Jakarta – Speakers at an Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI) seminar on Monday warned that free speech may be in peril as the government pushed for more foreign and domestic investment in its pursuit of high growth – which Jokowi says is necessary to create jobs and increase incomes.
"Freedom of expression is essential, as it is key for us to achieve our other rights," said YLBHI chair Asfinawati at the seminar.
But the writing was already on the wall that civil liberties were under threat when two violent protests erupted just weeks before the end of Jokowi's first term.
Tens of thousands of people took to Jakarta's streets in September to protest the government and the House of Representatives' move to pass two controversial bills: One deemed to "muzzle" the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) and the other on a new criminal code that would curb many public freedoms.
That same month saw widespread protests in several cities in Papua and West Papua, prompted by the racial discrimination and treatment of more than 40 Papuan students in Surabaya, East Java. Some of the protests turned deadly, which led to renewed demands for a referendum on self-determination in two of Indonesia's easternmost provinces.
It is unclear whether the student-led protests in Jakarta were in vain: The revised KPK Law came into force in October, but the Criminal Code bill, which presents a danger to free speech, has been sent back to the drawing board for more revisions.
Now, another possible contentious issue is Jokowi's plan to introduce two omnibus laws, one on taxation and another on job creation, to ease investment. Labor unions and activists warn that these legislations could trample on freedoms, including labor rights and protection.
The YLBHI said that the right to free speech of more than 6,000 people had been violated under Jokowi's watch, including 51 people who were killed while trying to express their views. Most were Papuans killed during the anti-racism protests, but several others were killed during the Jakarta protests in September and still others during the protest against the general election results in May.
The foundation's records also showed that members of the National Police had committed more than two-thirds of the free speech violations.
"We also find cases of 'hunting down', in which people going home from the protests were arrested," said Asfinawati.
It also recorded 37 cases of criminalization involving issues such as agrarian disputes, land clearing by burning, opposing mining activities, labor relationships and the environment, and 169 violations of the right to a fair trial in 2019.
More than a quarter of the procedural fairness violations had been committed against the victims of a particular case or those who had reported the case.
"If you are a victim, don't get too confident just yet. This is a legal paradox that affects our civil liberties," cautioned Asfinawati.
Hariadi Kartodihardjo of IPB University observed that the government appeared to have covered up dozens of permit violations, tax evasion cases and sentence violations, which potentially violated the rights of its citizens.
Hariadi also suggested that the wealthy had metaphorically removed the bureaucracy through influencing the omnibus bill on job creation, whereas laws were intended to protect the public. The government often used "the national interest" in referring to infrastructure development and attracting investment, but cautioned that this could come at the cost of free speech.
"Indonesia should follow the Johannesburg Principles," Hariadi said.
The Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, adopted in 1995 in the South African city, has 25 principles that set the standard for limiting public expression and information only in the event of a legitimate threat to national security.
Asfinawati said that the public needed to be more active in voicing and reporting human rights violations to protect their freedoms.
"The simplest way to contribute is by using smartphones to record any incidences of violence by law enforcers. But more than that, people must be brave in reporting any [human rights] violations and deprivation of people's lives," she said. (mfp)