Indonesian candidates are urged to address human rights concerns ahead of the 14 February election.
Around 205 million people are eligible to vote and will choose the country’s next president, vice president, members of the House of Representatives, and local parliamentarians. Incumbent President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.
The election campaign has put Jokowi's performance in strengthening the country’s human rights commitments into the spotlight. Part of his election pledge in 2014 and repeated during his re-election bid in 2019, was a promise to look into the atrocities committed by security forces, especially during the reign of former General Suharto, who ruled the country for three decades until a mass uprising forced him to step down in 1998.
Despite these improvements, there is as yet no concrete roadmap for seeking accountability and providing truth, justice, and redress to the victims of these 12 gross human rights violations.
The group also summarized Jokowi’s human rights legacy:
Indonesia continues to fail to guarantee people’s rights to express their opinions peacefully amidst a shrinking civic space. It also fails to deliver on its commitment to end the impunity of the security forces suspected of being responsible for human rights violations, and to provide access to justice and effective remedies to victims of gross human rights violations and crimes under international law.
Human Rights Watch pointed out in its latest report that the next government “will face an array of rights issues including a highly problematic new criminal code, continued harassment and discrimination against religious minorities and other marginalized groups, and deep-seated abuses against women.”
— Andreas Harsono (@andreasharsono) January 11, 2024
The new criminal code mentioned by Human Rights Watch will take effect in 2026. The law was meant to “decolonize” the criminal code introduced by Dutch colonizers, but it retained provisions that could be used to suppress rights. For example, the new code continues to empower authorities to file charges against individuals who insult the honor and dignity of the president, vice president, and state institutions. Adnan Yazar Zulfikar from the Faculty of Law of Padjadjaran University warned against its serious implications on free speech:
Instead of guaranteeing internet freedom, these clauses have made every single corner of the digital sphere unsafe for expressing aspirations or criticisms towards the government, as anyone could be abruptly charged with a criminal offense at any time.
Shaleh Al Ghifari, a public interest lawyer, highlighted that several articles could turn the law into a “tool of repression.” The author warned in particular about the articles on “fake news,” which criminalized the spreading of false narratives that cause riots or disturbances.
Who decides whether the news is fake or true? Who is going to measure whether a piece of news could incite a riot? Would conviction be possible with a one-sided testimony from a rioter?
Related to the weaponization of judicial processes, the country’s Electronic and Information Transaction (EIT) Law was amended in December 2023 but retained criminal provisions on defamation. Authorities have been using the EIT Law to harass critics and detain activists. For example, activists Fatia Maulidiyanti and Haris Azhar were charged with defamation over a video that mentioned the role of officials in large-scale mining. The two were acquitted on January 8, but prosecutors said they will appeal the ruling. In an editorial, TEMPO media questioned the decision to appeal the case:
There was no urgency or national interest in taking this case to court, yet alone to the appeal stage. The move by the prosecutors to appeal will only serve to reinforce the impression that they are acting in the personal interests of those in power.
Reporters Without Borders also asked candidates to end abusive proceedings against media personnel, including the use of the defamation law. In addition, it asked the government to lift the information restrictions imposed on the province of Papua. Papua is under heavy military control, and journalists are not allowed to cover the province where a separatist movement has been waging a struggle for self-determination.
Meanwhile, civil society groups have issued a joint statement asking authorities to stop driving away Rohingya boat refugees. On December 27, Rohingya refugees were violently attacked by locals in Aceh province. The Rohingyas are persecuted minorities in Myanmar and have fled to neighboring countries like Bangladesh and to countries where local communities have offered refuge, like Malaysia and Indonesia. But, during the election campaign, the Rohingya community was targeted by a disinformation campaign. Civil society groups have asked authorities and candidates to look into this matter:
The deliberate spread of false narratives targeting vulnerable groups, such as Rohingya refugees, has added a new layer of complexity. While these disinformation efforts are not confined to the electoral sphere, they intersect with the broader issue of protecting the rights and dignity of refugees within Indonesia.
For its part, the Foundation for International Human Rights Reporting Standards said that the new government should focus on “combating violence against women, prioritizing Indigenous communities, and ensuring the fulfillment of disability rights” during its first 100 days in power.