Asia in Review Archive (2019-2020)


Date of AiR edition

News summary

28 July 2020

Indonesia: Majority of the public wants regional elections delayed

(yo) According to a poll, many Indonesians believe the government should postpone the 2020 regional elections that are scheduled for December. The survey demonstrated 63.1% of respondents do not support the elections being held then, while only 34.3% said they should. Policy makers and experts believe it will be difficult to encourage public participation in voting. The General Elections Commission says postponing elections is not part of the plan at the moment, but that they will focus on arranging health protocols and procuring protective equipment. [The Jakarta Post]

28 July 2020

India and Indonesia agree on expanded security cooperation

(ls) India and Indonesia on Monday agreed to expand their strategic security cooperation in several areas, including the sharing of technology, on the occasion of a meeting of Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and his Indonesian counterpart General Prabowo Subianto in New Delhi. The two countries had signed a new defence cooperation agreement in 2018 during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Indonesia. The pact was aimed at reflecting the elevation of the relationship between the two countries to a comprehensive strategic partnership. [The Print]

Meanwhile, Indonesia’s Maritime Security Agency (Bakamla) launched the Indonesian Maritime Information Center (IMIC) last week as part of efforts to support law enforcement at sea through exchanges of information to better fight smuggling, illegal fishing and other crimes at sea. The center is also meant to complement international maritime agencies operating in neighboring countries, such as the Information Fusion Center (IFC) in Singapore and the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) in Malaysia. [Benar News]

14 July 2020

Indonesia seizes Chinese fishing ship over alleged maltreatment of Indonesian fisherman on board

On Wednesday last week, Indonesian authorities seized a Chinese fishing vessel over suspicions of mistreatment of Indonesian fishermen. On board, they found a dead sailor in a freezer. In May, reports surfaced that at least three bodies of Indonesian sailors had been thrown from Chinese boats into the Pacific Ocean in recent months, while the overall number of deceased is allegedly higher. Indonesia’s foreign ministry has demanded China to disclose the facts of the cases. [Nikkei Asian Review]


14 July 2020

Is Indonesia failing to control its coronavirus outbreak?

(yo) According to some health experts, the Indonesian government is struggling to handle the coronavirus with a lack of testing, poor communication strategies, and the “promotion of bogus cures.” Private hospitals and clinics in Indonesia are charging patients up to $1450 for a coronavirus test, more than three times the monthly minimum wage. While Indonesia is the fourth most populous country, testing rates is one of the lowest in the world. International organizations urge Indonesia to bolster public health communication and tracing. Experts are concerned that the government is not taking the matter seriously enough. The Minister of Agriculture recently caused controversy by claiming to have developed a “eucalyptus necklace” that can prevent the spread of COVID-19. The pandemic has revealed a lack of crisis proficiency and awareness in the country, as restrictions have begun to be eased although cases are rising. [Sydney Morning Herald][The Guardian] [The Sydney Morning Herald]

7 July 2020

Indonesia: Government announces help to avoid “lost generation” of students

(yo) Indonesia’s Education and Culture Ministry last week announced a raft of emergency measures to relieve students from financial burden in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Specifically, the government is planning to reduce tuition fees in order to prevent more students that have been impacted by COVID-19 from dropping out of universities. However, these undertakings are criticised to reveal different attitudes towards private and public universities, as only public universities have been instructed to provide such concessions while 90% of students, who in fact are in private institutions will not benefit from policy adjustments.

Education Minister Nadiem Makarim additionally announced other support strategies as fee discounts, deferrals, hardship scholarships, and so on in order to facilitate students to continue studying. He stated his intention to ease conditions for private universities as well, allocating one trillion rupiah to provide financial assistance for private college students. However, there is yet debate on whether this would be enough to support families that have been hit by the pandemic, and mitigate long term impacts of education graduation rates and youth unemployment. [Times Higher Education]


7 July 2020

Court upholds Australian government refusal to release documents on Indonesia’s 1975 invasion of Timor-Leste

(lm) An Australian court last week upheld the government’s refusal to release diplomatic cables and cabinet documents relating to Australia’s involvement in Indonesia’s 1975 occupation of Timor-Leste. Since the hearing began in 2018, academic Kim McGrath had repeatedly sought access from the National Archives to documents that record border negotiations between Indonesia and Australia in the 1970s.

Under the Archives Act, cabinet documents are made public after 30 years – currently transitioning to 20 years – however, the law also provides legislative protection to Commonwealth government records, which is why successive governments had blocked her applications for the documents over a number of years. In its decision, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) upheld various reasons for refusal, including that disclosing the documents “could reasonably be expected to cause damage to the security or international relations of the commonwealth”. [The Guardian]


7 July 2020

Indonesia: President Widodo’s mercurial relationship with his own party hit another bump

(lm) Throughout the last week, party elites of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) have taken to social media their disappointment over President Joko Widodo’s decision to appoint a non-party figure as the new Minister of State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs). Not a PDI-P cadre, Mr Erick Thohir, who headed President Widodo’s re-election campaign team last year, was widely credited for successfully organising the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia. [Strait Times]

Rancour in PDI-P hit rock bottom when Mr Thohir later appointed former colleagues, who helped him organise the 2018 Asian Games, to senior posts in state-owned enterprises and other strategic posts. PDI-P leader Adian Napitupulu reportedly had submitted a list of about 30 candidates in October 2019 to State Secretary Pratikno, who then handed it over to Mr Thohir. According to Mr Napitupulu, however, none of his nominees was ever summoned.



