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Jakarta Post

Fear of communism, limits on freedom of expression persist

  • Elly Burhaini Faizal
    Elly Burhaini Faizal

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, May 16, 2016   /  11:51 am
Fear of communism, limits on freedom of expression persist Stand up for rights – A heated debate takes place between journalists and police officers prior to the dispersal of a 2016 World Press Freedom Day celebration in Yogyakarta on May 3. The police urged journalists and press activists to disband the event, which planned to screen Pulau Buru Tanah Air Beta (Buru Island: My Homeland), a documentary by Rahung Nasution on the 1965 tragedy. ( Muryanto)

It was not anticipated that a vibrant celebration of 2016 World Press Freedom Day in Yogyakarta on May 3 would lead to chaotic scenes and scuffles between journalists and security authorities.

The breaking up of the celebration was blamed on protests by a group that reportedly disagreed with a screening of Pulau Buru: Tanah Air Beta (Buru Island: My Homeland), a documentary movie on the 1965 tragedy by Rahung Nasution, at the event.

The Yogyakarta Police forcefully dispersed the gathering following pressure from people claiming to act on behalf of the Communication Forum of Indonesian Veterans' Children (FKPPI). They raided the venue on Jl. Pakel Baru, Umbulharjo, Yogyakarta, accusing the now-defunct Indonesia Communist Party (PKI) of being behind the event.

The FKPPI also claimed the movie could trigger conflict as it featured communist ideas. A truck carrying fully armed police personnel approached the location following heightening tensions. 

Around 100 journalists and civil society group activists attending the event resisted the dispersal. The police forced them to leave, however, claiming they did not have an event permit. The owner of a house used by the Yogyakarta chapter of the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) as an office and the movie screening venue forced the group to move elsewhere. 

The disbandment of the World Press Freedom Day event in Yogyakarta represented a violation of freedom of expression, many examples of which have occurred in Indonesia recently. The incident tested the implementation of citizens’ rights to exercise freedom of expression.

Almost two decades after the Reform Era, some say Indonesia still lacks respect for people’s rights to freedom of expression. The country also shows slow progress in healing its scars from past political turmoil.

The recent seizure of books suspected to contain communist teachings from stores across Indonesia illustrated the country’s failure to move on from the trauma of the 1965-1966 political crisis caused by the failed G30S coup blamed on the PKI. 

In mid-May, officers from the Grobogan Police in Central Java confiscated several books containing stories on the history of the PKI and its leaders. The titles were Siapa Dalang G30S PKI (Who Masterminded the PKI G30S); The Missing Link G30S PKI; Fakta dan Rekayasa G30S PKI (PKI G30S Fact Engineering); Komunisme Ala Aidit (Communism à la Aidit); MussoPeristiwa 1 Oktober (October 1 Incident); and Nyoto Peniup Saxofon di Tengah Prahara (Nyoto, A Saxophonist in the Middle of Hurricane). The books were on sale in a supermarket.

Separately, officers from the Sukoharjo Police in Central Java seized four copies of a book entitled The Missing Link G30S: Misteri Sjam Kamaruzzaman dan Biro Chusus PKI (The G30S Missing Link: The Mystery of Sjam Kamaruzzaman and PKI Special Bureau) from a supermarket in Baki, Sukoharjo.

Indonesian Police chief Badrodin Haiti has called on police personnel to stop searching for books with communism-related content. He asserted that communism-themed books in book stores, libraries and universities should not be confiscated.

Badrodin said those the police had taken action against were people or groups who had intentionally spread communism. He referred to the recent seizure of T-shirts emblazoned with the communist hammer-and-sickle emblem from stores and markets.  

As reported in mass media, a resident from Tanjung Riau, Sekupang, Batam, was arrested on May 3 for wearing a hammer-and-sickle T-shirt. On May 8, a joint force comprising personnel from the Jakarta Police and the Jakarta Military Area Command’s (Kodam Jaya) intelligence division arrested the owner of a shop selling similar T-shirts in Blok M, Kebayoran Baru, South Jakarta. On May 9, two young men identified with the initials UR and RD were arrested by military personnel in Lampung for wearing the same type of T-shirts.

Badrodin said the symbol was prohibited in public as it could be considered an effort to spread communist teachings. He claimed that President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo himself had ordered all security authorities, including the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) and the National Intelligence Agency (BIN), to tackle the distribution of communist symbols, such as the hammer-and-sickle emblem.

Badrodin said the measures taken by security authorities were based on the Provisional People’s Consultative Assembly (MPRS) Decree No. XXV/1966 on the disbandment of the PKI and the prohibition of the spread of communism, Leninism and Marxism.

Separately, Law and Human Rights Minister Yasona Laoly said the use of PKI attributes was clearly prohibited in Indonesia. “It was the decision of the MPRS. This ideology [communism] is not allowed to exist anymore in Indonesia,” he said on May 10.

President Jokowi said recently that he supported efforts to eradicate communism in Indonesia; however, he added that law enforcers should not act excessively in carrying out the task. He made the statement in response to widespread criticism on the government’s anticommunism measures, which have been deemed excessive. In Bantul, Yogyakarta, police officers confiscated a Lou Han fish because it had scaly pattern similar to the hammer-and-sickle-logo on its body.

Violations of freedom of expression, which have also affected events aimed at discussing the 1965 tragedy, contradict the government’s initiative to resolve past human rights violations. The government in April held its first symposium on the events of 1965.

The recent cases of violations of freedom of expression, including the disbandment of the World Press Freedom Day celebration, show that security authorities and President Jokowi are walking in opposite directions in terms of resolving wounds from the nation’s past. Political chaos resulting from such instability will slow all aspects of the country’s development.

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