Future of Academic Freedom in Indonesia Under Threat
Updated: Jan 6
Photo credit: KIKA
In May 2022, Scholars at Risk (SAR) and the Indonesian Caucus for Academic Freedom (KIKA) submitted a report on the status of human right and academic freedom in Indonesia to the United Nations Periodic Review, in preparation of the next annual United Nations Human Rights Council review meeting in November. The joint report has highlighted “a pattern of repression targeting outspoken scholars and students” in addition to institutional and legal pressures that have severely compromised the autonomy of higher education.
As a national coalition of scholars, researchers, and students who strive for human rights and academic freedom, KIKA has, since 2018, been a central part of academic solidarity networks in Indonesia. KIKA’s task forces address a wide spectrum of issues from sexual violence on campus and student movements to policy orientation for higher education and academic integrity and culture. The joint report indicates that there has been an increase in attacks on academic freedom and higher education institutions since March 2017, as the Indonesian government increased pressure on higher education institutions to punish and silence dissent, inquiry, critical thinking, overall, and academic freedom as an integral part of freedom of speech. According to the KIKA-SAR joint research that has extensively monitored academic freedom violations in Indonesia as part of SAR’s global Academic Freedom Monitoring Project, in the past five years, students faced arrest and police violence more frequently, along with a striking increase in the number of university disciplinary actions to intimidate students and faculty, who are critical of the government. Moreover, increasing number of attacks on Papuan students and faculty have raised concerns over racism and discrimination in higher education.
Besides brutal attacks, scholars in Indonesia have also been targeted with criminal legal actions, civil lawsuits, death threats and harassment in response to their academic expression. Some of these civil lawsuits against scholars criminalized expert testimony in legal proceedings given by academics. These lawsuits discourage scholars from offering their expertise and subsequently cut the ties between academia and the public. Law professor Eva Achjani Zulfa and Moeflich Hasbullah, a senior lecturer of social sciences, are among the latest victims of this legal intimidation strategy of the Indonesian government. Zulfa was put on trial for her expert testimony in an embezzlement case in 2020, and Hasbullah for his expert opinion on the Islamic terrorist organization Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia in 2017.
Endangered Scholars Worldwide forcefully condemns the ongoing detention, persecution, conviction, and brutal treatment of students, activists, and journalists by the Indonesian government and stands in solidarity with Indonesian people in their struggle for freedom and a peaceful transition to democracy. The widespread arrests, trials, and imprisonments of Indonesia’s students are particularly appalling. As a member state of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), whose Human Rights Declaration provides for the right to education (Article 31), the right to “enjoy [...] the benefits of scientific progress and its applications” (Article 32), and freedom of opinion and expression (Article 23), the Indonesian government must honor its constitutional and international legal commitments by reinstating academic freedom and university autonomy in the country. ESW calls upon all international organizations, academic and professional associations, and other groups and individuals devoted to the promotion and defense of human rights to strongly protest and condemn this arbitrary incarceration; to ask for Indonesian scholars’ and students’ immediate and unconditional release; and to urge the officials of the Indonesian government to release all political prisoners, especially those who pose no threat to the public.
 Joint Submission to the Universal Periodic Review of Indonesia by Scholars at Risk and the Indonesian Caucus for Academic Freedom. Fourth Review Cycle, 41st Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council