30 June 2020

Malaysia wants no more Rohingya refugees – APHR calls ASEAN’s limited help shameful

(cm/ls) Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has said that Malaysia did not have the resources and capacity to allow further Rohingya refugees be admitted to the country. Malaysia implemented strict border control since April when an influx of Rohingya refugees attempted to enter. Many of the refugees have been detained. Muhyiddin urged “the UN Refugee Agency to speed up the resettlement of Rohingya in Malaysia to third countries” as there are more than 100,000 refugees currently in Malaysia. [Bangkok Post] [South China Morning Post] [Air No. 23, June/2020, 2]

Meanwhile, Indonesian fishermen have rescued nearly 100 Rohingya refugees, including 79 women and children, in Aceh province. Officials said they planned to push them back out to sea with a new boat, gas and food, but these plans have not been realized following protests from the local fishermen. [Reuters]



30 June 2020

At summit, ASEAN leaders stress importance of international law for South China Sea dispute 

(jn) Leaders of the members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Friday emphasized the importance of maintaining and promoting “freedom of navigation and overflight” above the South China Sea. The passage in their vision statement is seen as a response to reports of China planning to establish an air defense identification zone (ADIZ), something the country has also not ruled out publicly. The prospect of an ADIZ was not only decried by ASEAN members, but also the US military in the region.

ASEAN members explicitly stressed “the importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability, and avoid actions that may further complicate the situation.” They also agreed to work on “an effective and substantive Code of Conduct” for the South China Sea, a framework that would go further than the 2002 Declaration of Conduct that the ASEAN once agreed on with China.

On Saturday, another ASEAN statement authored by chairing member Vietnam pointed out that the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) should be “the basis for determining maritime entitlements, sovereign rights, jurisdiction and legitimate interests over maritime zones” in the South China Sea. Such remarks can be seen as a strong repudiation to China’s controversial historical claim to most of the disputed waters, and it is no coincidence that Vietnam as one of the most vocal critics of China’s encroachment was the drafter. As a sign of increasing geopolitical tensions, Chinese vessels harassed Vietnamese fishing boats this month and in April, and in the earlier case sunk one of them [AiR No. 24, June/2020, 3] [AiR No. 14, April/2020, 1].

The UNCLOS defines certain water areas as exclusive economic zones (EEZ) where coastal states are given the exclusive right to explore and use marine resources. The leaders said in the statement that the “UNCLOS sets out the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out”. 

There was no immediate response from China, but according to AP, Southeast Asian diplomats said that the statement marked a significant strengthening of ASEAN’s assertion of the rule of law in the region. In 2016, the Permanent Court or Arbitration in The Hague had ruled that China’s vast claims in the South China Sea had no legal basis. However, Beijing did not recognize the ruling. 

For a number of different interpretations and evaluation of the ruling see [ISEAS]. Among them is a piece of Clive Schofield who refers to China’s refection of the ruling to point to the fact of “fundamentally opposed, overlapping and contested spatial visions of maritime rights in the SCS” which “sets the scene for ongoing maritime incidents and disputes” with China not giving up its claims of historic rights.  

The ASEAN leaders also dedicated themselves to tackling the economic collateral damage wreaked by the Covid-19 pandemic by establishing a regional pandemic fund, building medical supply stockpiles and reasserting the need for open trade links.  

The vision statement reaffirmed the importance of implementing free trade agreements and comprehensive economic partnerships between ASEAN and key economies. It mentioned India as a major trading partner (alongside China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and Hong Kong), although PM Narendra Modi had said last year that India would withdraw from the negotiations to sign up for the 16-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade pact [see also AiR No.45, November/2019, 1]

The 36th ASEAN Summit themed “Cohesive And Responsive ASEAN: Rising Above Challenges And Sustaining Growth” was convened as a video conference on June 26 under the chair of Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc. [The Guardian] [South China Morning Post] [South China Morning Post 2] [Radio Free Asia] [Asia Nikkei Review]



30 June 2020

Philippine President Duterte calls ASEAN not to escalate South China Sea dispute

(mp) Echoing ASEAN’s general stance on the South China Sea (see above), also Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte called the parties involved in the conflict to exercise self-restraint and respect the rule of law to avoid “escalating tension.” He stressed that the conflict needed to be solved peacefully and in accordance with international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Duterte, the country coordinator for ASEAN-China dialogues, demanded to work with China closely and to achieve an early conclusion with the other member states to reduce the tensions in the region that have continuously risen. [Inquirer]



30 June 2020

Indonesia: Sub-optimal handling of corona crisis exposes governance weaknesses

(ls) Indonesia’s handling of the Covid-19 outbreak has largely been criticized as not suitable. The crisis has exposed limitations in the state’s capacity to address the immediate risks for public health and longer-term socio-economic consequences. An ISEAS Perspective argues that the crisis is a reminder for the government to initiate a comprehensive overhaul of administrative structures and decision-making processes. In particular, data collection and information management would need to be improved. [ISEAS]

Over the weekend, President Joko Widodo addressed his Cabinet in an unusually fiery tone, saying that he was prepared to take extraordinary political and governmental steps to address the current crisis, including a Cabinet reshuffle. The president is under increasing public pressure due to the still rising number of infections in the country. [Jakarta Post]




23 June 2020

Indonesian court finds Papuan men guilty of treason

(lm) An Indonesian court found three Papuan men guilty of treason and sentenced them to up to 11 months in prison for their involvement in anti-racism rallies in West Papua last year, a verdict that human rights activists considered as an indicator of deteriorating political freedoms in the world’s third-largest democracy. [The Guardian]

The three Papuans are part of the “Balikpapan Seven” group of West Papuan activists and university students arrested by police last August for involvement in anti-racism riots that swept across Indonesia’s easternmost provinces last August. [The Straits Times[Reuters]

The demonstrations were sparked by racist attacks on several Papuan students in Java, where they were allegedly called “monkeys” and other racial taunts. Thousands of people took part in the rallies, which began mostly peaceful, but turned violent, with protesters burning the parliamentary building, public facilities, and shopping stores. [AiR No. 35, August/2019, 4]





16 June 2020

Indonesia: The pandemic has given the military a boost

(yo) As Indonesia apparently failed to respond quickly in taking preventive action against the Covid-19 pandemic, the country has been making use of the military instead to compensate for initial inaction. Instead of health experts, senior army leaders are taking charge, which demonstrates that the government did not consider the pandemic as a crisis that would demand long-term health reforms. 

