Indonesia: Intimidation against human rights activists exemplify narrowing civic and democratic space

CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, is highly alarmed by the Indonesian authorities' decision to name human rights defenders Fatia Maulidiyanti and Haris Azhar as suspects in a defamation case for speaking up about human rights violations connected to corporate crime in Papua allegedly linked to government officials.

As documented by the CIVICUS Monitor, the case stemmed from a YouTube talk show in which Fatia and Haris discussed the findings of an investigative report conducted by several NGOs revealing the alleged connection of Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, the Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and several other authorities, with gold mining activities in the Blok Wabu area in Intan Jaya district of Papua.

On 17 March 2022, the Greater Jakarta Regional Police Investigators officially announced Fatia Maulidiyanti, Coordinator of the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS) and Haris Azhar, Founder of Lokataru Foundation, as suspects in a defamation lawsuit filed by the Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs in September 2021 under 27(3) in conjunction with Article 45 of the Electronic Information and Transaction Law (ITE Law) and Article 310(1) and 311 of the Penal Code.

"The criminalisation of Fatia Maulidiyanti and Haris Azhar shows how the government and its law enforcement are trying to intimidate human rights defenders and curb those exposing abuses by the state. We stand in solidarity with the defenders," said Cornelius Hanung, Advocacy and Campaigns Officer for Asia of CIVICUS.

On 21 March 2022, the two were questioned further by the police. Two days later, on 23 March 2022, nine NGOs later reported Luhut Binsar Panjaitan to the police for alleged gratification related to the situation in Intan Jaya and presented their findings based on their research that the two defenders had discussed. The police, however, refused to process the report, showing the disparity of treatment by law enforcement in Indonesia. 

There has been systematic judicial harassment against human rights defenders in Indonesia, particularly those who work in the Papuan region. Aside from the criminalisation of Fatia and Haris, Papuan human rights defender Victor Yeimo has been detained and charged with treason for his peaceful involvement in anti-racism protests in 2019.

Recently, hundreds of protesters from Laskar Merah Putih, a pro-government mass organisation, held a protest in front of the office of Amnesty International Indonesia, demanding the government expel the organisation from the country while holding posters intimidating Usman Hamid, the executive director.

The targeting of human rights defenders contravenes the commitments of Indonesia to uphold human rights and democracy made in international forums. On 16 December 2021, Indonesia, together with the other UN Member States, adopted with consensus a UNGA resolution to strengthen the protection of human rights defenders. It has also taken a progressive stance to promote and protect human rights at the ASEAN level, particularly on the issue of the Rohingya in Myanmar. Further, Indonesia has been the initiator of the Bali Democracy Forum, an annual international forum to discuss democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in the Asia Pacific. Also, the democracy index of Indonesia in 2021, as published by the Economic Intelligence Unit, increased slightly compared to 2020. However, this progressive stance is not reflected in protecting human rights defenders at the domestic level.

An enabling environment for human rights defenders and civil society to raise their voices and provide checks and balances without fear of reprisals is an essential component of a healthy democracy. The intimidation against Fatia and Haris, and other human rights activists working on various issues, including Papua, shows how democracy and civic space in Indonesia are obstructed unprecedentedly.

"We call upon the government to immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against the two human rights defenders and human rights activists who expose human rights violations and corporate abuses in Papua. Instead, the government should prioritise investigating the abuses and uphold principles of good governance and democracy," Cornelius Hanung said.

The civic space in Indonesia is rated obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor.







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