Capital: Jakarta
Population: 239,900,000

Political Rights Score: 2
Civil Liberties Score: 3
Status: Free


Violence against members of the religious group Ahmadiyya increased in 2008, and the government froze the group's activities, leaving it with an ambiguous legal status. Also during the year, the parliament passed controversial election and antipornography bills, and progress in the case of murdered human rights activist Munir Said Thalib included two significant indictments and the trial of a former intelligence chief. Successful high-level corruption prosecutions were tempered by uncertainty over the future legal standing of the Corruption Court. Separately, the government reduced costly fuel subsidies, despite the expected importance of social and economic conditions in the 2009 elections.

Indonesia won independence from its Dutch colonial rulers in 1949. After several parliamentary governments collapsed, the republic's first president, Sukarno, assumed authoritarian powers in 1957 and established a system he called "Guided Democracy." The army, led by General Suharto, crushed an apparent Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) coup attempt in 1965. Mass acts of violence that followed, ostensibly against suspected PKI members, resulted in an estimated 500,000 deaths. With military backing, Suharto formally became president in 1968.

Suharto's "New Order" regime created Golkar, a progovernment party based on bureaucratic and military interests. The government also embarked on a development program that helped the economy grow by an annual average of 7 percent for three decades. By the 1990s, Suharto's children and cronies were the major beneficiaries of state privatization schemes and in many cases ran business monopolies with little oversight. After the onset of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the country's economy shrank by 13.8 percent. Soaring inflation and unemployment prompted urban riots in 1998, and Suharto was forced to resign. He was succeeded by then vice president B.J. Habibie, who removed legal constraints on the press, labor unions, and political parties in response to the reformasi (reform) movement.

In 1999, Indonesia held its first free legislative elections since 1955, and Golkar saw a significant drop in its support. The Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P), led by Sukarno's daughter, Megawati Sukarnoputri, won the largest number of seats, followed by Golkar. The People's Consultative Assembly, made up of elected lawmakers and appointed officials, chose Muslim leader Abdurrahman Wahid as president and Megawati as vice president. Wahid was impeached in 2001 as a result of corruption allegations, and Megawati became president. Her administration was credited with stabilizing the post-1997 economy but also with a rise in corruption, due in part to a hasty decentralization process. Internal security threats rose, culminating in terrorist bombings that killed 202 people on the resort island of Bali in 2002.

Support for Megawati's PDI-P dropped in the 2004 elections, and Golkar once again became the largest party in the parliament. Substantial gains for the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), an Islamic group, largely reflected support for its anticorruption platform; the party won 45 seats in 2004, up from 7 seats in 1999. The new Democratic Party (PD) became the electoral vehicle for Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), formerly Megawati's coordinating minister for political and security affairs. He won a clear victory over Megawati, with 61 percent of the vote in the final round of the direct presidential election later that year. Golkar's Jusuf Kalla, a wealthy businessman, became vice president.

The devastating 2004 earthquake and tsunami in Aceh, an oil-rich province on the northern tip of Sumatra, paved the way for a peace agreement in August 2005 between the government and the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM). The GAM formally disarmed in December 2005, and its candidates won the posts of governor and deputy governor in peaceful elections the following year. While the peace held in 2008, unresolved problems continued to fester, exacerbated by high unemployment and a rise in violence and illegal activities. A report by the World Bank found that August 2008 was the most violent month in Aceh since 2005, with most conflict occurring over land disputes, unemployment, and construction projects. Nevertheless, the level of violence had decreased by the end of the year. Rifts within the GAM leadership over inequitable divisions of reintegration funds resulted in conflict between former members. A grenade exploded in September at the home of a former GAM commander, and another in October at the central office of the Aceh Transitional Committee (KPA), an organization representing GAM's former armed wing that was thought to be involved in illegal logging. In addition, violence against foreign nationals increased. In April seven Chinese miners were kidnapped, a grenade exploded at a Save the Children office in May, and in September a French consultant for the World Bank was kidnapped.

Jakarta continued to fear separatism in Papua, whose residents have generally resented the central government's exploitation of the province's natural resources. The conflict was increasingly characterized by rivalry among tribal elites, and exacerbated by ad hoc implementation of special autonomy regulations as well as the uncertain legal status of West Papua province, which was divided from Papua province in 2003. The development of oil-palm plantations has brought an influx of non-Papuan workers and firms, prompting land disputes. Clashes between security forces and independence supporters continued in 2008, and tension has increased between local Christian communities and non-Papuan Muslim communities.

Underlying grievances also remained between Muslim and Christian communities in Poso. Although violence decreased in 2007 and 2008, corruption and low public trust in government were persistent problems. The International Crisis Group reported in June 2008 that poor management and inadequate transparency of postconflict funding could lead to future tension.

