Indonesia: Crackdown on activists, expression and protests including in Papua as government seeks Human Rights Council membership
The state of civic space in Indonesia is rated as ’obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor. Ongoing concerns include the arrest, harassment and criminalisation of human rights defenders and journalists as well as physical and digital attacks, the use of the defamation laws to silence online dissent and excessive use of force by the police during protests, especially in the Papuan region.
In July 2023, the UN Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, Alice Wairimu Nderitu, expressed concerns regarding the human rights situation in the West Papua region in her opening remarks during the 22nd Meeting of the 53rd Regular Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. She highlighted the harassment, arbitrary arrest and detention of Papuans, which had led to the appropriation of customary land in West Papua. She encouraged the Indonesian Government to ensure humanitarian assistance and engage in “a genuine inclusive dialogue”.
In August 2023, human rights organisations called on Indonesia to make serious commitments as they sought membership in the Human Rights Council for the period 2024 to 2026. Among the calls were to ratify international human rights instruments, especially the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED), to provide details of steps it will take to implement all of the supported recommendations from the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and to fully cooperate with the Special Procedures of the Council. The groups also called on the government to ensure the respect, protection and promotion of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, for clear commitments to ensure a safe and enabling environment for all human rights defenders, to find a sustainable solution for the human rights crisis in Papua and to end impunity.
In recent months, protests by communities have been met with arbitrary arrests and excessive force from the police. The arbitrary arrests, harassment and criminalisation of Papuan activists continue, while an LGBT conference was cancelled due to harassment and threats. Human rights defenders continue to face defamation charges, there have been harassment and threats against journalists, while a TikToker was jailed for two years over a pork video.
Farmers detained for protest in Jambi
Pada Juli 2023, 28 warga Muaro Jambi ditahan karena memblokade jalan perusahaan sawit PT Fajar Pematang Indah Lestari (FPIL). Aksi tersebut sebagai bentuk protes untuk membebaskan lima warga lain yang ditangkap atas tuduhan pencurian kelapa sawit.— Ekspedisi Indonesia Baru (@idbaruid) October 4, 2023
Sementara mereka masih… pic.twitter.com/CLuHNPfrFv
Police arrested farmers from a village in Jambi province on 20th July 2023 who were protesting in front of a company demanding the release of five villagers who had been arrested.
According to the Indonesian Farmers Union (SPI) and the Commission for the Disappearances and Victims of Violence (KontraS), at least 27 individuals from Teluk Raya Village were detained when at least 700 police personnel dispersed a peaceful protest and blockade that had been occurring for 17 days in front of PT. Fajar Pematang Indah Lestari, a palm oil company.
The peaceful protest was conducted because five farmers had been criminalised for allegedly stealing palm fruits from the company. There has also been an ongoing land dispute between villagers and the company that has lasted 25 years. At least 27 farmers individuals were arrested, two of them children, and detained at the Jambi Regional Police station. All were subsequently released.
Arbitrary detention of peaceful protesters in Padang
VIDEO: Demo Tolak PSN oleh Warga Air Bangis, Belasan Massa Ditangkaphttps://t.co/sRJ5a80CsV— CNN Indonesia (@CNNIndonesia) August 5, 2023
A peaceful protest was forcibly dispersed in West Pasaman regency of West Sumatra province and protesters arrested.
According to the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), on 31st July 2023 around 1,500 people from Air Bangis village held a peaceful demonstration at the office of the Governor of West Sumatra province. The protesters were concerned about plans to build an oil refinery in Air Bangis and over a recent spate of land conflicts between palm oil farmers and the local administration. The protesters demanded to meet the Governor of West Sumatra and continued protesting until 4th August.
On 4th August 2023, as a handful of demonstrators were meeting with the West Sumatra governor and representatives of key branches of local government at the governor’s office in Padang, police decided to forcibly disperse the protest. As the protesters were praying in the mosque, police ordered them to get onto buses that had been brought in to move them. When they refused, some protesters were arbitrarily arrested and there were also allegations of ill-treatment by the police.
According to the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI) at least 14 protesters were unlawfully arrested by the police. This includes four protesters, seven legal aid workers from the Legal Aid (LBH) Padang office and the Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association (PBHI) and three student activists.
