New Indonesian president urged to keep human rights promises

Amnesty International asks Widodo to address 'dire' abuse record
New Indonesian president urged to keep human rights promises

President-elect Joko Widodo (left) won following an election campaign promising reforms including a focus on improved human rights (photo by Ryan Dagur)

Rights groups have urged Indonesia’s president-elect Joko Widodo to keep his campaign promise to address “dire” human rights abuses after his victory was confirmed on Tuesday.

Following a bitter campaign in which Widodo’s rhetoric on rights contrasted sharply with the record of former army general Prabowo Subianto, Amnesty International called for the former mayor of Jakarta to rethink Indonesia’s approach to rights and account for its troubled past.  

“Widodo’s victory will have raised the hopes of many brave human rights activists and victims who have struggled against impunity for years – those hopes must not be dashed,” said Richard Bennett, AI’s Asia-Pacific director.

Widodo focused on a strong Indonesia in his victory speech in Jakarta on Tuesday with no mention of the rights platform that helped win the presidency as opponent Prabowo said he would challenge the result in the Constitutional Court.

“This presidential election has given rise to new optimism for us, for this nation,” Widodo said in a midnight victory speech in Sunda Kelapa, Jakarta’s old port.

The near end of Prabowo’s challenge was a relief for rights groups who had campaigned against him prior to the July 9 polls following his controversial role in detaining dissidents alongside other abuses during the late 1990’s under the dictatorship of General Suharto.

Amnesty urged Widodo, a self-declared reformist, to instruct the judiciary to complete investigations into past crimes and release prisoners of conscience, particularly in restive West Papua and Maluku.

In April, AI launched a human rights agenda for Indonesia’s next president in which the London-based rights group also called for Susilo Yudhoyono’s successor to respect religious freedom and address rights abuses by police.

“As a very first step, we urge the new administration to undertake a thorough assessment of Indonesia’s human rights record over the past decade and formulate a clear action plan,” said Bennett. “Crucially, this must be done together with civil society and other key actors.”

Poengky Indarti, executive director of Jakarta-based rights group Imparsial, said Widodo’s urgent priority should be to unite the country after the closest and most divisive election of the post-Suharto era.

“After consolidation, he must build a good cabinet with officials who are clear of human rights abuses and corruptions and who highly uphold plurality,” she said.

The next step would be to choose an attorney-general and a minister of law and human rights “who have courage” to tackle a catalogue of past abuses, Indarti added.

Rights organizations have repeatedly complained that Yudyohono’s outgoing administration failed to overturn old, repressive laws while employing draconian legislation to repress independence groups in restive West Papua and Maluku.

In June, local authorities sealed off a mosque belonging to worshippers of the minority Muslim Ahmadiya sect in West Java after citing a joint ministerial decree for closing it.

Authorities continue to imprison Shia religious leader Tajul Muluk on a blasphemy conviction, one of numerous abuses against this Muslim minority, said Ahmad Hidayat, secretary-general of Indonesian Ahlul Bait, a Shia group.

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“We hope that all discriminative legal products, which are against the constitution, will be repealed,” he said.

In restive West Papua, Indonesia’s repressive Social Organizations Law, or Ormas, was used in the arrest of at least 24 pro-independence activists last month, according to the campaign group Papuans Behind Bars.

Responding to accusations of police repression across the country and in West Papua in particular, National Police spokesman Inspector-General Ronny Sompie told that arrests in the past were always conducted according to law and prevailing government policy.

“So it means that whatever the new government’s policy is, the police will pay attention to it,” he said.

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