasi Kehidupan Kampus -- Badan Koordinasi Kemahasiswaan or NKK/BKK), decrees which formally prohibit students from engaging in political activity on campus and make university administrators answerable to military authorities and to the central government in Jakarta for violations of the restrictions. The government should also make a public commitment to respecting students' basic rights, including their right to hold peaceful public protest marches. A uniform prohibition on citizens' exercise of basic rights is impermissible no matter where the prohibition is applied. The government in the past justified the ban on student political activity by stating that campuses should be the site of study and research, not political activity, and by asserting that students may engage in political activity through established political parties based off-campus. The government's academic justification is pernicious. Experience has repeatedly demonstrated that academic freedom -- and the spirit of critical inquiry it embodies -- cannot flourish where members of the academic community must fear censorship and politically motivated reprisals for expression of their views. The public demand for political reform unleashed by the campus-based protest movement, moreover, demonstrates that the root of the political crisis in Indonesia was not independent political activity on campus, but the lack of space for such activity off-campus.

2. End all military intervention in campus affairs. This is a prerequisite to academic freedom which is fundamentally compromised when military officials are involved in supervising or consulting with university administrators on the activities of students and faculty. A. Legal and extra-legal military and intelligence agencies, including branches of the military's National Stability Coordinating Agency (Badan Koordinasi Bantuan Pemantapan Stabilitas Nasional or Bakorstanas), should be prohibited from engaging in on-campus intelligence gathering and harassment of students and faculty who make critical comments at seminars or in interviews with the press. B. Campus-based "student regiments" (resimen mahasiswa) should be used solely as a vehicle for recruitment and training of future military personnel, and no longer as an on-campus intelligence network by which military authorities monitor the activities of students. C. Regulations providing for coordination of efforts between university administrators in charge of student affairs (Pembantu Rektor III and Pembantu Dekan III) and military and intelligence officers, also set forth in the NKK/BKK decrees described above, should be immediately repealed. The duties and powers of the university administrators should be reformulated so as to give maximum scope to student autonomy in accordance with academic standards.

3. Repeal the so-called "special investigation" (Penelitian Khusus or Litsus) procedures which require that new teachers and entrants to a range of other "strategic professions" undergo mandatory ideological and political background checks. Individuals should no longer be banned from teaching or be subject to removal on account of their past or present political affiliations or those of their colleagues or family members. Academic merit henceforth should be the sole criterion for hiring and promotion decisions.

4. Abolish mandatory on-campus ideological indoctrination sessions known as "Guide to the Living and Experiencing of Pancasila" (Pedoman Penghayatan dan Pengamalan Pancasila or P4). If civic education is retained, academic values must at all times govern the selection of materials to be covered in the curriculum.

5. Abolish the practice by which government agencies such as the Ministry of Information and the Social and Political Affairs Directorate of the Ministry of Home Affairs maintain blacklists to prevent critical academics, writers and other disfavored individuals from attending campus seminars or stating their views in public media. Regulations requiring that seminar organizers give prior notice to the Ministry of Home Affairs and national police headquarters in Jakarta when foreign speakers are invited to campus should also be repealed.

6. Abolish research permit procedures which give government and military officials effective veto power over proposed academic field research and invite corruption. Academic merit should be the sole criteria by which proposed research is evaluated.

7. The government should cease all media and book censorship. The government censorship "clearinghouse" created in 1989 should be dismantled and the attorney general should be stripped of power to censor books and other printed materials. Although Indonesian law allows members of the academic community to apply for exemptions to use censored materials, in practice the government's censorship of memoirs, literary works and a wide range of foreign and domestic historical and social science texts has had a chilling effect on scholarly inquiry.

Thank you for your consideration of these important matters.

Sincerely yours,
Jonathan F. Fanton
Co-Chair, Human Rights Watch Academic Freedom Committee
President, New School for Social Research
Joseph H. Saunders
Human Rights Watch academic freedom program

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