The counterterrorism campaign against Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) – a transnational network of Southeast Asian Islamist militants loosely linked to Al-Qaeda – continued in 2008, with the authorities making a number of arrests. Only one JI chapter was thought to remain in the province of Central Sulawesi, longtime headquarters of the network's Indonesia branch. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute reported in June 2008 that with JI's decline, Indonesian leaders were beginning to doubt the necessity of continued counterterrorism efforts. A district court designated JI an illegal organization in April, but later that month Vice President Jusuf Kalla remarked that JI could not be legally banned because it did not exist. In November, three perpetrators of the 2002 nightclub bombing in Bali, which killed 202 people, were executed. Despite warnings of retaliatory attacks, no serious security threats occurred during or immediately after the funerals.

With roughly 40 million Indonesians living in poverty, SBY's agenda in 2008 remained focused on job creation, economic growth, and anticorruption efforts, and these were likely to be decisive factors in the 2009 elections. Indonesia pulled out of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in June, and the government took the necessary but unpopular step of reducing costly fuel subsidies. As a result, SBY's popularity declined steeply in July in favor of Megawati, who was nominated as the PDI-P presidential candidate for 2009. The PD also lost a string of local elections to the PDI-P. Golkar threatened to abandon its parliamentary coalition with the PD, though the threat was not considered serious and Golkar ultimately did not follow through. SBY reclaimed a lead in public opinion polls in October.

Indonesia assumed a more prominent role on the international stage as a temporary member of the UN Security Council in 2007-08. In July 2008, SBY accepted the findings of the Commission on Truth and Friendship (CTF), which laid blame for the scorched-earth campaign targeting East Timorese separatists in 1999 on Indonesian civil and military leaders.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Indonesia is an electoral democracy. In 2004, for the first time, Indonesians directly elected their president and 550 members of the House of Representatives (DPR), as well as members of a new legislative body, the Regional Representatives Council (DPD). Previously, presidents had been elected by the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), then made up of elected lawmakers and appointed officials. The MPR now performs tasks involving the swearing in and dismissal of presidents, and the amendment of the constitution. It is comprised of elected DPR and DPD members. The DPD is responsible for proposing and monitoring laws related to regional autonomy. Presidents and vice presidents can serve up to two five-year terms. Legislators also serve five-year terms.

Parties that fail to win 3 percent of the vote are not allowed to contest future elections. In October 2008, the DPR passed a bill that raised the threshold for the nomination of presidential candidates: parties or coalitions must now attain 25 percent of the popular vote or 20 percent of seats in the DPR to nominate candidates. In December, the Constitutional Court overturned two articles in the 2008 Law on Legislative Elections concerning seat distribution. Previously the majority of seats were allocated using a party-list system with a high threshold to achieve a directly elected seat. Now, priority is given to candidates who achieve the highest number of votes on the party-list, regardless of their position on the list. However, by the close of 2008, regulations to correct for the Constitutional Court's changes were not complete, and it was unclear to what extent political parties had a say in the allocation of seats amongst their candidates.

Staggered, direct elections for regional leaders began in 2005 and have generally been considered to be free, fair, and peaceful. Independent candidates contested local elections for the first time in 2008, after a 2007 Constitutional Court ruling paved the way for a new regional administration law in April. Previously, candidates had to be nominated by political parties that, in turn, were required to have a nationwide network of members and offices. These requirements tended to perpetuate corrupt practices. Outside of Aceh, only two independent candidates have won since the new law was promulgated. Aceh's 2006 governance law already allowed independent candidates to run as part of an effort to integrate former GAM separatists into the political process.

Corruption remains endemic. The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), created in 2003, is comprised of special prosecutors with the power to investigate any official misconduct believed to have cost the state more than one billion rupiah ($85,000). The KPK has been criticized for failing to convict prosecutors and police. A survey conducted by the KPK in June-September 2008 found that while the KPK is considered to have the highest level of integrity amongst governing institutions, 72 percent of respondents also thought the institution had not created a sufficient "culture of shame" to prevent state officials from corrupt practices.

Nevertheless, a string of high-profile cases and convictions in 2008 improved the commission's image and raised expectations that acts of corruption, even by senior officials, would be punished. In one case in October, the former governor of the Bank of Indonesia was sentenced to five years in prison for embezzling $10.3 million of central bank money. While many activists said the sentence was too light, it was generally considered a milestone in the country's progress. The case led to the subsequent arrest of the Bank's former deputy-governor, an in-law of SBY. Indonesia was ranked 126 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index.

The state of press freedom in Indonesia remains mixed but continues to improve. The country has a large independent media presence, yet strict licensing rules mean that thousands of television and radio stations operate illegally. The foreign press has been banned from the restive province of Papua since 2003.

