(Washington, DC) – US President Barack Obama has an important and timely opportunity to raise human rights issues with the Indonesian government when meeting President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono this week in Indonesia, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Obama. He will travel to Bali for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit on November 19, 2011.
Obama should address key human rights challenges in Indonesia, including attacks on religious minorities, restrictions on freedom of expression, and the lack of accountability of Indonesian security forces for human rights abuses, especially in the easternmost province of Papua, Human Rights Watch said.
“The Obama administration’s deepening relationship with Indonesia means being frank about Indonesia’s serious human rights challenges,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Indonesian government indifference to mob violence against religious groups and brutality by soldiers against peaceful protesters are good places to start.”
On his last visit to Indonesia in November 2010, Obama made a point of praising Indonesia’s religious tolerance. However, in the last year, religious violence has become more frequent and deadly as Islamist militants have repeatedly mobilized mobs to attack religious minorities in their homes, places of worship, and community centers.
“Obama needs to temper his past praise of religious tolerance in Indonesia with some tough talk on religious freedom,” Pearson said. “He should press President Yudhoyono to end discriminatory laws and actively protect the country’s religious minorities.”
Human Rights Watch urged Obama to criticize the lack of accountability of security forces for continuing abuses, including extrajudicial killings and torture, in Papua and other areas. He should also raise concerns about Indonesian officials using vague and overbroad laws to prosecute the peaceful expression of political, religious, and other viewsin Papua and the Moluccas Islands. More than 100 activists are behind bars in Indonesia for peaceful acts of free expression. They include the former Papuan civil servant Filep Karma, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison after publicly calling for Papuan independence in December 2004.
“Obama should point out that as long as soldiers who commit torture get a few months in jail while peaceful activists get sentenced for years, Papuans are unlikely to have faith in Indonesian rule,” Pearson said. “He should urge Yudhoyono that to begin to win Papuans’ trust he should unconditionally release all political prisoners.”