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Indonesia: Four years of falling short on human rights commitments

Publisher Article 19
Publication Date 22 May 2012
Cite as Article 19, Indonesia: Four years of falling short on human rights commitments, 22 May 2012, available at: [accessed 23 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

 Indonesia's human rights record will be reviewed for the second time on Wednesday 23 May 2012 before the UN Human Rights Council. ARTICLE 19 has called for the UN member states to raise concerns to Indonesia regarding its State Intelligence Law, violations of the Ahmadiyah's right to freedom of religion, in addition to the violence and free speech restrictions within West Papua.

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group reviews the human rights records of UN member states once every four years. Indonesia was first reviewed by the UPR on 9 April 2008. This week, Indonesia will be one of the first countries to undergo its second cycle of UPR reviews.

While recognising progresses as highlighted by a vibrant media sector and the recent reversal of a book banning law, ARTICLE 19 believes that the Indonesian government has fallen short of meeting its obligations and fulfilling the agreed recommendations as set out during its first UPR cycle. ARTICLE 19 calls on Member states at the UPR to place pressure upon Indonesia to carry on with the necessary legal reforms, and put an end to the discrimination and censorship against the legitimate expression of the Ahmadiyah and West Papuans.

ARTICLE 19 main concerns include:

  1. The State Intelligence Law and its potential to violate freedom of expression,
  2. Discrimination against minority religious groups, particularly the Ahmadiyah,
  3. Restricted access to West Papua and prevention of pro-independence activities,

The State Intelligence Law (SIL)

The SIL greatly broadens the power of the State Intelligence Agency, Badan Intelijen Negara (BIN). The law's vague terminology equips BIN with the ability to use legal mechanisms to suppress critical voices and political opponents. The vague phrasing of crimes, which includes a negligence clause, makes human rights defenders particularly vulnerable to criminal prosecution and can lead to a culture of self-censorship. Furthermore, vague terms in the SIL have potential to conflict with the terms as used under other laws, such as the Law on Public Disclosure, the difference of which is critical for the functioning of media and civil society. The SIL also provides BIN with broad and unchecked power, and gives them authority over foreigners and foreign institutions as well.

On 1 May 2012, ARTICLE 19 submitted an amicus brief for the judicial review of the SIL to the Constitutional Court of Indonesia, highlighting that the law contains a number of provisions that are in contravention of international human rights law on freedom of expression and access to information.

Discrimination against the expression of minority religious groups, particularly the Ahmadiyah

Although the Indonesian Constitution protects religious freedom, ARTICLE 19 believes that the Indonesian government's laws, policies and practices discriminate against the legitimate expression of religious minorities, particularly members of the Ahmadiyah.

The 1965 Defamation of Religions Law imposes criminal penalties of up to five years imprisonment on individuals or groups that "deviate" from the basic teachings of the official religions. Furthermore, The Joint Decree of the Minister of Religious Affairs, the Attorney General and the Minister of Interior from June 9 2008, forbids the Ahmadiyah from "conveying, endorsing or attempting to gain public support". This denies them the right to freely express their religious beliefs and further erodes religious tolerance in Indonesia.

On 6 February 2011, approximately 1,500 Islamist militants descended upon Umbulan Village, Cikeusik Sub-District in what was a pre-mediated plan to "sweep? the Ahmadiyah. The police had arrived earlier amid the threats to provide security, but their small presence proved to be grossly insignificant to prevent the attack. Using extreme brutality, the militants killed three Ahmadiyah members and seriously injured five.

Restricted access to West Papua and prevention of pro-independence activities

The Indonesian government continues to have deep mistrust of West Papuan activities, with peaceful political expressions often stigmatized as being 'separatist', which is the most common justification for indiscriminate operations against 'suspected militants'.  Foreign journalists, human rights researchers and human rights organisations are not granted access to West Papua or are very restricted in their movements. Furthermore, a number of individuals have been faced with criminal prosecutions for displaying regional symbols. For example, the Morning Star has long been the regional symbol associated with the Free Papua Organisation (OPM) and remains banned, and those displaying it have been met with aggression and imprisonment. However, the raising of a flag or displaying of symbols is a non-violent act protected under the right to freedom of expression.

Although it is acknowledged that members of the OPM often use aggressive tactics to assert their views, it is the obligation of the Indonesian government to respond proportionally to all cases of pro-independence activities, and to ensure that West Papuans can fully exercise their right to freedom of expression.

In response to these concerns, ARTICLE 19 calls on the UN Human Rights Council to take forward clear and strong recommendations to the Indonesian government, namely:

  • Repeal the State Intelligence Law, or amend it immediately to meet international human rights standards. Vague terminology in the law should be clearly defined;
    • To respect and protect religious freedom, including the legitimate expression of minority religious faith;
    • Repeal the 1965 Defamation of Religions Law and the 2008 Joint Ministerial Decree prohibiting the Ahmadiyah. The government must take all necessary measures to ensure that minority groups can safely express their views or religions, including by preventing violence against them, protecting them against acts of violence and investigating all acts of violence against them;
    • To allow foreign journalists, human rights researchers and human rights organisations access to West Papua;
    • To respect the right of West Papuan activists to peacefully express their political legitimate views, including with regard to self-determination.

      Copyright notice: Copyright ARTICLE 19

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