Libel laws influence how journalists frame their stories. Article 311 of the 2007 criminal code still makes defamation punishable by four years in prison, but a claim now needs to be filed before an arrest can be made. The Supreme Court in 2007 ordered Time Asia to pay 1 trillion rupiah (more than $100 million) in damages for a 1999 story on the Suharto family's fortune and embezzlement, and although the magazine appealed the ruling, its case has been in limbo since the death of Suharto in January 2008. Separately, a journalist was sentenced to prison in February 2008 for describing government prosecutors as "slow-witted." The comment was apparently a 27-year-old quotation. In June a court ruled that a Yogyakarta journalist had insulted the manager of a newspaper after writing several articles on sexual harassment; he was subsequently jailed for six months. In September, Tempo magazine was ordered to pay compensation and publish an apology to the company Asian Agri for "damage to its reputation."

There are an estimated 20 million internet users in Indonesia. In April 2008 the DPR enacted a law on Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE), which deems criminal the distribution or accessibility of information or documents which are "contrary to the moral norms of Indonesia" or related to gambling, blackmail, or defamation. In an exception to the government's generally hands-off public access policy, the Ministry for Communication and Information Technology issued a directive in April to restrict access to the websites YouTube and MySpace in order to block online video-streaming of the Dutch film Fitna, considered to be anti-Islam. However, after strong public protest and accusations of censorship, the ministry withdrew the directive.

Indonesia officially recognizes Islam, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. Members of unrecognized religions have difficulty obtaining national identity cards. Atheism is not accepted. Concern remains regarding the national government's failure to respond to intolerance in recent years. In April 2008, a mosque belonging to Ahmadiyya – a heterodox Islamic group with 400,000 Indonesian followers – was burned down after the Religious Affairs Department recommended that Ahmadiyya be outlawed. In June a religious tolerance rally was interrupted by anti-Ahmadiyya thugs from the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI). Leaders of the attack were sentenced in October to 18 months in prison for "inciting hatred and instigating violence." As with JI terrorism, however, the government's stance was ambiguous; it issued a decree in June that froze Ahmadiyya activities, falling short of an outright ban. Nevertheless, several district governments have banned Ahmadiyya, and in September the sect and its social organization were banned in the province of South Sumatra. Societal discrimination against Ahmadiyya followers also increased during the year.

A number of districts began issuing ordinances based on Sharia (Islamic law) in 2006. Many are unconstitutional or unclear, leading to problems of enforcement. The national government and various parties are believed to hesitate in addressing the issue because of public and political sensitivities surrounding morality and religion. Many of the bylaws seek to enforce an Islamic dress-code, Quran literacy requirements, and bans on prostitution. The Home Ministry was charged with assessing the ordinances, and in 2008 identified 37 for review. In September, however, the newly elected Constitutional Court Chief Justice Mohammad Mahfud declared the Sharia-based bylaws to be unconstitutional and a threat to national integrity. Later that month the DPD and National Law Commission announced the planned creation of a law center to review the ordinances.

Concern over the constitutionality of local regulations was not limited to those based on Sharia. By the end of 2008, out of approximately 8,000 bylaws spread over 500 regions, some 3,000 ordinances were declared "problematic," 973 were annulled, and 250 would likely be revoked.

Academic freedom in Indonesia is generally respected.

Freedom of assembly is usually upheld, and peaceful protests are commonplace in the capital. Authorities have restricted this right in conflict areas, however. Flag-raising ceremonies and independence rallies in Papua are routinely disbanded.

Some human rights groups are subject to monitoring and interference by the government. Independence activists in Papua and in the Moluccas, and labor and political activists in Java and Sulawesi, remain targets for human rights abuses. Significant progress was made in 2008 in the case of Munir Said Thalib, a prominent rights activist who died of arsenic poisoning in 2004 while on a flight from Jakarta to Amsterdam. In February the former chief of the Indonesian airline Garuda was sentenced to a year in prison for his role in Munir's murder. The Supreme Court, which had overturned the initial conviction of airline pilot Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto in 2006, sentenced him in September to 20 years in prison after new evidence was admitted. However, in December the former head of the National Intelligence Agency (BIN), Muchdi Purwopranjono, was found not guilty of the premeditated murder of Munir. With his acquittal, no high level official has yet to be convicted in the Munir murder, nor for any serious human rights abuse since the fall of Suharto. The Human Rights Commissions (Komnas HAM), which investigates abuses of human rights, was backlogged by 2,000 public complaints lodged in 2008 alone, out of approximately 7,000.

Indonesian workers can join independent unions, bargain collectively, and, except for civil servants, stage strikes. However, the labor community is fragmented, and government enforcement of minimum-wage and other labor laws is weak. Domestic workers are currently excluded from Indonesian labor laws. There is estimated to be approximately 2.6 million domestic workers in Indonesia. According to a study by the ILO and the Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration in 2007, approximately 680,000 of these are under the age of 15. A new law on domestic workers was expected to be presented to the DPR, but had not been completed by year's end.

