The Jakarta Post
The University of Indonesia (UI) Lecturers Alliance has conveyed its support for a discussion on racism against Papuans that was previously disavowed by the university rectorate.
In a statement issued on Monday, the alliance praised the university’s Student Executive Body (BEM UI) for organizing the public discussion as it fostered a spirit of free speech among university academics.
The alliance also called on the university’s academic society to remain consistent in supporting student endeavors to seek scientific truths in accordance with the 2012 Higher Education Law.
“We also urge UI as an educational institution to assume a more active role in disseminating diverse ideas so as to avoid the production of a single [version of the] truth,” the alliance stated.
Held on Saturday and titled “#PapuanLivesMatter: Racism in the Legal System in Papua”, the discussion largely revolved around the prosecution of seven Papuan activists charged with treason for their involvement in antiracism protests in Jayapura, Papua, in August 2019.
Former Papuan prisoner Sayang Mandabayan, Papuan human rights lawyer Gustaf Kawer and Indonesian human rights lawyer Veronica Koman, were invited as speakers for the discussion.
In UI’s statement dated June 6, university spokesperson Amelita Lusia said BEM UI had organized the discussion “without proper preparation and consideration” and that it had invited “inappropriate speakers”.
She further argued that the discussion did not have a “strong enough scientific foundation” to be considered a proper academic forum.
UI’s disavowal of the discussion has since drawn criticism on social media, with many saying that the state university – widely considered the best in the country – was bowing to political pressures and had failed to stand up for academic freedom.
Shofwan Al-Banna, a member of the UI Lecturers Alliance representing the university’s international relations department, said that the university’s statement reflected sentiments that directly contradicted UI’s values as an educational institution.
“We agree that universities must serve as a place where diverse ideas can be freely expressed, respected and, ultimately, protected,” he told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.
Shofwan said the university’s disavowal of the discussion was “an exaggeration” on the part of the rectorate board, and that it might well discourage students from engaging in substantial conversations.
“We never wanted to interfere in university bureaucracy. But we felt that it was now crucial for us [to speak up] because the very essence of any university is to enable the search for scientific truths,” he told the Post, adding that the alliance had been planning a series of discussions on the topic of academic freedom at universities.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article contained an error. Veronica Koman is not a lawyer for Amnesty International Australia.