Freedom in the World
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Indonesia has made impressive democratic gains since the fall of an authoritarian regime led by President Suharto in 1998, establishing significant pluralism in politics and the media and undergoing multiple, peaceful transfers of power between parties. However, the country continues to struggle with challenges including systemic corruption, discrimination and violence against some minority groups, separatist tensions in the Papua region, and the politicized use of defamation and blasphemy laws.
- In January, after local residents in Kalimantan attacked settlements established by the banned religious group Gafatar, hundreds of members were forcibly transferred to their home districts and subjected to “reeducation” sessions.
- More than 2,000 people were reportedly arrested during the year for participating in nonviolent rallies supporting independence for the provinces of Papua and West Papua.
- Setya Novanto—who had stepped down as parliament speaker in 2015 after being accused of attempted extortion—won the chairmanship of the second-largest political party, Golkar, in May and resumed his position as speaker in December following a favorable court ruling.
- In September, Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (“Ahok”), an ethnic Chinese Christian who was preparing to run in the February 2017 gubernatorial election, made remarks that critics claimed were blasphemous toward Islam, leading to criminal charges and a series of protests in the city.
President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) continued to work with entrenched elites to advance his economic development agenda in 2016, at times at the expense of democratic reforms. He made multiple appointments during the year that appeared to clash with his stated goals of advancing anticorruption efforts and addressing past human rights abuses. While he took office in 2014 with only a minority ruling coalition in the parliament, other parties have gradually joined the bloc, including Golkar and the United Development Party (PPP), which both underwent progovernment leadership changes in 2016.
Religious and other minorities faced ongoing harassment and intimidation, often with the tacit approval of local governments and security forces. Suspected members of the banned religious organization Gafatar were increasingly targeted in 2016 as part of a growing trend of using defamation and blasphemy laws to limit the public expression of minority faiths and political opinions. Followers of Ahmadiyya and Shia Islam also suffered discrimination and violent attacks. In addition, women and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people remained subject to discriminatory local bylaws regulating dress and behavior.
While Jokowi has claimed that easing separatist tensions in the provinces of Papua and West Papua is a priority, various government agencies and security forces have often openly or subtly contradicted his stated intentions. The presence of international media and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the region remained restricted in 2016, despite government assurances to the contrary.
The president is directly elected and serves as both head of state and head of government. The House of Representatives (DPR), with 560 seats, is the main parliamentary chamber. The 132-member House of Regional Representatives (DPD) is responsible for monitoring laws related to regional autonomy, and may also propose bills on the topic. All legislators serve five-year terms with no term limit. Presidents and vice presidents can serve up to two five-year terms.
Jokowi, the candidate of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), won the 2014 presidential election with 53 percent of the vote, defeating former general Prabowo Subianto. The PDI-P, the party of former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, led that year’s DPR elections with 19 percent of the vote and 109 seats. Golkar, the party of former president Suharto, won 91 seats, followed by Prabowo’s Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) with 73 seats. The Democratic Party (PD) of outgoing president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono received 61 seats. Three Islamic parties—the National Mandate Party (PAN), the National Awakening Party (PKB), and the PPP—increased their total vote share, taking 49, 47, and 39 seats, respectively. A fourth, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), fell to 40 seats. NasDem and the People’s Conscience Party (Hanura) won the remainder, with 35 and 16 seats, respectively. Irregularities were reported in some regions, including political violence during the preelection period in Aceh and voter-list inflation, ballot stuffing, and community bloc voting in Papua.
In June 2016 the parliament revised the law governing local elections. Among other changes, the new law requires that the Election Oversight Agency (Bawaslu) and the General Elections Commission (KPU) consult with the parliament and the government before issuing any new regulations or decisions, and states that the consultation results are binding. Activists expressed concern that the rules would reduce electoral authorities’ independence.
Under a 2012 law, the hereditary sultan of Yogyakarta is that region’s unelected governor. The position is nonpartisan, and the sultan is subject to a verification process with minimum requirements—such as education—every five years beginning in 2016. The prince of Paku Alaman serves as deputy governor of the region.
The right to organize political parties is respected, though in recent years the election laws have been amended to favor large parties by imposing eligibility requirements for parliamentary and presidential candidacy. Only 12 parties passed verification processes for the 2014 national elections, down from 48 in 1999. One new national party, NasDem, competed in the 2014 elections. Gerindra and Hanura competed for the first time in 2009.