Indonesia has been suffering from a shortage of trained medical staff and personal protective equipment, but structural causes have remained largely unaddressed. An example of the government’s misguided approach has, for instance, benn the Health Minister, Terawan Agus Putranto, who argued that prayers would protect Indonesians from the virus. 

Army officials are responsible for contact tracing, surveillance and border controls. Experts worry such expansive involvement of the military could facilitate military resurgence in civilian affairs and even digress towards authoritarianism. Besides Indonesia, other governments in Southeast Asia have adopted security-heavy strategies, which may be difficult to undo once the pandemic is over. [Foreign Policy]




2 June 2020

Indonesia: Indonesian policeman killed by sword-wielding militant

(yo) A militant suspected to be an extremist linked with the Islamic State (IS) killed an Indonesian policeman and severely injured another on Monday. The aggressor had apparently planned a raid at the police post in South Daha district on Kalimantan with another attacker. They exploded a car outside the police post by setting it on fire, which led the officers outside when the raid began. Authorities note the act happening on a day commemorating pluralist democracy in Southeast Asia as a continued pattern of extremist activities that have been targeted against state figures. [Channel News Asia]



26 May 2020

Indonesia: Indonesia could face baby boom amid limited access to contraception

(yo) Due to limited birth control under conditions of the Covid-19 pandemic, Indonesia faces a potential baby boom. The National Population and Family Planning Board reported that 10% of Indonesia’s reproductive couples found access to contraceptives difficult, and that one month without contraceptives of these individuals could lead to 420,000 unexpected pregnancies. Unfortunately, not only people are hesitant about visiting health clinics because of fears they would be exposed to Covid-19, many clinics are currently not open; and those that continue to function receive limited patients. Although government health workers are visiting to supply contraceptives, family planning services, and personal protective equipment, the potential baby boom creates some concern in the world’s fourth most-populous country. [Straits Times]


26 May 2020

Indonesia: New Navy and Air Force Chiefs of Staff

(jk) President Joko Widodo has inaugurated Admiral Yudo Margono and Air Chief Marshal Fadjar Prasetyo as the new chiefs of staff of the Navy and Air Force last week. [Jakarta Post] Adm. Yudo most recently led Navy patrols during a standoff with Chinese coast guard and maritime militia vessels in the North Natuna Sea [Asia in Review No. 1, January/2020, 1]. 


26 May 2020

Indonesia: Army deployed to enforce Indonesia’s virus restrictions

(jk) Indonesia deployed “hundreds of thousands of soldiers and police” across several provinces this week to enforce rules on virus containment, such as wearing masks and safe distancing. The forces were deployed after reports surfaced too many people were not adhering to the rules, especially over the weekend celebrating Eid – the end of the Islamic fasting month. [Japan Times]

26 May 2020

Indonesia: Extremist charities thriving 

(jk) With the Indonesian government enforcing anti-terrorism laws and increasing arrests under terror-related charges, extremist charities seemingly proliferate in the country. Their purpose often includes support for the families of incarcerated or killed members of terrorist organisations and expose them and their network to extremist thoughts and activities. In Indonesia, the “so-called Islamic State (IS) informal charities” thrive due to demand, failure of efficient government deradicalization programs, as well as a lack of laws regulating local charities and loopholes in existing anti-terror financing laws. [East Asia Forum]

19 May 2020

Indonesia: Controversy about postponement of regional elections

(ls) In April, Indonesia’s House of Representatives decided to postpone regional elections, which will be held simultaneously in the country’s 270 regions, from September to 9 December because of the Covid-19 crisis. Critics have said that voting in December is still too early and that it meant allowing incumbent candidates to benefit from the coronavirus crisis response if it was successful. The House will reevaluate the issue in the next sitting period, which will begin on 12 June. [Jakarta Post]

19 May 2020

Indonesia: Military’s counterterrorism powers further entrenched

(ls) Last week, a draft presidential decree was sent to the Indonesian parliament that stipulates the powers of the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) in counterterrorism. According to the decree, the TNI’s tasks include terrorism prevention in the form of intelligence gathering and territorial operations, along with offensive measures to respond to attacks. Human rights advocates said that giving the military wide-ranging counter-terror duties could have detrimental impacts on law enforcement and accountability. Two years ago, after the suicide bombings in Surabaya, parliament strengthened the country’s anti-terrorism law, formalizing a role for the military in duties that had been reserved for the police for two decades. [Benar News]

19 May 2020

Tensions between China and Indonesia over alleged mistreatment of sailors

(ls) Indonesia’s foreign ministry said it was seeking more information about alleged incidents of Indonesian sailors having died after mistreatments on Chinese fishing vessels. An advocacy group said last weekend it concluded that the body of an Indonesian sailor was thrown off a Chinese ship near Somalia in January. Earlier this month, the government in Jakarta demanded an explanation from China regarding the sea burials of three Indonesian sailors in the Pacific Ocean between December and March. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said that Beijing was investigating the reports. [Asian Nikkei Review]

19 May 2020

Indonesia: Veteran politician about to set up a new party 

(hg) National Mandate Party (PAN) patron Amien Rais, a vocal critic of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, is preparing to form a new political party following an internal rift within PAN. 

