(New York)

Mr. Marzuki Darusman, S.H.
Attorney General
Republic of Indonesia

Dear Attorney General Marzuki,

We write this open letter on behalf of the Academic Freedom Committee of Human Rights Watch to express our sorrow and grave concern over the murder of Prof. Safwan Idris, rector of Ar Raniry State Institute of Islamic Studies (IAIN) in Banda Aceh. We urge an immediate, thorough, and transparent investigation of the crime, and prosecution of those responsible.

Prof. Idris was a dedicated scholar and administrator who worked to make IAIN an open and independent center not only for scholarship but also for fostering peaceful solutions to the conflict in Aceh. He was also an engaged citizen, serving on the Independent Investigation Commission set up by the government of President Habibie to investigate past military atrocities and other gross human rights violations in Aceh. At the time he was murdered, he was a strong candidate for Aceh's governship.

Under Prof. Idris, IAIN was a center of discourse and civil activity for a number of nongovernmental groups, including the Aceh Referendum Information Center (SIRA), a student organization that supports a referendum on Aceh's political future. His death is likely to discourage Aceh's students from peaceful participation in the political process and to weaken calls for a nonviolent resolution of Aceh's problems.

Prof. Idris' assassination at his own home is all the more disturbing because it is part of an ongoing pattern of attacks on Acehnese civil society leaders, including the recent abduction and brutal murder in Medan of Jafar Siddiq Hamzah, a leading Acehnese human rights advocate. In January, Nasharuddin Daud, a member of Indonesia's national parliament, was killed under similar circumstances. While it remains unclear who was responsible for these murders and the string of abductions and assassinations in Aceh over the past two years, we are especially alarmed by unconfirmed reports that Prof. Idris' assailants have links to Mobile Brigade (Brimob) police forces based in Banda Aceh.

While preparing this letter, we were further disturbed to learn of the illegal detention and torture on September 19 of two student members of SIRA. The students, Muzakir and Mohamed Saleh, reportedly were seized by plainclothes police officers and and held for fifteen hours. We understand that they were beaten so severely while in custody that they required treatment at Zainal Abidin hospital upon their release.

We urge you to take concrete action to end such attacks on academics, students, and other civil society leaders in Aceh. There can be no lasting solution to the conflict in Aceh if individuals are not able to engage in an open exchange of ideas about their own society without fear of violent reprisals. An important first step would be an immediate, thorough, and objective inquiry into the murder of Prof. Idris and the earliest possible prosecution of the perpetrators.

Thank you for your consideration of this urgent and important matter. We look forward to your reply.


Dr. Yolanda Moses,
Co-Chair, Academic Freedom Committee
President, American Association for Higher Education


President Abdurrahman Wahid

Col. Sumantyawan Hadidojo Soedardjo
Chief of Police Aceh

Dr. Alwi Abdurrahman Shihab
Minister of Foreign Affairs