Freedom of speech under attack in academia

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Minister of Technology, Research, and Higher Education has been reported to the National Commission of Human Rights for violating human rights by limiting the freedom of speech of academics. (photo: IO/Raihan)

IO, Jakarta – Minister of Research, Technology and Higher Education (Menristekdikti) Mohamad Nasir has been reported to the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), accused of violating human rights by limiting the freedom of speech of academics. The complaint was filed by the National Chief Executive of the Indonesian Muslim Law Scholars and the 212 Alumni Brotherhood.

“Efforts by the Government, enforced through Menristekdikti, involve surveillance of campuses, along with repression of lecturers and students, and have thus violated their Human Rights,” said the 212 Alumni Brotherhood.

The 212 Alumni Brotherhood itself reported the Minister and several Rectors to the National Committee of Human Rights. In the same release, they asserted that the government’s action through Menristekdikti violated the government’s own law.

“Menristekdikti has violated human rights (HAM) guaranteed by laws and regulations, i.e. article 28E paragraph (3) of the 1945 Constitution and Article 5 of Law No. 9/1998 on Independence of Public Opinion, giving equal rights to Indonesian citizens to express themselves freely under legal protection.”

The complainant attached a list of alleged violations by Menristekdikti as evidence for the National Commission of Human Rights. Among them was the interrogation of Hasby Yusuf, an Economic Faculty Lecturer from Khairun University, Ternate, by a Police Deputy from the General Criminal Division of Northern Maluku. Hasby was called in for the police after criticizing President Joko Widodo on social media.

Another case is Nasir’s statement, in which he threatens to discharge the Rector of Riau University, Anas Mulyadi, in connection with recent bombings by suspected terrorists from his campus. Another complaint refers to the repression of student organizations at Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) because they are allegedly affiliated with Hizbut-Tahrir Indonesia (HTI).

A series of cases brought up by Ali Baharsyah, Coordinating Head of Campus Preachers’ Organization (BKLDK), accused the government of building a dangerous framing of “radicalism” with no clear definitions of what is “radical” or a concrete definition of radicalism. The government is also accused of playing an anticipatory role in suppressing all forms of criticism, presumably under the consecrated slogan of “NKRI Harga Mati” [Patriotically Defending the Indonesian Republic to the Death] based on a rhetorical alarm about the danger of disintegration and anti-Pancasila subversion by radicals.

“Although the stated objective is patriotic, defending Pancasila ideology, it is vulnerable to be turned later into a justification for repression by the government,” complained Ali Baharsyah.

In addition, he concluded that these kinds of efforts enforced by the government through Menristekdikti will effectively curb human rights, limiting the freedom of association, gathering and issuing opinions the free expression of which has been guaranteed by law.

“I encourage National Commission of Human Rights to take immediate action to avert a potential slide by the nation into a condition of Machstaat [Extreme State Power] revealing the behavior of rulers apparently abusing their political power for the benefit of certain interests,” he complained.

“We appreciate how the National Commission of Human Rights has proactively followed up on our complaints regarding the alleged violation of human rights by Menristekdikti regarding our freedom of speech and association around campuses, including acts of terror and threats to academics based on the excuse of the promotion of radicalism on campus,” explained Ali Baharsyah.

In addition, it was revealed that “students feel intimidated”. The latest case reported was from the State University of Semarang [UNNES] whose Rector suspended students for two semesters after they criticized campus policy, hiding behind the excuse of following up on a new Menristekdikti policy (as reported by fellow students). “We will promptly follow up on this with the National Commission of Human Rights, asking for their attention in examining evidence and preparing witnesses so that the case moves forward to the stage of investigation. We demand the President immediately terminate the Menristekdikti, so the investigation of alleged violations of human rights that we have filed may be objective, effective, equal, impartial, and in accord with the law and justice,” he concluded. (Raihan)