PAN, a smaller, moderate Islamist party, that fractured in February over an ugly dispute over the new party leadership. Like PAN, the new party in the planning aims at accommodating groups critical of the government. At current, Jokowi’s multi-party coalition controls more than 75% of the House of Representatives, leaving only PAN, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and the Democratic party in the opposition. 

Amien Rais, once leader of Muhammadiyah, Indonesia’s second-largest Muslim organization, was a key member of the religious elite that helped to topple President Suharto in 1998, the year in which he founded PAN, which sided since with hardline Islamic groups. PAN has previously supported also Gerindra Party chairman General Prabowo Subianto who then decided to join his rival Jokowi’s cabinet as defense minister after ‘his’ Gerindra joined the ruling coalition. [Jakarta Post]

12 May 2020

Indonesia urges China to investigate “burial at sea”

(jk) Indonesia’s government on the weekend spoke out against what it referred to as  inhuman treatment of its nationals by a Chinese fishing company. The company allegedly keeps Indonesian fishermen as without granting them basic rights and mistreating them gravely. At least at least three of them have been confirmed dead and were thrown overboard as caught on a video recording. [New Straits Times]


5 May 2020

Indonesia turns to domestic arms industry amid Covid-19 restraints

(hg) Amid delayed plans to acquire foreign arms because of the Covid-19 outbreak government and think tanks in Indonesia encourage local arms manufacturers to step up production capacities and develop the necessary technologies. [The Star] gives a detailed report on the related efforts to develop a more self-supporting arms industry. 


28 April 2020

INTERPOL crackdown on terrorist routes in Southeast Asia

(jk) An INTERPOL-led operation from mid-February to mid-March involving law enforcement from Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines led to the arrest of over 180 individuals, allegedly involved in human trafficking and terrorism. The operation took place along known common routes used by terrorist and organized crime groups in the border area of the involved countries, for example the Sulu and Celebes Seas, which have repeatedly been the focus of terrorist for kidnappings and human trafficking. Law enforcement was able to rescue a number of human trafficking victims and seized illegal firearms and explosives. [INTERPOL]


28 April 2020

Indonesia: Move of capital on hold due to Covid 19

(jk) The Indonesian government has said it would put its plan to move the nation’s capital from the island of Java to Borneo on hold while the country is fighting the outbreak of Covid 19. The plan, not yet approved by parliament, will likely take a long time to be implemented anyway, but the government had earmarked some budget for land acquisition in East Kalimantan for the new city. Instead, the funds will now go towards the budget fighting Covid 19. [The Straits Times]


14 April 2020

Indonesia warned to be on guard for anti-Chinese violence amid pandemic

(jk) The Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), a Jakarta-based Think Tank, warns of a possible increase in anti-Chinese violence by extremist religious groups amid the ongoing corona crisis amid intensifying anti-Chinese rhetoric on social media. 

Drawing some parallels to some white supremacists in the US the report points out that terror groups in Indonesia might exploit the crisis by increasing activity while the government’s resources are tied up fighting the pandemic, or even using deliberate spreads of the virus as a weapon to further destabilise the state. [RSiS]

However, for the moment, the pandemic has decreased terrorist activities despite “ISIS central’s” call to “take advantage of the enemy’s preoccupation with the virus and mount strikes.” [Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict]

Incidentally, the man and woman accused of stabbing the former Coordinating Minister for Security Wiranto in October last year [Asia in Review No. 42, October/2019, 3], who are affiliated with ISIS-linked Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), went to trial last week. Both face the death penalty if convicted. [Benar News]

7 April 2020

Indonesia to release about 30,000 prisoners early due to COVID-19 fears

(ls) Indonesia’s Ministry of Law and Human Rights is set to release about 30,000 prisoners early as the country seeks to avoid a possible surge in coronavirus infections in its overcrowded prisons. According to the plan, adult prisoners would be eligible for parole if they had served two-thirds of their sentences, while children would be eligible if they served half of their jail term. There are more than 270,000 prisoners across Indonesia, more than twice the official capacity of its jails. [Reuters]

Ten days ago, in Thailand, a riot erupted at the central prison in Buriram after about 100 prisoners broke furniture and smashed windows and set a fire over rumours of a Covid-19 outbreak. Several prisoners escaped before the riot was brought under control. [Bangkok Post]

31 March 2020

Indonesia: Dutch court orders Netherlands to pay compensation for colonial killings

(jk) A Dutch court has ordered the Netherlands to make compensation payments to relatives of victims of atrocities committed by Dutch colonial troops during their often violent actions against Indonesian freedom fighters before Indonesian independence in 1945. The court found in the particular cases that it heard in The Hague that 11 men had been killed as a result of misbehaviour by Dutch soldiers and their realties were due compensation [The Guardian]. 

Two weeks ago, on a royal visit to Indonesia, Dutch King Willem-Alexander apologised for “excessive violence” used by the Dutch forces during Indonesia’s fight for independence. While the Netherlands has paid damages to relatives of victims before, the apology issued by a member of the Dutch royal family was a first. [Reuters]

24 March 2020

Indonesia: Jakarta declares corona emergency

(ls) The governor of Jakarta has declared a state of emergency for the next two weeks in the Indonesian capital. The measures include closing cinemas and other public entertainment venues as well as urging people to work from home. Aside from Jakarta, the East Java region has also declared an emergency. The Indonesian measures fall short of tougher lockdowns imposed by fellow Southeast Asian countries. [Channel News Asia]

17 March 2020

Indonesia drops arms deal with Russia and China under pressure from US

(hg) At the same time, the Trump administration successfully pressured Indonesia to drop arms deals with Russian about fighter jets and China about naval vessels respectively. Especially, Indonesia’s decision to not move ahead with the procurement of 11 Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets – a major arms deal – reflects Washington’s still existing ability to leverage political and economic power in Southeast Asia. At the other hand, it might, however, also contribute to an already manifest reservation among Indonesian elites regarding the US influence in the region. [South China Morning Post]

17 March 2020

Does the First Russia-Indonesia Joint Navy Exercise take shape?