Since Jokowi took office with a minority coalition in the parliament in 2014, opposition parties have been encouraged to join the government bloc through cabinet appointments and executive interference in internal party matters, perpetuating a trend seen under previous administrations. Executive actions—tacit or otherwise—exacerbated the internal disputes of the PPP and Golkar, contributing to leadership changes for both in 2016. The PPP aimed to end a nearly two-year schism by choosing a new, progovernment chairman in April, confirming the party’s place in the ruling coalition. Golkar chose a new chairman in May and moved from the opposition to the government bloc.
Some local governments have discriminated against minorities by restricting access to national identification cards, birth certificates, marriage licenses, and other bureaucratic necessities, limiting their political rights and electoral opportunities. However, despite growing religious intolerance and historical hostility toward certain ethnic groups, a number of minority politicians have achieved important posts. Ahok, an ethnic Chinese Christian, rose from deputy governor to governor of Jakarta when Jokowi, then the incumbent governor, became president in 2014. Ahok was seeking election as governor in his own right in early 2017, with the backing of major parties including PDI-P and Golkar, though his political rivals joined with Islamist hard-liners in calling for him to be jailed for allegedly blasphemous comments he made in September 2016. He had accused opponents of distorting a Quranic verse to claim that Muslims could not vote for a non-Muslim. The incident touched off a series of large protests, and a trial was pending at year’s end.
Elected officials determine the policies of the government, though national authorities have faced difficulties in implementing decisions due to resistance at the local and regional level. Separately, observers have warned that the military is regaining influence over political and economic affairs.
Corruption remains endemic, including in the parliament and the police. In 2016, the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) began focusing on corruption in the judiciary after previous campaigns against high-profile corruption in business and the government. Defendants who received prison sentences during the year included former cabinet ministers, a member of parliament, an army general, and a well-known criminal defense attorney convicted of bribing judges.
However, Setya Novanto, who resigned as DPR speaker in 2015 amid allegations that he had demanded a 20 percent stake in mining company Freeport Indonesia in exchange for an expedited contract renewal, rejuvenated his political career by winning the chairmanship of Golkar in May.In September he won a Constitutional Court ruling that incriminating recordings of him could not be used as evidence in the extortion case, as they had not been made by law enforcement officials. The DPR’s ethics board subsequently cleared Setya of wrongdoing, and he reclaimed his position as speaker in December.
Acrimony between rival agencies has hindered anticorruption efforts. In particular, the KPK and the national police have engaged in a series of disputes since 2009, reflecting deeper disagreement over governance reform among political elites. In September 2016, Jokowi appointed Budi Gunawan to serve as chief of national intelligence; Budi’s 2015 nomination as national police chief, despite corruption allegations against him, had set off a public outcry and a major clash with the KPK.
Civil society groups are able to comment on and influence pending policies or legislation. However, government transparency is limited by broad exemptions in the freedom of information law and obstacles such as a 2011 law that criminalizes the leaking of vaguely defined state secrets to the public.
Indonesia hosts a vibrant and diverse media environment, though press freedom is hampered by a number of legal and regulatory restrictions. Licensing rules are stringent but unevenly enforced, meaning that thousands of television and radio stations operate illegally. Before 2015, foreign journalists were not authorized to travel to the provinces of Papua and West Papua without special permission; Jokowi announced an end to the rule that year, but journalists seeking to visit the region have continued to report bureaucratic obstacles.
Reporters sometimes face violence and intimidation, which frequently goes unpunished. Journalists often practice self-censorship to avoid running afoul of civil and criminal defamation laws. The 2008 Law on Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE Law) extended libel and other restrictions to online media, criminalizing the distribution or accessibility of information or documents that are “contrary to the moral norms of Indonesia” or related to gambling, blackmail, or defamation. An amendment to the law passed in October 2016 allows individuals to obtain court orders to delete online information deemed “no longer relevant,” potentially permitting powerful figures to retroactively censor critical reporting. A report by the organization SAFEnet noted a steady increase in the use of the ITE Law since 2008, with cases often brought against anticorruption activists, whistle-blowers, and journalists.
Censorship and self-censorship of books and films for allegedly obscene or blasphemous content are fairly common. Official and unofficial censorship has long been in place regarding a period in 1965–66 (“Gestapu”) when alleged members of the Indonesia Communist Party (PKI) were massacred. In recent years, as public dialogue has increased amid the publication of new books and documentaries about the era, censorship has also increased.
Indonesia officially recognizes Islam, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism, though local customary practices (adat) also exist. Individuals have the option of leaving the religion section of their identity cards blank, but those who do—including adherents of faiths outside the six recognized religions—often face discrimination; in December 2016 the government asked the Constitutional Court to rule on allowing other faiths to appear on identity cards. Atheism is not accepted, and the criminal code contains provisions against blasphemy, penalizing those who “distort” or “misrepresent” recognized faiths.
