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Jakarta Post

EDITORIAL: Death of free speech

  • EDITORIAL

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Tue, September 19, 2017   /   08:15 am
EDITORIAL: Death of free speech A Mobile Brigade truck arrives at the scene of mob attack at the vicinity of the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute (YLBHI) office in Central Jakarta on Monday morning, Sept. 18, 2017. (JP/ecn)

A discussion on the 1960s upheaval was broken up on Saturday, with police telling an “anticommunist” mob that no communism-related activity had been taking place, thus the police claim to have maintained public security.

Police blame organizers for failing to inform them that a seminar titled “Conveying the truth on the history of 1965/1966” would be held, citing the 1998 law on conveying opinions in public open space — while the event planned until Sunday took place at the Jakarta Legal Aid Office (LBH Jakarta). A festival on free speech replaced Sunday’s talks.

Leaders of the Foundation of the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute (YLBHI) and LBH Jakarta said even under the New Order, security personnel had never gone so far as to disperse an event inside the building. LBH Jakarta director Alghifari Aqsa said police conveyed earlier that they would not take issue with the event, as long as a few officers were present.

We condemn the police for failing to protect our hardwon freedom of speech, with lame excuses that the situation posed a dilemma for them. If the talks had continued, they said, the protesters would have become more restless.

To cries of Allahu Akbar (God is great), even the Indonesian Military (TNI) was seen nearby, greeted by the groups who equate discussing historical events in Indonesia to attempts to “revive” communism and the now defunct Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), which was blamed for the September 1965 coup attempt and rebellion in 1948.

Thanks to reforms, the TNI can only help handle security at the request of local police. This means the Jakarta Police had anticipated that they would not be able to handle the few groups protesting the closed event, while witnesses said officers seemed to have been providing more security to those intimidating participants of the discussion.

The first national symposium on 1965, held last year by the government, was an unprecedented official gesture showing that such a sensitive topic was open for discussion by all sides who experienced directly or indirectly the results of the political struggle that led to decades of authoritarian rule and the death of thousands while in detention.

Their safety ensured that amid Indonesia’s freedom, citizens carried on efforts to engage many more sides in exchanging experiences and views on the crack down on alleged communists, which led to many families losing a member to mysterious circumstances, while survivors recall years of torture or self-exile to protect family members from prosecution.

The weekend until the wee hours of Monday, which saw the evacuation of the seminar participants, will go down in history as President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s failure to firmly protect our freedom of speech. This constitutional right is vital in addressing unresolved human rights violations, among his reiterated pledges.

A recent survey on Asians’ views on democracy showed Indonesians were the most optimistic about the state of democracy in their country. Over 75 percent of Indonesian respondents expressed trust in the police.

Thus, the police under Gen. Tito Karnavian should be utterly ashamed of bowing to mob pressure so often.