(hg) Russia and Indonesia seem to prepare their first joint navy exercise this year under the label of the “first Orruda-2020 joint naval exercises.” The development highlights Russia’s efforts in increasing its defense ties in Southeast Asia in general and Indonesia in particular with whom it is commemorating 70 years of bilateral relations this year. [The Diplomat]

Does the First Russia-Indonesia Joint Navy Exercise take shape?

(hg) Russia and Indonesia seem to prepare their first joint navy exercise this year under the label of the “first Orruda-2020 joint naval exercises.” The development highlights Russia’s efforts in increasing its defense ties in Southeast Asia in general and Indonesia in particular with whom it is commemorating 70 years of bilateral relations this year. [The Diplomat]

17 March 2020

Six Indonesians arrested for spreading ‘hoaxes’ online on Coronavirus

(jk) Six Indonesians have been arrested for allegedly spreading misinformation online about the coronavirus, including claims of cases where there weren’t any or false claims on deaths related to the virus. The spread of misinformation carries penalties of up to six years in prison, and according to officials, the arrests should be “a lesson” not to spread false information about the virus. [South China Morning Post]

Lastly, the constitutional reform would have allowed the country’s de facto leader, state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, to take over the office of president. At current, Article 59(f) of the constitution bars candidates whose spouse or children are foreign citizens, which applies to Suu Kyi whose two sons are British nationals.

Although a majority of MPs supported the reform, it did not reach the necessary threshold of more than three quarters as the 25% of the military appointed MPs rejected it. Insofar, the military used the constitutional veto it is effectively wielding besides its control over the state of emergency and key ministries such as defense, border and home affairs. [VoA]

17 March 2020

Indonesia: SBY’s son takes over Democratic Party leadership 

(jk) Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s eldest son Agus Hartimurti Yudhoyono has taken over the leadership of the Democratic Party from his father as he was elected party chairman last weekend. Agus previously ran for the governorship of Jakarta in 2016, changing his career from the military to politics. Agus had served as the party’s deputy chairman since late 2019 and as party leader may run for President in the future. [The Jakarta Post]

10 March 2020

Indonesia: Twitter and Facebook take down army’s fake accounts

(ls) Twitter and Facebook have suspended dozens of accounts that were linked to a network of news sites backed by the Indonesian army that publish pro-government propaganda about the restive region of Papua. Facebook previously took down a network of fake accounts and pages posting content on the Papua Independence movement in October 2019. [Reuters]

Similar allegations emerged in Thailand during a parliamentary censure debate two weeks ago [Asia in Review No. 8, February/2020], in which opposition members claimed that the government was using so-called information operations (IOs) to discredit its opponents, particularly in the south of the country. A number of forums will be held in major provinces across the country this week, which will focus on answers given by the government during the censure debate. [Bangkok Post]

10 March 2020

South China Sea: Continued tensions between Southeast Asian countries

(ls/ps) Indonesia has detained dozens of crew members from Vietnamese boats it claims have been fishing illegally near the Natuna Islands. The Indonesian government claims the area in the southernmost reaches of the South China Sea as its exclusive economic zone. In January, Indonesia deployed fighter jets and warships in a conflict with Beijing over Chinese vessels entering the area. [Channel News Asia]

In addition, Malaysia, Vietnam and China have for weeks been entangled in a quiet naval standoff. As reported earlier [Asia in Review No. 8, February/2020], Malaysia triggered the showdown by exploring for energy resources beyond its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Vietnam then deployed militia vessels to the area, and China responded by launching the China Coast Guard’s (CCG). The developments, which pitted fellow ASEAN countries against each other, leave question marks over ASEAN’s joint approach toward China’s vast territorial claims. [Asia Times]

Meanwhile, Vietnam and the US are looking to further strengthen relations as the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt and guided missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill arrive in Da Nang, Vietnam. It is the second visit of a US warship to Vietnam since American troops left almost 50 years ago. China has repeatedly trespassed the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of Vietnam with oil survey ships and fishing boats escorted by its coast guard. Analysts say Vietnam is unable to protect its resources and is therefore seeking international support. [South China Morning Post][US Navy]

25 February 2020

Indonesia: Draft bill aims to label LGBT as deviant

(ls/tk) Several Indonesian Members of Parliament have introduced a so-called “Family Resilience” bill that would outlaw surrogacy and require LGBT people to seek treatment at rehabilitation centers. The draft bill states that wives must “take care of household-related matters” and “treat the husband and the child well.” Homosexuality, incest and sadomasochism are defined as “sexual deviations”. It remains open whether President Joko Widodo’s government will support the bill. For several years now, Indonesia is seeing a shift towards greater conservativism including growing state and public hostility against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.  [Reuters]

A related piece published in the New Mandala describes one of the underlying political strategies as ‘scientific homophobia’, in which the deliberate distortion of academic research, the misuse of outdated research, and the obstruction of the larger academic debates have been deployed to convince the public about the danger of LGBT people to society. [New Mandala]

25 February 2020

Indonesia to revoke passports of IS fighters

(tk) Indonesia has announced to revoke passports of its nationals who have joined the IS terrorist group in Syria and Iraq. Currently, 689 of Indonesians have been identified as such. With this action, Indonesia aims to prevent them from coming back into their home country. An exception will be made for children aged under 10 years old who are without parents due to the special protection of children under the Protection of Children Law 2004. Additionally, Indonesia has boosted patrols and surveillance in the border areas of the vast archipelago, especially at the border to the southern Philippines. [Xinhua] [The Diplomat]

