Repressive Indonesian acts against academic freedom hit Bandung

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Indonesian campaigners for free expression launch an open letter highlighted on Watch Indonesia last October. Image: WatchIndonesia.org

In the absence of the Indonesian state’s assurance for freedom of expression, the nation has continuously witnessed repressive acts against academic freedom within university campuses across the country.

While it was the police who halted a number of such academic events in Yogyakarta, lately, similar repression has been observed in West Java. The only difference in the latter was that the hard-line group, the Islam Defenders Front (FPI), played the role of oppressor.

Just last Thursday, the social and political sciences department of Padjajaran University (Unpad) in Sumedang, near West Java’s capital of Bandung, decided to cancel its seminar, entitled “Marxisme sebagai Ilmu Pengetahuan” (Marxism as science) following intimidation by the FPI.

Activist Firman Ekoputra from the Rumah Kiri organisation, Unpad political scholar M. Rolip Saptamaji and Unpad political science lecturer Carolina Paskarina were initially scheduled to speak at the seminar.

It was the second repressive act in only a week by the FPI against freedom of academic expression in the province.

On May 10, the hardliners dispersed Sekolah Marx (School of Marx), an event discussing Marxism conducted by the Daunjati student press group of the Indonesian Art and Culture Institute (ISBI).

The FPI demanded Daunjati end the event, but the press group continued with proceedings until last Wednesday, albeit with compromises.

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Student Council spokesperson of Unpad’s social and political sciences department Muhammad Ariq Andarmesa said the FPI had come to the university, demanding that the university cancel the seminar.

Campus powerless
“The academic affairs division of my department then asked the students to cancel the event, citing security reasons,” Ariq told The Jakarta Post in an interview on Thursday.

He also received various anonymous phone calls, including one claimed to be from police intelligence, telling Ariq to beware as tension with communists was simmering.

“This proves the campus, once heralded as an autonomous institution free from outside pressures, is powerless in dealing with threats to its academic freedom,” Ariq said.

The department head, Widya Setiabudi, said recommending the student council delay the seminar was aimed to “deal with the simmering tension”.

“We wanted to cool down the situation. In the end, we just postponed the event,” Widya said, adding that Marxism was a common subject of campus discussion, given that it was part of the social and political studies course.

However, Research, Technology and Higher Education Minister Muhammad Nasir told the Post on Thursday that Marxism was banned in all campuses in the country.

“It cannot be taught as a university subject. Every campus has to abide by the law,” Nasir said, adding that Marxism was not in line with core values that embody the “belief in God” principle, outlined in the Constitution.

Police job
The ministry’s director-general for academic and student affairs, Intan Achmad, said he was unaware that Marxism had become a subject at the university.

Meanwhile, National Police spokesman Brigadier-General Boy Rafli Amar said it was the police’s job to handle communist-related events, not the FPI’s.

“The FPI should not act as vigilantes toward any event related to communism,” Boy told the Post on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM) researcher Andi Mutaqqien said Article 219 of the Criminal Code, which stipulates that advocating communism is a crime, was open to interpretation.

“Not every seminar on communism intends to advocate the ideology,” Andi said.

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