The Alliance of Independent Journalists’ (AJI) West Sumatra office, meanwhile, reported that at least four journalists were harassed and intimidated during the incident.
YLBHI said: “The police’s actions were clearly an abuse of power and a violation of human rights, since they deny the right to freedom of expression, despite it being mandated by our Constitution.”
Excessive force around protests as thousands face eviction in Rempang
Police used excessive force and arrested dozens of demonstrators in September 2023 protesting against government plans to evict thousands of people in the Riau Islands Province to make way for a multibillion-dollar Chinese-owned glass factory and ‘Eco-City’.
The government announced that Rempang’s 7,500 residents would have to move inland, some 60km away from their coastal homes. Many make a living from the sea, selling locally caught fish, crabs, shrimp and other seafood.
On 23rd August 2023, thousands of residents, together with the alliance of Malay Youth throughout the province, held a demonstration at the Batam Business Agency (BP) office.
Protests escalated when residents were told they had until the end of September to leave. On 7th September 2023, police officers moved into an area of Rempang Island to take land measurements but were pushed back by the community. Police fired tear gas and at least 20 people were arrested with 8 protesters criminalised. On 11th September 2023, at least 43 people were arrested by the Barelang Police after they fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse the protesters.
Ongoing targeting of Papuan activists
Arbitrary arrests, harassment and criminalisation of Papuan activists continue to be documented.
According to the Human Rights Monitor, on 5th July 2023, four armed plainclothes police officers arrested Viktor Makamuke, a 52-year-old activist of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), a pro-independence movement. He was subsequently detained at the Sorong Selatan District Police Station where officers allegedly coerced and threatened Makamuke to pledge allegiance to the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia (NKRI).
A week earlier, Makamuke and his friend had reportedly posted a photo in support of ULMWP Full Member in the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) - an intergovernmental organisation composed of the four Melanesian states. Shortly after the arrest, the police published a statement claiming that Makamuke was the Commander of the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) – an armed group - in the Bomberai Region.
Yahukimo, 06 Juli 2023— Hsgm Panus (@HPanus27) July 6, 2023
Aparat kepolisian di Yahukimo Papua, menangkap 6 aktivis KNPB yang sedang membersikan jalan. pic.twitter.com/lQ73wSDz5B
The Human Rights Monitor reported that members of the Yahukimo District police arbitrarily arrested six activists belonging to the West Papua National Committee (KNPB) in the town of Dekai, Yahukimo Regency, on 6th July 2023. KNPB is a movement promoting the right to self-determination through peaceful action and is one of the most frequently targeted groups in West Papua.
The activists organised and carried out a collective cleaning activity in Dekai. The police repeatedly approached them claiming that the activists needed official permission for their activity. Subsequently, police officers arrested the six KNPB activists without a warrant or justifying the arrest. All activists were released after being interrogated for an hour.
Tiga mahasiswa divonis bersalah atas kasus makar pada 8 Agustus 2023. Ambros Fransiskus Elopere, Devio Tekege, dan Yoseph Ernesto Matuan ditangkap setelah menggelar mimbar bebas. Mereka harus dibebaskan tanpa syarat! https://t.co/aSkOzZebG4— Amnesty International Indonesia (@amnestyindo) August 10, 2023
On 8th August 2023, three students were found guilty of treason and subsequently given a 10-month prison sentence by the Jayapura District Court. Yoseph Ernesto Matuan, Devio Tekege and Ambrosius Fransiskus Elopere were charged with treason due to their involvement in an event held at the Jayapura University of Science and Technology (USTJ) in November 2022, where they waved the Morning Star flag, a banned symbol of Papuan independence. Their action was in protest against a planned peace dialogue proposed by the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM).
According to Amnesty International Indonesia, between 2019 and 2022 there have been at least 61 cases involving 111 individuals in Papua who were charged with treason.
At least 37 supporters of the West Papua National Committee (KNPB) were arrested in relation to peaceful demonstrations to commemorate the 1962 New York Agreement in the towns Sentani, Jayapura Regency and Dekai, Yahukimo Regency, on 14th and 15th August 2023. There were also allegations of ill-treatment by the police.