18 February 2020

Indonesia: National Commission on Human Rights finds gross human rights violations by Indonesia’s military in Papua 

(jk) According to an investigation by the commission concluded this week, Indonesia’s military carried out “crimes against humanity” when it shot dead four students and tortured many more in the country’s Papua region during 2014 protests. The commission forwarded the findings to the Attorney-General for possible prosecution. [Straits Times]

28 January 2020

Indonesia: Papuans refuse to remove penis gourds in Jakarta court

(ls) According to a report that vividly illustrates different cultural traditions and practices existing side by side in Indonesia, two Papuan activists on trial for treason in Jakarta refused to remove traditional penis gourds. After several hours of negotiations, the men, also wearing Papuan headgear with their faces painted, agreed to put on trousers. They accused the court of racism. Papua has seen several incidents of violence in recent months, partly linked to a push for independence and racism against Papuans. [Free Malaysia Today]

21 January 2020

Thai and Indonesian armies agree to share intelligence on militants

(jk) Thailand’s army chief, who visited Indonesia last week, met his Indonesian counterpart and signed an intelligence sharing agreement on cross-border movements of fugitives and militants. The agreement was signed in Indonesia’s Aceh province where they met initially to to sign a four-year extension of a bilateral army cooperation deal. [Benar News]

Thailand’s army chief said he was visiting Aceh to understand how Indonesia reached a settlement with Muslim insurgents in Aceh province in 2005. [Khaosod English]

14 January 2020

China-Indonesia tensions around Natuna Islands eased

(ls/lf) The Chinese vessels that had entered Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone around the Natuna Islands have exited the area, easing the tensions between the two countries. Before, the Indonesian air force had deployed four F-16 fighter jets to monitor the situation. As reported last week, Beijing contends that the waters are part of its “traditional” fishing grounds and that the area is within its “nine-dash line”. Indonesian President Joko Widodo declared that the incident shall not harm the friendly relations between the two countries. [South China Morning Post] [Reuters 1]

China is Indonesia’s biggest trading partner and a major investor. Both countries enjoy broad cooperation, including in infrastructure development such as the high-speed railway project linking Jakarta with Bandung. The US$6 billion project is part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative to connect China with Asia, Europe and beyond. [Straits Times]

Meanwhile, however, President Widodo asked Japan to step up investment in fisheries and energy in some of its South China Sea islands, in particular also the Natunas. Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi declared that the two countries also wanted to strengthen coastguard coordination. Japan last year gave Indonesia 100 billion rupiah ($7.26 million) to build a fish market in Natuna, which will be named Tsukiji after the famous Tokyo market. [Reuters 2]

7 January 2020

New momentum in the South China Sea? Criticism mounts as Indonesia rebukes China’s claim 

(jk) Last week, Jakarta had protested to Beijing over the presence of a Chinese coast guard vessel in its territorial waters around the Natuna Islands. The “strong protest” and summoning of the Chinese ambassador in Jakarta was met with a statement from Beijing claiming that China has sovereignty of large parts of the South China Sea and “normal” fishing rights in the concerned area.

In a relatively sharp response, Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry asked China to explain the “legal basis and clear borders” regarding its claims based on the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), also mentioning the arbitration ruling in the Hague in 2016. [Jakarta Post 1] [Sydney Morning Herald

Indonesia’s official position is that it is a non-claimant state in the South China Sea having no overlapping claims with China. The Natuna Islands however, in fact outside even of the spurious “nine-dash line”, are just south of the Spratly Islands, which are claimed by China, and amid increasing presence and scope of China’s claims and actions, Indonesia is concerned about more Chinese vessels illegally entering and fishing in its waters.

Indonesia has stepped up sea and aerial patrols of islands, deploying navy, army and air force personnel to the area, including eight war ships. [South China Morning Post] [Channel News Asia] It has also said it has mobilised over one hundred fishermen to operate in the area, supposedly to reinforce Indonesian presence. [Jakarta Post 2]  

The move that publicly denounces China’s “historic rights” and again redirects some of the attention to the 2016 ruling, comes after the Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs called China’s claims “ridiculous” earlier in December [Asia in Review, No. 52, December/2019, 4] and the country submitted its extended continental shelf claims beyond a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to the United Nations’ Division for Ocean Affairs and Law of the Sea, based on a joint  submission made with Vietnam in 2009. [Asia Times] The joint submission did not indicate a division of the claims between the two countries, but it does pose a direct challenge to the Chinese claims. [Asia Sentinel]

With Vietnam as the ASEAN chair for 2020, recent moves in Malaysia, Indonesia and steadily simmering unease about Chinese involvement also in Philippine waters, some observers see a difficult year ahead for Chinese claims in the South China Sea. Whether these actions will result in anything tangible and more than “strong protests” however remains to be seen and is dependent on outside support as well as whether or not Southeast Asian countries can find a common position from which they can challenge Chinese claims. 

31 December 2019

Malaysia/Indonesia: Muslim protests against China’s treatment against Uighurs

(jk/fs) Hundreds of Muslims gathered in Kuala Lumpur to demonstrate against China’s mistreatment of its Muslim Uighur minority. Protesters mainly consisted of members of two Muslim groups, the Malaysian Muslim Youth Movement (ABIM) and the hardline pro-caliphate group Hizbut Tahrir Malaysia (HTM). Two representatives, one of each group, went to the People’s Republic of China’s embassy, but were declined entry.

