Indonesia: Indonesia Expels A "Gadfly"

2004

Anthony L Smith

On 6 June 2004, Dr Sidney Jones, who ran the Jakarta office of the International Crisis Group (ICG), left Indonesia after she and her assistant, Francesca Lawe-Davies, were refused a renewal on their working visas. Intelligence supremo and cabinet member, General A.M. Hendropriyono, had earlier signalled the expulsion mentioning that there were twenty groups that represented undue foreign influence, but he only singled out the ICG by name.

Since being established in Indonesia the ICG has written a number of highly regarded reports on crisis situations around the Indonesian archipelago. In particular, Jones' various reports on the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist organization have been landmark studies. Although Hendropriyono failed to make crystal clear the exact nature of his concerns he merely stated that some of the reports contained factual errors the ICG reports do contain explicit and implicit criticisms of military conduct in Indonesia. In a number of these reports the ICG has noted that elements of the Indonesian military have maintained a number of links with unsavoury paramilitary organizations. Reports on Aceh, Papua, Ambon and other troubled areas have further noted the unhelpful actions of the armed forces. One recent report on Aceh is entitled 'Aceh: How Not to Win Hearts and Minds?', and, as the title suggests, is a stinging indictment of Indonesia's handling of the conflict.

What does this mean for freedom of speech in Indonesia? Some commentators, including Jones herself, were quick to brush off this incident as exceptional rather than a return to the tightly controlled political space of the Soeharto years. Jones' ICG boss, former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans, described the incident as the 'last twitch of the dinosaur'. It cannot be denied that the media in Indonesia remains free to publish, and frequently targets the political and military elite in its commentary. However, one should not dismiss this incident so easily. Along with the great explosion of media sources in Indonesia since the fall of Soeharto in May 1998, there have been a number of serious incidents that go against the prevailing climate of free speech. Although the Sidney Jones case grabbed world headlines for a time, it is not an isolated incident of censorship.

Foreign researchers and NGOs have come in for special attention, as have local NGOs in Aceh and Papua. To cite one example, Australian based academic Lesley McCulloch and American nurse Joy Lee Sadler were detained for a lengthy period of time in Aceh. Furthermore, local activists in conflict zones report regular harassment by the security services. The deaths of a handful of activists over the years also contains the air of suspicion. The 2001 death of Theys Eluay, a Papuan independence leader, while in the presence of special forces' officers, remains highly suspicious according to Indonesia's own police investigators. While there are now far greater freedoms than before, these cases taken collectively demonstrate that old authoritarian habits from the past remain within the system. Megawati, in her first press conference in her entire presidency, actually supported the decision to expel Sidney Jones. Although none of this in itself represents an actual reversal of Indonesia's hesitant democratisation, it does demonstrate yet another example of the current president's sympathy with some of the hard-line means of Indonesia's not too distant past.

The views expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect US Policy, the position of The Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, US Pacific Command, Department of Defense or any US Governmental agency.

WATCHPOINT: Will other foreign and local NGOs in Indonesia now be targeted by the Indonesian authorities, as indicated by General A.M. Hendropriyono's remarks?

 

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