SBY has made judicial reform a key objective and appointed well-known reformers to the positions of attorney general and chief justice of the Supreme Court. Asurvey conducted by the Hong-Kong based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC) in 2008 found that Indonesia had the worst judicial system in Asia. A survey conducted by Transparency International in September and December 2008 found that the total sum paid in bribes within the judiciary is greater than in any other sector, including the police force. The Supreme Court remains the slowest of the country's judicial institutions to reform despite receiving particular attention from the current administration. Low salaries for judicial officials and impunity for illegal activity perpetuate the problems of corruption, forced confessions, and influence by military personnel and government officials in the court system. However, the November 2008 execution of three men for the 2002 Bali bombing was a notable sign of the government's ability to pursue and complete a legal process under intense scrutiny.

Indonesia has a separate Constitutional Court with an established record of independent rulings, such as the landmark 2007 decision to overturn defamation-related articles of the penal code. Other rulings, such as the 2006 decision to strip the Judicial Commission of its oversight powers, are viewed more critically.

The future of the Anticorruption Court (Tipikor), where cases brought by the KPK have been tried since 2004, remains unclear. In 2006 the Constitutional Court deemed the Tipikor Court unconstitutional, finding that it created a "duality in the judicial system." While the ruling gave the DPR until 2009 to create a legislative basis for the Tipikor Court, anticorruption campaigners pointed out that if the bill was not passed in 2008, the Tipikor Court could be dissolved, since a new parliament would sit after the April 2009 elections. If the Tipikor Court is dissolved, the KPK will have fewer anticorruption enforcement measures. A proposed bill drafted by the Department of Justice and Human Rights was submitted to the President's office in July 2008 and from there to the DPR in August, where it remained at the close of the year. While generally considered adequate, several articles will likely trigger debate, especially regarding the composition and ratio of ad hoc to career judges. Ad hoc judges are perceived by anticorruption campaigners to be tougher on suspects.

Members of the security forces regularly go unpunished for human rights violations. These include ongoing low-level abuses in conflict zones like Papua, but they are largely related to land disputes and military involvement in illegal activities such as logging and mining. There were an estimated 280 land disputes involving the military and local communities in 2007. In April the Indonesian Supreme Court overturned the conviction of pro-government militia leader Eurico Guterres, then serving the second year of a 10-year sentence for crimes against humanity committed in East Timor in the wake of the 1999 independence referendum. Guterres was the last of 18 defendants to be acquitted, and the only one ever jailed, for involvement in the East Timor violence. In July, SBY along with the President of East Timor Jose Ramos Horta accepted the findings of the Commission on Truth and Friendship (CTF), which laid blame for the 1999 human rights abuses on the Indonesian army as well as pro-government militias. Criticized for promoting friendship rather than accountability, the report carries no legal weight and has no powers of prosecution. Some steps were made, however. A military justice bill that would require soldiers to be tried in civilian courts remains under positive consideration in the parliament.

Effective police work has proven critical to Indonesia's recent successes in fighting terrorism, while corruption remains endemic to the force. No investigations have led to convictions of police officers.

Detention laws are generally respected. However, individuals are sometimes arrested groundlessly as part of the counterterrorism campaign. Prisons have reportedly been significant recruiting sites for radical groups, primarily due to corruption and lax controls that allow the circulation of extremist material.

In October 2008 the DPR ratified the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) charter, committing to promote democracy and human rights. The charter entered into effect in December. However, the country has ratified several international human rights charters since 1998, and few domestic laws have been passed to implement them.

Members of Indonesia's minority groups face considerable discrimination. The problem of mining and logging on communal land and state appropriation of land claimed by indigenous Indonesians is most acute in Kalimantan. Ethnic Chinese, who make up less than 3 percent of the population but are resented for reputedly holding the lion's share of the country's wealth, continue to face harassment and occasional violence.

Discrimination against women persists, particularly in the workplace. Trafficking of women for prostitution, forced labor, and debt bondage reportedly continues, despite the passage of a child-trafficking bill and stiffer provisions against trafficking of women. Abortion is illegal, except to save a woman's life. Sharia-like ordinances in a number of districts infringe on women's constitutional rights. In October 2008, the DPR passed an antipornography bill that critics said would victimize women, in part because it applies not just to published images but to speech and gestures that "incite sexual desire." Significantly, the measure invites the "public" to participate in the discouragement of pornographic acts, which many feared could lead to extrajudicial enforcement. In April 2008, the DPR passed a bill establishing a threshold for female representation in political parties; 30 percent of a party's candidates and board members must be women, under the legislation. While many doubted whether the measure would increase women's chances in the 2009 polls, it was nevertheless hailed as an important achievement.

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