Activists, lawmakers decry Indonesia’s democracy decline

Indonesia has been slipping on civil liberties and human rights despite 25 years of return to democracy and reform era

UCA News reporter

Updated: May 30, 2023 10:49 AM GMT

Doni Parera, a Catholic activist in Flores Island, is being picked up after he refused to cancel a rally during the ASEAN Summit on May 9-11. He faced a charge for sedition. (Photo supplied)

Human rights groups and a church leader have lamented the gradual decline in freedoms and civil liberties in Indonesia as the Southeast Asian nation gears up to mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of military dictator Suharto and the return to democracy.

In a statement on May 30, members of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) expressed concerns, especially with the increased monitoring of social media content, as well as digital attacks against human rights defenders and media organizations.

Indonesia has taken great strides in democratic reform following the fall of the authoritarian New Order regime 25 years ago, but we are concerned that if current trends of restrictions on freedom of speech and expression online continue unchecked, this important progress will be lost, said Yuneswaran Ramaraj, APHR member and Malaysian lawmaker.

The statement came as APHR concluded a fact-finding mission on internet freedom in Jakarta where its members met with civil society organizations, journalists, technology companies, government, and Indonesian lawmakers.

One of the major findings of the mission, it said, is how the Electronic Information and Transaction (ITE) Law has been exploited by those in positions of power to criminalize and silence peaceful expressions of dissent.

They cited the ongoing prosecution of human rights defenders Haris Azhar and Fatia Maulidiyanti. They were charged under the law by Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Binsar Panjaitan merely for discussing allegations of the minister's involvement in mining activities in Papua in a YouTube video.

The ambiguous provisions in the ITE Law are clearly being misused and pose a great threat to meaningful discussion of political opinions online, which is particularly concerning with elections on the horizon, said Elvina Sousa Carvalho, an APHR member from East Timor.

In a recent report, Amnesty International also raised the same concerns, saying that Indonesia's state of democracy is contrary to the ideals of the reform era.

It noted that this year 127 journalists, students, indigenous peoples, rights activists, and critical activists experienced attacks, ranging from criminalization by the police, arrests to attempted murder, intimidation, and physical attacks.

Amnesty report cited the sedition charge against four Catholics earlier this month after they planned to hold a protest at the ASEAN Summit in Labuan Bajo, Flores.

They came under state ire for demanding compensation for the victims who were evicted from their land and houses for the construction of a road to one of the summit venues.

Another case was the riots and injury of dozens of students in Bali on April 1. The clashes occurred after an ultranationalist group, Patriot Garuda Nusantara, attempted to stop a rally by Papuan students against deteriorating democracy and human rights violations in the Christian-majority Papua region.

Amnesty stated that 834 people became victims of physical and digital attacks in 2022 compared to 328 victims in 2019.

The Economist Intelligence Unit, Indonesia ranked Indonesia as a flawed democracy for scoring 6.71 on the 2022 Democracy Index.

Its research showed Indonesia fared poorly in democratic political culture and civil liberties indicators. The score dropped to 4.38 and 6.18 in 2022 from 5.63 and 7.06 respectively in 2010.

The reformation era brought new hope for openness, freedom and justice. However, this hope will be extinguished if the state apparatus continues to repress protests and criticism of the government by using the arguments of development, security and political order for the sake of investment, said Usman Hamid, executive director of Amnesty International Indonesia.

Augustinian Father Bernard Baru, a human rights activist based in Papua said that there have not been any achievements to be proud of if you look at the situation at the easternmost region.

Apart from restraining civil liberties, patterns of militaristic approaches to civilians have not changed so far, while cases of violence to extrajudicial killings have not been resolved, he said.

In 2022, there were 14 unlawful killings in Papua including five by police and the military, but not a single case progressed to a court, the priest said.

Not to mention if we refer to the arrest and deterrence of demonstrations. So, if asked, have the goals of reform been achieved? It seems a long way from that, he added.

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