On 2nd September 2023, police officers detained Agus Kossay, Chairman of the West Papua National Coalition (KNPB); Benny Murip, KNPB Secretary in Jayapura; Ruben Wakla, member of the KNPB in the Yahukimo Regency; and Ferry Yelipele. The four activists were subsequently detained and interrogated at the Jayapura District Police Station in Doyo Baru. Wakla and Yelipele were released on 3rd September 2023 without charge. Police officers reportedly charged Kossay and Murip under Article 160 and Article 170 of the Indonesian Criminal Code (KUHP) for ‘incitement’.
LGBT conference cancelled due to harassment and threats
In July 2023, civil society groups canceled a regional gathering of LGBT activists in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, in response to harassment and death threats from Muslim conservatives.
The ASEAN SOGIE Caucus, a regional organisation based in the Philippines, had planned to hold their annual ASEAN Queer Advocacy Week in Jakarta in coordination with Arus Pelangi, an Indonesian group, and the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, based in Thailand.
According to Human Rights Watch, religious conservatives and anti-LGBT groups in Indonesia publicly called for the government to prevent the conference from taking place, demonised LGBT people in the press and on social media, and targeted organisers and participants with harassment, doxxing and death threats.
The cancellation comes after years of rising anti-LGBT harassment in Indonesia, much of it fuelled or perpetrated by the government. This includes the revised Criminal Code, adopted in late 2022, which effectively criminalises all same-sex activity, among other provisions that are deeply damaging to human rights.
Ongoing trial of human rights defenders for defamation
[Update on Fatia and Haris Hearing] #HRD— KontraS (@KontraSupdates) August 7, 2023
Both prominent HRDs from Indonesia, Fatia-Haris, have underwent 14 hearings with the occurring Witness Expert Examination Agenda. Today, the defense expert, Heri Wiranto, is present to give his views on the role of the Indonesian Army. pic.twitter.com/f9Ijmjwil4
The trial of human rights defenders Haris Azhar and Fatia Maulidiyanti that began in April 2023 for criminal defamation for discussing a human rights report on Papua online, has been ongoing.
In July 2023, expert witnesses called by the prosecutor were brought to testify in the East Jakarta District Court, while in August 2023 both the defendants Azhar and Maulidiyanti were questioned. In September 2023, the defence brought in their experts who were part of the research team for the report.
The two human rights defenders are also challenging the defamation provisions in the Criminal Code and the Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) law in the Constitutional Court.
As previously documented, the case stemmed from a YouTube talk show in August 2021 during which they discussed the findings of an investigative report conducted by several NGOs revealing the alleged connection of the Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and several other authorities with gold mining activities in the Blok Wabu area in the Intan Jaya district of Papua.
Prosecutors charged the two with defamation under Article 310(1) of the Criminal Code, criminal defamation under article 27(3) of the ITE Law, and spreading false statements which “may cause chaos within society” under article 14(2) of the 1946 False News Law (Law 1/1946), which carry maximum prison terms of 9 months, 4 years, and 10 years respectively.
Azhar served as the coordinator of Indonesia’s Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS) between 2010 and 2016. Azhar is also a founder of the Jakarta-based Lokataru human rights group and operates his own YouTube channel on which he has a regular talk show for his 220,000 subscribers. Maulidiyanti was the coordinator of KontraS between 2020 and 2023.
Harassment and threats against journalists
There have been reports of harassment and threats against journalists for their work.
Police officers reportedly intimidated journalist Abdel Gamel Naser while reporting on the destruction of mangrove forests in the Youtefa Bay Nature Park conservation area in Jayapura, Papua Province on 11th July 2023. Naser works for the Papuan media newspaper Cenderawasih Post. Two officers reportedly approached Naser and asked him why he was taking photos of the location. They forced him to delete three photos despite identifying himself as a journalist.
Aleks Waine, a Papuan journalist who is also the coordinator of the Dogiyai Journalists Association (AWD), was covering the working visit of the Coordinating Minister for Human Development and Culture in Dogiyai district, Central Papua Province, on 20th July 2023 when he was blocked by members of the Dogiyai Regional Police. Aleks Waine reported that he was prohibited from entering the yard of the official house of the Dogiyai regent, where the Coordinating Minister Muhadjir Effendy was attending meetings. This was despite identifying himself as a journalist. He was later asked if he had an invitation to cover the visit. Waine replied that he had not because there were no invitations distributed to the press.