HTM spokesman Abdul Hakim Othman demanded from the Malaysian government “to provide help to the Muslims of China as much as possible, including providing them space here if they should wish to seek protection”. Furthermore, he urged the government to suspend all political and economic ties with China and, in case of increasing hardships for fellow Muslim, even to issue a military warning of “jihad”. [MalayMail]

In Indonesia, in similar protests, over a thousand Muslims marched towards the Chinese embassy as well

While the Indonesian Security Minister told the government had summoned the Chinese Ambassador to explain the situation Xinjiang. [The Straits Times]

In mid-November this year, New York Times reported that more than 400 internal documents of the People’s Republic of China were leaked, revealing details of the brutal and organized crackdown of the Uighurs in the Xinjiang region, including the detention of more than one million people in internment camps. [Asia in Review No. 47, November/2019, 3]

31 December 2019

Indonesia: Revival of truth and reconciliation commission? 

(lf/jk) [Reuters] reports that Indonesia plans to revive the truth and reconciliation commission to investigate state-led human rights violations. The commission – abandoned in 2004 by a constitutional court ruling- was supposed to bring closure to the wrongdoings during the Suharto dictatorship. The most important investigation looks into the 1965 crackdown on communist and alleged communist sympathisers, in which at least estimated 500,000 people were killed in a massive anti-communist crackdown that targeted also many Chinese. [The Conversation, with more information on the war against the PKI]

24 December 2019

Indonesia files complaint to WTO in palm oil dispute with EU

(lf) Indonesia has filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO), claiming the EU’s new policies regarding the restriction of palm oil to be discriminatory. In March, the EU had ruled out palm oil as a sustainable fuel alternative as it causes great deforestation, especially in Indonesia and Malaysia. Indonesia thereupon had declared to retaliate, refusing the import of dairy and liquor products from the EU. The EU had already filed a complaint in November of this year. [Reuters]

Indonesia is the biggest palm oil producer in the world. Palm oil is the world’s most used vegetable oil and can be found in most products from food to cosmetics to fuel. Indonesia and Malaysia account for 85% of the world production. Half of the EUs imports of palm oil are made up by biofuel. This means a large cut back in imports of palm oil in the near future. [rainforest rescue] [business insider].

Palm Oil production has become an important economic pillar for Indonesia, however, with high demand from across the world, the impact it has on the environment has made palm oil a controversial product. To meet the demand, large parts of the rainforest in Indonesia and Malaysia have been cut down, reducing the habitat of many endangered animals and plants. [The Independent]

10 December 2019

Indonesia: Is the first presidential contender already warming up for 2024?

(ls/nj) After the election is before the election: In Indonesia, where President Jokowi won his re-election bid earlier this year, Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan attended a conservative Muslim rally – the third anniversary of a rally that eventually brought down previous governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama in 2016. Anies’ presence on the stage raised widespread attention, ueling suspicions that he is lining himself up as a contender for the 2024 presidential election. Critics suggested that he is willing to change his image as a moderate to court the Islamist vote. Over recent years, a growing tide of conservatism across age groups has led to deepening divisions in the Indonesian society. [South China Morning Post]


10 December 2019

Indonesia’s democratic paradox

(ls) In a piece written for the New Mandala, Edward Aspinall and Marcus Mietzner argue that, though the co-existence of Indonesia’s competitive elections with illiberal trends appears contradictory, the two are in fact interrelated. [New Mandala]


3 December 2019

Indonesia: Jokowi seeks to boost image by putting influential media giants in government

(jk) President Jokowi of Indonesia is being criticised for appointing a number of influential media figures – or family members of them – to cabinet and government advisory positions. Critics call this a strategy in order to influence large media organisations and the way the report on the government. Among the appointments are the new tourism and creative economy minister and his deputy, the minister for state-owned enterprises and a number of advisors. [Nikkei Asian Review]

3 December 2019

Indonesia: Chinese ‘fake cop’ scam leads to mass arrest

(nj) Indonesian police arrested 85 Chinese suspects who are accused of running a ‘fake cop’ scam with the majority of the victims living in china. The fraud lured the victims with promising investments or simply pushing them into paying large amounts of money to fake police officers or prosecutors. Suspects are believed to have moved to Indonesia or other countries in the region because they fear a harder crack down by the Chinese government.

The latest scam is estimated to have cheated its victims out of USD 2.5 million, with similar scams occurring in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.  [South China Morning Post]  [The Straits Times]

26 November 2019

Indonesia: Former Jakarta governor Ahok returns to public office

(nj) Indonesia´s President Joko Widodo has approved former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama for the post of president commissioner of Indonesia´s state oil and gas company Pertamina after he served nearly two years in prison for allegedly insulting the Quran during his re-election campaign in 2017. Widodo said he valued him for his straight-forward policy during his time as Jakarta governor. Prior to that, Ahok served as Widodo´s deputy while he was Jakarta governor in 2012. [The Straits Times]


26 November 2019

Book excerpt: “Migration in the Time of Revolution: China, Indonesia, and the Cold War”

(ls) In her new book, Historian Zhou Taomo looks at the complex ties between China and Indonesia in the cold war. Zhou argues that migration and activism by ethnic Chinese were major forces shaping the relations between Beijing and Jakarta. The South China Morning Post has published some excerpts. [South China Morning Post]


19 November 2019

Bougainville’s Quest for Independence 

(jk) A special report on the upcoming referendum this week in Bougainville – if it passes, Bougainville might become the next new nation in the world, breaking away from Papua New Guinea. [Australian Foreign Affairs]


19 November 2019

19 Indonesian Airports increasing security efforts after suicide bombing at police HQ

(nl/jk) The area outside the police headquarters in the Indonesian city of Medan in North Sumatra was hit by a suspected suicide bombing on Wednesday in which the perpetrator- a 24-year old student- died and some police officers were injured. The motive for the attack wasn’t immediately clear, but a link has been made to Islamic sympathizers who have been targeting the police in several of their attacks in recent years and were involved in the recent stabbing of Indonesia’s former security minister and army general. [Reuters]