National and local governments have repeatedly failed to protect religious minorities from violence and discrimination, and exhibited bias in investigations and prosecutions. To obtain a permit to build a new house of worship, a religious group must gather the signatures of 90 congregation members and 60 local residents of different faiths; the rule has been used to block or target minority religious sites. Mobs periodically attack houses of worship belonging to groups that form a minority in their area.
Violence and intimidation against Ahmadiyya, an Islamic sect with approximately 400,000 Indonesian followers, persisted in 2016, and the central government continued to tolerate persecution of the group by local governments. The Shiite Muslim minority has also suffered violence and intimidation, including forced conversion.
In 2016, attacks escalated against Gafatar, a heterodox Muslim group that was accused of combining the teachings of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. It was formed in 2011, but was formally disbanded in 2015 after the government refused to grant it a registration permit. In January and February, Gafatar communities in Kalimantan were threatened or attacked by mobs as security forces stood by, and as many as 7,900 people were forcibly relocated to their hometowns in Java and elsewhere, with many also subjected to “reeducation” sessions. In March, following a February fatwa against the group by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the Home and Religious Affairs Ministries issued a joint decree banning any proselytizing activities by the group’s former members and requiring them to uphold peace and order. Several Gafatar leaders have been arrested or sentenced to prison on blasphemy and other charges.
In recent years, hard-line Islamist groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) have engaged in raids and extrajudicial enforcement of Sharia bylaws, and pressured local governments to close churches and non-Sunni mosques. Their violent activities are not supported by the country’s main Islamic organizations, but they often have the support of high-ranking government officials, and security forces have been criticized for tacitly aiding them by ignoring their abuses.
Academic freedom in Indonesia is generally respected, though there are sporadic reports of pressure from groups such as FPI to cancel lectures that feature minority faiths or related issues. There are no major obstacles to open and free private discussion.
Freedom of assembly is usually upheld, and peaceful protests are common in the capital. However, assemblies in support of minority groups or to address sensitive political topics—such as Gestapu and Indonesia’s leftist past, women’s rights, or regional separatism—are regularly dispersed, with participants facing intimidation or violence from a combination of hard-line vigilantes and police. Among other incidents during 2016, FPI forcibly broke up a public event organized by a mainstream Islamic student group in Riau Province in April. In December, nearly a dozen individuals linked to the anti-Ahok protests were arrested and investigated for allegedly conspiring to overthrow the government, among other possible offenses. A 2010 regulation allows national police to use live ammunition to quell situations of “anarchic violence.”
Flag-raising ceremonies and independence rallies in Maluku and Papua are routinely dispersed, often violently, and participants have been tried for treason. The Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH Jakarta) reported in October 2016 that between April and September the authorities had arrested more than 2,280 Papuans for nonviolent demonstrations. In December, a series of demonstrations backing Papuan independence in multiple cities across the country resulted in some 500 arrests and multiple charges of treason.
Indonesia hosts a strong and active array of civil society organizations, but some human rights groups are subject to government monitoring and interference, and activists working on a variety of sensitive issues remain targets for human rights abuses. A 2013 law on mass organizations requires all civic and religious NGOs to register with the government and submit to regular reviews of their activities. It limits the types of activities NGOs can undertake, requires formal government approval to operate, and bars them from committing blasphemy or espousing ideas that conflict with the official Pancasila ideology, such as atheism and communism. The government is empowered to dissolve noncompliant organizations.
Workers can join independent unions, bargain collectively, and with the exception of civil servants, stage strikes. Legal strikes can be unduly delayed by obligatory arbitration processes, and laws against antiunion discrimination are not well enforced. Some unions have resorted to violence in their negotiations with employers, and labor-related demonstrations are common.
The judiciary, particularly the Constitutional Court, has demonstrated its independence in some cases, but the court system remains plagued by corruption and other weaknesses. A 2015 report by Amnesty International found that many defendants are denied proper access to legal counsel, including in death penalty cases. Jokowi’s administration has revived the application of the death penalty for drug-trafficking crimes. Four convicts were executed for such offenses in 2016, and at least 46 new death sentences were issued, in addition to 14 death sentences for murder. In May 2016, Jokowi issued a decree—later approved by the parliament—that authorizes harsher punishments for child sex offenders, including the death penalty and chemical castration.
The security forces are also rife with corruption and other abuses, and personnel regularly go unpunished or receive lenient sentences for human rights violations. In December 2016, the national police issued a regulation that prohibits law enforcement agencies from investigating a police officer without the preapproval of the national police chief. Military service members accused of crimes against civilians are tried in military courts, which lack impartiality and often impose light punishments. Torture by law enforcement officers is not specifically criminalized. KontraS (Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence) identified 260 victims of torture between mid-2015 and mid-2016, with most cases perpetrated by police, followed by the military and prison officers. Poor prison governance is compounded by endemic overcrowding and corruption. Prison riots and protests over lack of services have led to numerous jailbreaks.
