Jakarta – The House of Representatives passed into law on Tuesday the national system of science and technology bill, which imposes criminal charges against foreign researchers found guilty of violating visa regulations.
The legislative body took the unanimous decision to pass the bill into law during a plenary meeting, despite mounting criticism from researchers who argue that the law may curtail academic freedom and hinder scientific development in the country.
Lawmaker and National Mandate Party (PAN) politician Andi Yuliani Paris said the law stipulated criminal sanctions because it included two types of research, namely high-risk and dangerous research.
"Researchers do not have to worry [as long as] they possess ethical clearance [from the Research, Technology and Higher Education Ministry]," Andi said.
According to the law, a copy of which was obtained by the Post, any foreigner who conducts research without a valid permit could face a fine of Rp 4 billion [US$287,418] and be banned from applying for a permit for five years.
If the researcher causes damage to invaluable objects or harms or causes the death of people involved in the research, they would be subject to criminal charges carrying a prison term of between two and seven years and a fine of between Rp 3 billion and Rp 7 billion.
The law also states that anyone conducting high-risk or dangerous research must obtain a permit from the government or else they could be subject to a one-year jail term and a fine of Rp 2 billion.
The law also imposes criminal charges on foreign researchers who steal biodiversity samples with a prison term of two years and a fine of Rp 2 billion.
The Indonesian Sciences Academy (AIPI) said the law could threaten academic freedom and called it counterproductive to encouraging research collaboration.
"The criminal sanctions and the complicated process for acquiring a research permit could restrain the research ecosystem in Indonesia. Meanwhile, Malaysia and Singapore are more open to foreign researchers and thus contribute significantly to the sciences," AIPI's secretary-general Chairil Abdini told The Jakarta Post through text message on Tuesday.
Academic freedom, he said, was necessary to advance the sciences, particularly in finding scientific evidence. "It [academic freedom] also includes the freedom to express the facts even though it [could be] unpleasant for political or social groups," Chairil said.
A 2016 regulation stipulates that foreign scientists must acquire a permit and limited stay visa to conduct research in the country.
Local scientists have often criticized the strict visa policy as well as the long bureaucratic procedures in obtaining research permits for foreigners. (awa/afr)