Harrison Ford received garlands from a trained elephant in a WWF training camp inside the Tesso Nilo national park in Riau, Sumatra Island, on September 8, 2013.

© 2013 Zamzami

The Indonesian government announced a new threat to the state: the Hollywood actor Harrison Ford, famous for swashbuckling roles in “Indiana Jones” and “Star Wars.”

Ford, an avid environmentalist, traveled to Indonesia to film part of a television series on climate change for the US network Showtime.Indonesia’s Minister of Forestry Zulkifli Hasan raised the alarm by asserting that Ford had been “very emotional” while interviewing Hasan about deforestation in Sumatra. An advisor for Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Andi Arief, later upped the ante by accusing Ford of “harassing state institutions” and threatened to deport the actor and his crew.

Yudhoyono and Hasan certainly have questions to answer about illegal logging in Indonesia. A Human Rights Watch report released in July revealed that illegal logging and forest-sector mismanagement cost the government more than US$2 billion in revenue in 2011 alone – more than the country’s entire health budget for that year. But the government’s hostility to Ford – and suggestions that he’d committed an offense that merited deportation – isn’t just a public relations debacle. They reflect a pattern in the government’s response to silencing critics and clamping down on information while ignoring the crisis in Indonesia’s forestry sector. 

Rather than picking an embarrassing public dispute with an international celebrity, Yudhoyono’s government should reform its shambolic forest stewardship practices and end restrictions on the rights to free expression and information. Although the government touts its forestry practices as a model of sustainable “green growth,” much of Indonesia’s logging remains off the books and its revenues never reach government coffers. That reflects a failure to enforce existing laws and regulations which in turn, spawn widespread land conflicts that often turn violent. These problems of a corrupt, opaque forestry sector pose a far greater threat to Indonesia than any aging Indiana Jones.