INDONESIA: Stop persecution against human rights activists and victims of 1965-1966 massacre

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) condemns the attacks against the right to freedom of expression, opinion and peaceful assembly that have occurred frequently over the past year in Indonesia. These have occurred despite constitutional and legal guarantees to protect such rights: Article 28 of the Indonesian Constitution states, “Every person shall have the right to the freedom to associate, to assemble and to express opinions.” National law number 39 of 1999 concerning Human Rights is also very clear about protecting such rights, and punishing the violation of such rights. Furthermore, Indonesia is also party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which clearly upholds these rights.

A particularly serious attack on freedom of expression and assembly occurred recently, when human rights groups that had organized a discussion concerning the 1965-1966 massacre on September 16-17, were persecuted by an anti-Communist mob. The mob surrounded the office of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI) in Jakarta, brutally stoning the building, and intimidating the Legal Aid staff, seminar participants, and victims of the 1965-1966 massacre.

In the last one year, the AHRC has reported on several cases of persecution against human rights groups advocating for the 1965-1966 massacre case, such as the forced termination of a workshop in East Jakarta by police officers, military personnel, a village head and thugs on 1 August 2017. In all the cases, the police are very accommodating of anti-tolerant groups, a circumstance that is particularly clear in the forced dissolution of movie screenings and discussions in the provinces of Bandung, Surabaya and Yogyakarta.

In all the cases, the activists and participants are accused of circulating Communist propaganda and of attempting to re-establish the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). Anti-tolerant groups also demanded the government to deregister and ban human rights organizations that facilitated or supported any activity against Indonesia’s Pancasila ideology.

For a country claiming to be a transitional democracy since the stepping down of the dictator Suharto, this circumstance is an anomaly. It is an unfortunate fact that after 18 years of political reform, vigilante, anti-tolerant and paramilitary groups have obtained more space in Indonesia than democracy and human rights groups. These groups are involved in many human rights violations, including the forced dissolution of peaceful assemblies, attacking minority groups, accusing and persecuting victims and family of victims of the 1965–1966 massacre, as well as intimidating human rights organizations. With no prosecution of such illegal actions, these actors enjoy impunity, while the voices of human rights victims go unheard by the government. Human rights in Indonesia therefore remain only on paper, without real guarantees or protection from the state apparatus.

The recent attack on the Jakarta Legal Aid Foundation, together with the various earlier cases of persecution, forced dissolution of meetings and attacks on human rights groups, are a clear indication that Indonesia’s democracy is under serious threat. The government must take serious note of this, particularly with the politicization of human rights by groups affiliated to the former regime of Suharto.

The AHRC calls on the government to promptly re-design and re-engineer human rights protection mechanisms and the criminal justice system in Indonesia. Impunity must be brought to an end, and all human rights cases punished. Efforts to establish reconciliation should not continue without justice, truth and adequate remedies. Without this, Indonesia will become a failed transitional justice state.