Uncle Sam’s take on Jokowi

Irawan Ronodipuro

IO – In a recent rally held in Yogyakarta, Jokowi told his audience that, until now, he has been tolerant of what he has labeled as slander, hoaxes and fake news.  No longer, he says.  Jokowi promised his administration would get tougher on people he feels are treating him unfairly and defaming his good character.   How much tougher remains to be seen, but in truth Jokowi’s claims of being a tolerant leader is a bit of stretch:  although he often portrays himself as a God-loving liberal democrat, the president’s track record on human rights is extraordinarily poor.

Since first coming into print in 2017 we have extensively covered Jokowi’s abuses of power, his trampling of civil rights and backsliding on democracy.  International NGOs, such as Human Rights Watch, and international news publications such as the Economist have also chronicled his paltry performance in upholding basic human rights and democratic norms.   Now, in the most recent annual report issued by the U.S. State Department on human rights, the Trump Administration has joined the chorus on criticizing Jokowi’s government, stating:

Human rights issues included reports of arbitrary or unlawful killings by government security forces; torture by police; arbitrary detention by the government; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons and detention centers; political prisoners; censorship, including laws addressing treason, blasphemy, defamation, and decency, site blocking, and criminal libel; corruption and attempts by government elements to undermine efforts to prosecute corrupt officials.

America’s 2018 Human Rights Report documents specific cases and policies surely to make  Jokowi even more defensive than usual.  In one section of the report, covering  ‘arbitrary deprivation of life’ that have occurred during Jokowi’s presidency, the authors write about “reports by human rights groups and media that military and police personnel used excessive force that resulted in deaths during arrests, investigations, crowd control, and other operations.  In these and other cases of alleged misconduct, police and the military frequently did not disclose the findings of internal investigations to the public or confirm whether such investigations occurred.”

Of course, similar abuses have occurred during previous Indonesian presidencies.  Yet, this is not a valid reason for giving Jokowi a pass on excesses that have taken place under his watch.   This is particularly true of his unprecedented ‘war on drugs’, which seems in part to have been inspired by other authoritarian-leaning government crack-downs on drug abuse,  often with harsh and uncalled-for consequences.  As the report notes, “international NGOs criticized excessive use of force in counternarcotics operations.  Amnesty International reported 77 killings by police between January and August” in 2018, and “this surge followed the announcement of Cipta Kondisi, an operation in which senior police officials promised firm actions including a shoot-on-sight policy for anyone who resisted arrest.”

Torture and arbitrary arrests by security and law enforcement personnel have also continued unabated under the Jokowi Administration.   This is carefully documented in many instances, one example being “a local NGO reported 50 allegations of torture by the Criminal Investigations Division (of the National Police) in the first half of the year.”  And, as highlighted in the report, “there were multiple media and NGO reports of police temporarily detaining persons for participating in peaceful demonstrations and other non-violent activities.  According to media reports, authorities temporarily detained more than 300 individuals for participating in peaceful rallies.”

Uncle Sam is similarly critical of Jokowi for his selective use of defamation laws to criminalize critics of his presidency.  “Elements within the government and society selectively cited criminal defamation laws in ways that intimidated people and restricted freedom of speech.”    Political activists, members of the opposing political coalition and journalists alike have felt the wrath of the government, and deadly intimidation even extends to journalists in cases involving business cronies:  “The Alliance of Independent Journalists reported 34 cases of violence directed at journalists and media offices. Journalist Muhammad Yusuf died of an apparent heart attack after spending five weeks in detention on defamation charges related to a series of articles he had written on local land issues involving a major palm oil company.”

Corruption, as well, has not gone unnoticed by Jokowi’s critics.  One of Jokowi’s campaign promises in 2014 was to improve Indonesia’s scorecard on corruption, including reform of the judiciary.  Yet, as the U.S. State Department points out, “Bribes and extortion influenced prosecution, conviction and sentencing in civil and criminal cases.  Key individuals in the justice system were accused of accepting bribes and condoning suspected corruption.  Legal aid organizations reported cases often moved very slowly unless a bribe was paid and that in some cases prosecutors demanded payments from defendants to ensure a less zealous prosecution or to make a case disappear.”

In short, when it comes to human rights, there have been very little if any improvements in human rights.  Jokowi deserves to be widely criticized, despite his protestations of slander and the like.