A number of journalists received threats while covering the investigation of the Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Airlangga Hartarto, at the Attorney General's Office on 24th July 2023. He was being questioned around a corruption case linked to a domestic cooking oil shortage in 2022. After undergoing an examination for about 12 hours, the media crew tried to approach Airlangga to ask a number of questions. However, the journalists received threats from individuals suspected of being Airlangga's bodyguards. There were threats to shoot the journalists who were crowding around Airlangga to try to ask questions.
Diyon Saputra, wartawan Lampung TV yang diintimidasi dua orang pengawal Bupati Lampung Selatan Nanang Hermanto, melapor ke polisi.— detikcom (@detikcom) July 28, 2023
via: detik balihttps://t.co/4cYhjLRpNy
On 27th July 2023, Lampung TV journalist Diyon Saputra was intimidated by the aides of South Lampung District head Nanang Ermanto while he was covering an embezzlement case in the Tanjung Karang District Court. The district head was present as a witness in the case. When Saputra started recording him, two men - believed to be aides to the district head - grabbed Diyon's hands. One of them even had his hands around Diyon's neck before the judge intervened. The two men approached him again after the hearing and asked him to delete the video he had recorded.
In September 2023, a Voice of America reporter travelling with the US vice president was temporarily barred from covering the ASEAN summit meetings after shouting questions. Reporter Patsy Widakuswara shouted questions to Indonesian President Joko Widodo and US Vice President Kamala Harris as the press was being ushered out of their bilateral meeting. Neither leader answered, but an Indonesian official pointed at her and angrily told security to get her name. She was immediately surrounded by Indonesian security who told her to get out because she had shouted. They said Widakuswara was banned from entering any other events. They also placed their hands on her and one female officer leaned her body against her. Widakuswara was allowed back in after U.S. officials intervened.
Political observer faces investigation for insulting the President
Political observer Rocky Gerung is being investigated for allegedly insulting President Joko Widodo.
In a YouTube video that was originally posted in July 2023 but has since been taken down, Rocky seemingly called President Jokowi a “bajingan tolol” (stupid bastard) when describing his insistence in seeing through his ambitious new capital city project despite its economic challenges. Rocky’s statement caused a public uproar, with many government officials and Jokowi supporters having lambasted the academic for being out of line with his criticism.
Gerung allegedly violated Article 28 paragraph 2 of the Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) law and/or Article 156 of the Criminal Code (insulting or creating hostility) and/or Article 160 (incitement) of the Criminal Code and/or Article 14 paragraph 1 and paragraph 2 and/or Article 15 Law Number 1 of 1946 (broadcasting hoaxes).
TikToker jailed for two years over pork video
In September 2023, an Indonesian court sentenced a woman to two years in jail for posting a viral TikTok video where she uttered an Islamic phrase before eating pork. Lina Lutfiawati, 33, was found guilty of "inciting hatred" against religious individuals and groups under Article 156a of the Criminal Code. She also faces a 250 million rupiah (USD 16,249) fine. Her jail term may be extended by three months if she does not pay up.
Lina Lutfiawati, who adopted the Indian name Lina Mukherjee due to her love of Bollywood movies, identifies as Muslim. The consumption of pork is strictly forbidden in Islam. The lifestyle influencer, who has more than two million TikTok followers, also runs a business in India.
In March 2023 she posted a video where she uttered "Bismillah" - an Arabic phrase that means "in the name of God" - before eating crispy pork skin. At the time, she was travelling in Bali, a tourist hotspot in Indonesia that, unlike the rest of the country, has a majority Hindu population.
The video got millions of views and was widely criticised, prompting another Indonesian to report her to the police for "knowingly eating pork skin as a Muslim". Police charged Ms Lutfiawati in May for disseminating hateful information, saying it was an act of hostility over ethnicity, religion and race.
Articles 156 and 156(a) of the Criminal Code have been used to prosecute and imprison people for “defamation” of religion for as long as five years simply because they have peacefully exercised their right to freedom of expression or to freedom of thought, conscience or religion. Such laws are fundamentally incompatible with Indonesia’s obligations under international human rights law, and violate legally binding provisions on freedom of expression, conscience and religion, equality before the law and freedom from discrimination.