(Jakarta) - In a major new report released today, Human Rights Watch warns that if the current political opening in Indonesia is not followed by legal and institutional protections for basic rights, the entire reform effort could unravel. The new report, "Academic Freedom in Indonesia: Dismantling Soeharto-Era Barriers," is a study of the legal and institutional mechanisms used by the Soeharto government to silence campus critics, arbitrarily limit public debate on pressing social issues, and stymie intellectual inquiry. According to the report, most of those controls are still in place. "If there is to be lasting reform in Indonesia, the government must confront Soeharto's authoritarian legacy head on, and this is the place to begin," said Human Rights Watch researcher Joseph Saunders.
Although the New Order government was not uniformly hostile to the academic community, it was always suspicious of students and academics. The social role of the university as a center of inquiry and debate made it an important target of military and government controls. Noting the eruption of long-suppressed voices since Soeharto's resignation, Mr. Saunders cautioned: "There was a similar opening during the last political transition in Indonesia in the late 1960s, but it didn't last because it wasn't followed by legal and institutional change. Our goal in releasing this report is to encourage the government to do things differently this time."
The militarization of Indonesian society under Soeharto had devastating consequences for free inquiry and expression. The report calls for an end to military intervention in campus affairs, including intelligence gathering on campus, the use of campus-based "Student Regiments" to monitor and intimidate other students, and indiscriminate and punitive attacks on student demonstrators. It urges continued investigation into the military's role in the abduction, torture, and possible murder of student activists earlier this year and calls on the government to punish to the full extent of the law military officers found responsible for the abductions. The report also calls for formal repeal of ministerial decrees known collectively as "Normalization of Campus Life -- Coordinating Body for Student Affairs" (Normalisasi Kehidupan Kampus -- Badan Koordinasi Kemahasiswaan or NKK/BKK) and all other decrees that prohibit students from expressing political views on campus, forbid autonomous student organizations, or make university administrators answerable to military authorities for enforcement of political controls. With the success of the student protest movement in 1998, these controls now have little practical effect, and Juwono Sudarsono, Indonesia's new minister of education, has indicated that they are under review. The report urges that they be abolished altogether.
A number of continuing ideological and institutional controls in Indonesia date back to the rise of Soeharto to power in 1965-66, when an estimated one-half million people were killed in anti-communist pogroms. The report urges repeal of so-called "Special Investigation" (Penelitian Khusus or Litsus) regulations which require that new teachers and entrants to a range of other strategic professions undergo mandatory ideological and political background checks to determine if they are "tainted" by political affiliations that they or members of their extended family had over thirty years ago. The report also calls for an end to controls that impede national reexamination of the events of the mid-1960s, including censorship of memoirs, literary works, and a wide range of foreign and domestic studies. A handful of previously banned books have been allowed to circulate by the Habibie government, but hundreds of other works are still banned and regulations giving the government broad powers to censor books and other printed materials remain in place.
Although the new government has released a number of political prisoners, existing laws and long-established institutional practices continue to give authorities the power to imprison or censor individuals who express dissenting views. The report calls for repeal of laws often used by Soeharto to silence dissidents, including student and faculty critics: Presidential Decree 11/1963 (subversion); Article 154 of the Criminal Code (spreading hatred toward the government); and Articles 134-137 (insulting the head of state). It also urges the Social and Political Affairs Directorate in the Ministry of Home Affairs to end the practice of blacklisting government critics from attending seminars and appearing in major media, and calls for abolition of research permit procedures that give government and military officials effective veto power over proposed academic field research.
The recommendations of Human Rights Watch reflect its analysis of seven continuing barriers to free inquiry and expression in Indonesia, set forth in separate chapters of the report. The report also includes a discussion of academic freedom as a global human rights concern, and a long background chapter that both outlines the history of campus controls under Soeharto and details the rise of the nationwide student protest movement that earlier this year successfully pressured Soeharto to resign. The historical survey shows the far-reaching impact that crackdowns on the academic community have had in limiting the free flow of information and ideas in Indonesia. As Mr. Saunders emphasized, however, "the Indonesian example also shows that the academic community's principled resistance to authoritarian controls can help open the door to democratic reform."