The Jakarta Post
This year Indonesia witnessed a rollback of important reforms in human rights. President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s security approach to tackling COVID-19, opting for an economic agenda over human rights and the imposition of hypernationalism, which resulted in a further authoritarian turn and state control of the internet, marked the regression.
We began 2020 in an already weakened state of human rights after a tumultuous 2019. In January of this year, fire engulfed environmentalist Murdani’s house in Lombok while he, his wife, their 4-year-old daughter and their 17-year-old son were asleep. The family escaped unharmed.
In May, electoral violence killed 10 people. In September, a clampdown on student protests resulted in the loss of at least five lives with hundreds more wounded during peaceful efforts to defend the country’s anticorruption body and democracy from the government’s attempt to restore draconian laws.
In short, we saw shrinking civic space as well as the weakening of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) and political opposition. In 2019 alone, the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute (YLBHI) recorded that at least 6,128 people were subject to free speech violations, including 324 children.
This year, COVID-19 exacerbated the regression through the securitization of all social and political life, enabling security actors to clamp down on political opposition by means of legal instruments, including handling the pandemic.
Instead of implementing science-based policies, President Jokowi chose a military-dominated structure that, unsurprisingly, produced a hardline security approach to public health matters. Not only have such decisions failed to prevent a severe and prolonged health crisis – with at least 368 frontline health workers dead of COVID-19 exposure and exhaustion – but they have worsened the overall human rights climate.
On April 4, for example, the National Police headquarters instructed officers to take action against “hoax spreaders” and those who insulted the President and his administration. As a result, the police launched criminal investigations into around 100 cases related to the government’s response to the pandemic.
Despite the pandemic, the government and the House of Representatives passed the Job Creation Law to further strengthen business interests, while undermining workers’ and environmental rights. The National Police issued another directive intimidating and criminalizing critics of the controversial law, increasing the rise of cyber-authoritarianism.
All of this happened against a backdrop of increasing online intimidation in many forms that included credential theft, spam calls, digital harassment, as well as abusive intrusions into online discussions.
Criminalization by a technologically savvy state apparatus under a draconian cyberlaw is not the only instrument of internet control. Media reports have also implicated the government in deploying an army of cyber or pro-regime trolls, akin to China’s “fifty-centers”, trained to debate antigovernment forces on the web.
In the offline space, during the omnibus law protests we documented at least 411 victims of unlawful police use of force in 15 provinces, with 6,658 people arrested in 21 provinces and 301 of them, including 18 journalists, detained incommunicado for various durations. This has sinister echoes of the ruthless crackdowns on pro-reform students 22 years ago.
In the eastern parts of Indonesia such as Maluku and Papua at least 38 prisoners of conscience remain behind bars, mostly charged under treason despite only participating in antiracism protests. In Papua and West Papua, security forces committed human rights violations against indigenous people, largely with impunity. Prominent among at least 52 cases of unlawful killings – with a total of 103 victims – were the horrific reports of violence and killing in Hitadipa, Intan Jaya; a priest was tortured and killed, and young men were kidnapped.
Across the country, at least 202 social justice leaders and activists were under threat, including around 61 indigenous rights leaders who have been subjected to detention, physical attacks and intimidation. In August, Effendi Buhing, a leader of the indigenous Laman Kinipan, was arrested by Central Kalimantan police in relation to a years-long land dispute with a palm oil company.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people also continued to face threats following misleading statements made by public officials on the grounds of “defending the country’s public morality”. Politicians from various parties introduced a family resilience bill that would outlaw surrogacy and require LGBT people to seek conversion therapy. The Supreme Court confirmed that 14 gay men in the military were fired and imprisoned for their sexual orientation.
This year also marked a setback for women’s rights and gender equality. During the pandemic, there was a 75 percent increase in reports of sexual violence against women. In July, the House dropped the sexual violence eradication bill from its priority list, while some lawmakers supported the regressive family resilience bill.
Feminist media groups and individuals were attacked, doxxed and harassed by unidentified people who sent unwanted, sexually explicit images and demeaning statements about women.
In November, four Christians were killed – two by beheading – in Sulawesi, reflecting a government failure to protect religious minorities. Not to mention cases of other abuses of religious freedom, including at least 40 cases of house of worship closures, blasphemy accusations and other forms of religious discrimination.
While 2020 will no doubt be remembered as the year Indonesia – and the world – faced an unprecedented health crisis, we should also remember it as a year when the country’s human rights crisis further deepened. A year when our civic space for protests and public criticism shrank. A year when Indonesia’s leaders abandoned human rights.
Director of Amnesty International Indonesia, founder of Public Virtue and lecturer at the Indonesia Jentera School of Law