Rights group urges Indonesia to respect free expression

Rights group urges Indonesia to respect free expression

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[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Tuesday urged the Indonesian government to release secession activists and adhere to international standards of free speech [report materials; press release]. The report, "Prosecuting Political Aspiration: Indonesia's Political Prisoners," criticized the Indonesian government for its treatment of people imprisoned for peaceful political expression related to the Papuan [Economist backgrounder] and Moluccan [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] secession movements. According to HRW, these prisoners are subjected to torture, poor prison conditions and the denial of medical services and are transferred to prisons distant from their homes in order to isolate them from their families. These activists are imprisoned under Government Regulation 77/2007 [text, PDF], banning the display of symbols associated with the independence movements, and under articles 106 and 110 of the Indonesian Criminal Code, which HRW claims that the government is using to imprison peaceful political speech. The report called for the repeal of these laws, in addition to laws criminalizing religious beliefs that diverge from the six officially recognized religions. Despite the legitimate security concerns created by these movements, HRW urged Indonesia to move to comply with the international standards for national security measures outlined in the Johannesburg Principles [text, PDF] and the freedom of expression standards in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) [text]. Despite progress made since the resignation of former president Haji Mohammad Suharto [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], HRW pointed to persisting problems, stating:

Improved freedom of expression has been hailed as emblematic of this progress. While there have been notable accomplishments – 700 new magazines and newspapers sprung up in the first three years after Suharto's ouster alone – the right to free speech in Indonesia continues to be limited in … significant ways[.] … Under Suharto, Indonesian authorities failed to distinguish between acts of criminal violence and peaceful expression of separatist views, contributing to political polarization and fueling radicalization in East Timor and Aceh. While those latter conflicts have been resolved through political agreements and thousands of political prisoners have been released since Suharto's resignation, the practice of lumping together peaceful advocates and armed militants and treating both as criminals continues in Papua and the southern Moluccas.

HRW also called on the Indonesian government to open all areas of Papua to journalists and human rights workers and called for progress at next week's EU-Indonesia conference on human rights.

In April, the Indonesian Constitutional Court [official website, in Bahasa] voted 8-1 to uphold [JURIST report] a controversial anti-blasphemy law enacted in 1965 by the first Indonesian president. In 2008, HRW called for Indonesia to protect freedom of religion [JURIST report] and reverse a decree that provides for the prosecution of members of a controversial Islamic sect and to uphold its commitments under the ICCPR. Under the decree, Ahmadiyah Muslims [religious website], who believe that Mohammad was not the final prophet, face up to five years in prison if they continue to promote their beliefs, which are considered heretical by many mainstream Islamic groups. Indonesia ratified the ICCPR in February 2006. In 2007, Indonesia convicted over a dozen people [JURIST report] for advocating a sovereign government for the province of Papua, according to HRW. Article 28 of 1945 Indonesia Constitution [text, PDF] guarantees freedom of expression, but HRW says that subsequent legislation has denied Indonesians this right. HRW criticized Indonesia for making it a crime to "insult" the president or express "feelings of hatred" toward the government, even when such sentiments are part of a peaceful protest.