16 May 2012

The week in review: Unfree democracy

Jakarta Post - May 13, 2012

Meidyatama Suryodiningrat -- This country continuously touts itself as being among the world's largest democracies -- a pluralist nation with a diversity of cultures, ethnicities and faiths living in harmony with one another. Proof on the ground, however, has shown otherwise.

Fueled by opportunism and an uncourageous government not willing to stand firm on difficult issues, entrenched intolerance is seemingly advancing farther and deeper with every passing day.

The unchecked emergence of narrow-mindedness seems more evident with each passing week. On the contrary, groups promoting conservativeness seem to be emboldened as their ruthlessness remains unchallenged.

Rather than protecting free speech, last week police in Jakarta broke up a discussion featuring Canadian liberal Muslim activist Irshad Manji. By halting the discussion, the police effectively bowed to pressure from members of the Islam Defenders Front (FPI), who had picketed the discussion venue.

FPI insisted that freedom of expression did not extend to Manji due to her support of homosexuality, which they insisted was not compatible with Islam.

Jakarta Police denied that they acted on behalf of the FPI, insisting that the event was stopped because organizers lacked the permit to hold the discussion, which was necessary as the event was a public forum that involved a foreign national.

The most tragic part of the "Manji affair" has been that she was even barred from university premises. Indonesia's oldest university, Gadjah Mada University, has apparently forgotten that of all places, campuses should be the home of intellectual dialect.

The UGM rector was reported to have decided on the ban the night before Manji was expected to give a talk at the university's Center for Religious and Cross-cultural Studies (CRCS). The university cited security reasons, a decision which was met with condemnation given UGM's long history as a bastion for academic free speech.

CRCS Chairman Zainal Abidin Bagir, criticized UGM's management, saying that by cancelling the talk, UGM had accommodated the demands of thugs who had opted for violence and threats rather than dialogue.

If that were not bad enough, Diponegoro University (Undip) in Semarang, Central Java, and again Gadjah Mada University, also stopped students from holding activities discussing lesbian or gay issues.

On Thursday, an Undip student group, Kronik Filmedia, was banned from screening Sanubari Jakarta (Heart of Jakarta) on campus. Officials banned the film, which had previously passed the Film Censorship Board and had been screened in movie theaters, for discussing the taboo-topics of ethnicity, religion, race and inter-group issues (SARA).

The movie comprises 10 short films inspired by true stories of same-sex romance. The screening at Undip campus was to have been followed by a discussion with the film's directors, actors and actresses.

Undip deputy rector Warsito said that the university refused to grant permission for the screening to avoid community resistance. University officials had not seen the movie, he added.

The issues of free speech are symbolic of a nation which rarely comes to terms with its own history. For example, it is only now that the horrific events surrounding the 1965 abortive Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) coup are being accounted for.

The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) said this week it had evidence that state officials were involved in the systematic prosecution of members of the communist party. Its preliminary statement is a precursor to announcing formal findings on June 3 when it is also expected to propose the establishment a Commission for Truth and Reconciliation (KKR).

Komnas HAM previously announced interim findings of its investigation indicating that state officials under the Operational Command for the Restoration of Security and Order (Kopkamtib), led by former president Soeharto, were directly involved in a systematic campaign to eliminate communist groups in the country.

On the legal front, Nunun Nurbaeti became the latest high profile convict as the Jakarta Corruption Court sentenced the wife of former National Police deputy chief Adang Daradjatun to two and a half years in prison for bribing lawmakers at the House of Representatives in the 2004 election of the Bank Indonesia (BI) senior deputy governor.

The court, however, failed to mention whether the bribe money was from Nunun's own pocket or from another source. Nunun paid out some Rp 20.85 billion (US$2.25 million) in the form of hundreds of traveler's checks -- each worth Rp 50 million -- to dozens of lawmakers to swing the vote in favor of Miranda Swaray Goeltom as BI senior deputy governor.

Though the panel of judges did not identify the benefactor, the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) vowed to track the individuals who funded the bribes.

The close of the week brought us the tragic fate of the Sukhoi Superjet 100, which crashed on Mt. Salak in Bogor, West Java. Attempts were continuing as rescue teams tried to evacuate the remains of 45 people who were on board. The nation's heart goes out to the families of those who perished.

Indonesia's economy continued to post steady signs of growth as the latest data revealed encouraging news. The overall economy and employment rate remained in positive growth territory thanks to increasing investment and household consumption amid the lingering global crisis that has weakened exports.

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