Jokowi has pledged to address the human rights abuses of previous decades, and the government organized a symposium on the 1965–66 massacres in April 2016, but plans for a nonjudicial reconciliation mechanism have made little progress and drawn criticism for a lack of transparency. Moreover, in 2016 Jokowi appointed a security minister who had been accused of crimes against humanity dating to 1999.
Security forces have been fairly successful in suppressing the country’s terrorist networks. Nevertheless, hundreds of Indonesians have reportedly traveled to Syria and Iraq to join jihadist groups, raising the threat of domestic attacks. Among other events in 2016, a group of four attackers targeted police and civilians with firearms and suicide bombings in Jakarta in January, killing four people before being killed themselves. The Islamic State (IS) militant group claimed responsibility. In July, a suicide bomber attacked a police station in Central Java, though only the bomber was killed. Later than month, security forces killed IS-linked militant leader Abu Wardah Santoso in a gun battle in Central Sulawesi.
Since the 1950s, separatists have waged a low-grade insurgency in the provinces of Papua and West Papua, where the central government’s exploitation of natural resources and a heavy police and military presence have stirred resentment. Deadly confrontations between security forces and protesters are common, as are extrajudicial killings, tribal conflict, and violence related to labor disputes at foreign-operated mines and other resource-extraction enterprises. Jokowi has stated that achieving peace and development in Papua and West Papua is a priority of his presidency, but government ministries and agencies have at times openly contradicted his stated goals, and little progress was made in 2016.
A number of districts have issued local ordinances based on Sharia that in many cases are unconstitutional, contradict Indonesia’s international human rights commitments, or are difficult to enforce due to lack of clarity. Many are never reported to the Home Affairs Ministry for review. In 2015, Aceh implemented a new Sharia-based criminal code that applies even to non-Muslims and includes corporal punishment in the form of caning. At least 100 people were caned in 2016, including a Christian woman convicted of selling alcohol.
LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people face widespread discrimination, harassment by local officials, and attacks by hard-line Islamist groups that sometimes enjoy support from local authorities. In addition to the many local bylaws—in Aceh and elsewhere—that effectively criminalize LGBT people, a 2008 antipornography law labels same-sex sexual acts as “deviant.” Transgender people are routinely arrested and sent for counseling. Among other incidents in 2016, the authorities closed an Islamic boarding school for transgender students and moved to block social media applications serving the LGBT community.
Ethnic Chinese, who make up as little as 1 percent of the population but are resented by some for reputedly holding much of the country’s wealth, continue to face harassment. In addition, ethnic Chinese in Yogyakarta face restrictions on the right to own private property under a 1975 decree that contradicts national laws.
Indonesia grants temporary protection to refugees and migrants, including those stranded at sea, but the country is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and does not accept refugees for asylum and resettlement.
Freedom of travel and choice of residence, employment, and higher education are generally respected. However, the ability to obtain public employment or operate businesses is often limited by the need for bribes or other inducements.
Property rights are threatened by mining and logging activity on communal land and state appropriation of land claimed by indigenous groups. In 2013, the Constitutional Court ruled that indigenous people have the right to manage “customary forest” lands they inhabit. A 2015 ministerial regulation called for mining and plantation companies to allocate at least 20 percent of their land concessions for management and use by local people, though many companies reportedly failed to comply.
Discrimination against women persists, including in the workplace. Working men receive tax benefits that are unavailable to their wives, as husbands are deemed the heads of households. A 2008 law states that 30 percent of a political party’s candidates and board members must be women. In 2014, 94 women (approximately 17 percent) were elected to the 560-seat DPR. Abortion is illegal except to save a woman’s life or in instances of rape. Adults over 15 years of age must have corroboration and witnesses to bring rape charges.
Sharia-based ordinances in a number of districts infringe on women’s constitutional rights, and the ordinances’ restrictions on dress, public conduct, and sexual activity are disproportionately enforced against women and LGBT people. Women applying to work for the police and military must undergo “virginity tests” in some areas.
Marriages must be conducted under the supervision of a recognized religion, which can sometimes obstruct interfaith marriages; civil marriage is not possible. Divorce is legal, but civil servants seeking divorce must first undergo a mediation and approval process through a government personnel agency.
Many Indonesian workers are trafficked abroad for forced labor, including women in domestic service and men in the fishing industry. Traffickers are often able to avoid punishment due to corruption among law enforcement officials.