On October 24, 2002, Nanang and Muzakkir, two young political activists, were found guilty by a Jakarta court and sentenced to one year in prison. Their case gained widespread domestic media coverage and prompted much editorial debate about the validity of the prosecution. Unlike the protagonists of many other high profile news stories in contemporary Indonesia, Nanang and Muzakkir were neither suspected terrorists nor disgraced military figures. Rather, they were ordinary Indonesians, frustrated by Indonesia's political system, eager for reform. They became politically engaged and attended a non-violent, anti-government protest a few months earlier. Their crime? They expressed their dissatisfaction with the Indonesian government by stamping on pictures of President Megawati Sukarnoputri and Vice-President Hamzah Haz.
Moves by the police and Indonesian leadership to silence them sparked a media debate, in what many believed to be an unprecedented post-Soeharto era shift in policy. However, a Human Rights Watch investigation has uncovered many other similar cases--both before and after the arrest of Nanang and Muzakkir--which call into question the commitment of the Indonesian government to respect the rights to freedom of expression and assembly and to implement genuine political reform. Under the veneer of democratization and away from the spotlight on the war on terror and military action in Aceh, a quietly growing trend is emerging of regressive policies aimed at curtailing political dissent in Indonesia.
Since the arrest of Nanang and Muzakkir more activists have been arrested and charged for the non-violent expression of dissent, aimed at President Megawati and her administration. In the process, draconian colonial-era laws--which most Indonesians assumed had been relegated to the dustbin of history--in the Indonesian Criminal Code have been dredged up to facilitate politically motivated prosecutions, and once again are being used as a political tool to silence dissent.
These arrests, trials, and convictions raise questions about the commitment of the Megawati government to political reform and political pluralism, in what is supposed to be a post-Soeharto era. With parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for mid-2004 (the presidential election will be the first in Indonesia in which the president will be directly elected by the Indonesian people), this trend is particularly worrisome.
In this report Human Rights Watch looks specifically at non-violent activists who have been arrested, detained, and convicted under two groups of articles in the Indonesian Criminal Code (KUHP) that criminalize "insulting" the executive and "sowing hate" against the government. Human Rights Watch remains deeply concerned that President Megawati is dismantling the fundamental rights to freedom of expression and assembly to spare herself and her government from public criticism. Instead of working to eliminate the discredited policies of Soeharto's New Order, Megawati's legacy may be their resurrection. Human Rights Watch calls on the Indonesian government and parliament to repeal the laws on insulting the president and vice president and the "hate-sowing" legislation. Until then, the Indonesian government must make a public commitment not to undertake any further prosecutions using these laws, drop any pending charges under these provisions, and release all persons detained or imprisoned for violation of these laws.