In response to the suicide bombing, security measures in particular at airports are stepped-up. [The Jakarta Post]


12 November 2019

U.S.-Indonesian defense relations under Prabowo

(nj) With Prabowo Subianto as Indonesia’s new Defense Minister, doubts have arisen over U.S.-Indonesian defense relations. The former Army lieutenant General was dismissed from the military for being allegedly involved in the kidnapping and torture of pro-democracy activists and atrocities during the occupation of East-Timor. As a consequence, it remains uncertain if Prabowo is eligible to enter the U.S. or not. In 2000, Prabowo wanted to travel to the U.S. to attend his son´s graduation in Boston, but he was denied a visa. [South China Morning Post]

Meanwhile, China has emphasized its interest in Indonesian maritime territory and abundant resources and aims to further deepen bilateral relations. [Antara News]


12 November 2019

Indonesia: Two reporters killed over palm oil land dispute

(ls) Two Indonesian journalists have been found dead with multiple stab wounds near a plantation in Sumatra. They were mediating a land dispute between a palm oil company and residents. A local police chief said that investigators had found indications that the reporters’ deaths were related to their activism. The police arrested an oil palm plantation owner believed to be the mastermind behind the murder. [Voice of America] [Jakarta Post]


12 November 2019

Indonesia: Free-KPK passes put anti-corruption body’s authority in doubt

(nj) Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo and several high-ranking politicians are to be excluded from future corruption investigations. They obtained a “free pass” providing this exemption under the revised anti-corruption law. The Constitutional Court is still reviewing the new legislation. Meanwhile, Widodo appears prepared to select the five members of the Anti-Corruption Commission (KPK) supervisory council. The council is empowered to decide which cases the KPK will pursue and which it should drop. Many see the regulation as highly controversial since effective prosecution of corruption cases against government linked people could not be possible anymore. [The Jakarta Post]

The new law weakening the country’s anti-corruption body sparked months-long student violent protests across Indonesia. [AiR No. 40, October/2019, 1]


12 November 2019

Indonesia and Laos to cooperate more closely on anti-drugs and human trafficking

(ls) Indonesia and Laos have signed an agreement to cooperate in the fight against transnational organized crimes, including drug smuggling and human trafficking. Both countries also commenced a joint capacity building and training program on transnational crimes and extradition. [Jakarta Globe]


5 November 2019

Human rights groups criticise East Asia Summit for not including human rights issues

(jk) Rights groups criticised the state of human rights protection in Southeast Asia in particular over the weekend as they pointed out that the big summits, such as the East Asia Summit, do not include official discussions or statements on the deteriorating human rights situation in the region.

Human rights watch and other organisation expressed grave concern over the fact the Rohingya crisis, the war on drugs in the Philippines, the punishment of the LGBT community or enforced disappearances of activists were largely ignored throughout the summit. [Bangkok Post]

The Rohingya refugee crisis, although not in these terms, was mentioned at length in the final statement of the 35th ASEAN Summit however. ASEAN leaders noted their desire to

facilitate the safe, secure and dignified return displaced persons currently in Bangladesh to

Rakhine State from which they fled. [Chairman’s Statement Of The 35th ASEAN Summit] At the same time, they commended the work of AICHR, the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights [for background on AICHR, see this article in CPG’s COM Online Magazine 4/2019]


5 November 2019

RCEP: 15 countries (RCEP minus India) declare they have agreed and will sign in 2020

(jk) During the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) summit in Bangkok on Monday, 15 countries (The ASEAN-ten, Korea, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand) agreed to all 20 chapters of the RCEP and stated that they were “willing to sign” the deal in 2020.

All participating countries agreed to make efforts to resolve the remaining issues surrounding India’s concerns, so it too, can participate. [The Korea Herald]

Despite the positive spin on this development, it will remain a disappointment that RCEP could not be completed and signed by the end of this year as it was initially (if very optimistically) stated.

This disappointing if not entirely unexpected outcome was underscored by the US decision to downgrade US representation at the East Asia Summit, also held in Bangkok this past weekend. It was the first time since the EAS was established in 2005, that a country at the summit was represented by an official below the rank of foreign minister. Instead the US sent the new National Security Advisor, Robert O’Brien, as the Special Envoy to the upcoming EAS and the US-ASEAN Summit. [ISEAS Commentary]

5 November 2019

Indonesia: man flogged 28 times for adultery 

(nj) An Indonesian man was flogged 28 times for having an affair with a married woman. The punishment had been carried out in Aceh province, the only region in Indonesia that imposes Islamic law. The man found guilty of adultery helped to draft the law outlawing consumption of alcohol, gay or premarital sex and adultery. [The Guardian] [BBC]

29 October 2019

Indonesia: Violent clashes as Widodo visits Papua

(ls/nj) Three people have been killed in clashes between police and rebels in Indonesia’s Papua region. The violence erupted as President Joko Widodo was visiting the restive region. However, the incident appeared unrelated to weeks of unrest that saw dozens killed when riots broke out in the region’s Wamena city last month, with some victims burned alive when buildings were set on fire. Since mid-August, Papua has been hit by waves of mass protests and violence over claims of racism and calls for self-rule. [Star Online]

29 October 2019

Indonesia: President Widodo appoints Prabowo Subianto as his Defence Minister

(ls) Indonesian President Joko Widodo unveiled his new 38-member Cabinet, which contains politicians from across the aisle as well as professionals. More than a third of the ministers are from his previous government. The new Defence Minister is Prabowo Subianto, the former army general and chairman of the opposition Gerindra party who challenged Widodo in the 2014 and 2019 presidential elections. After the election, Prabowo first rejected the results and asked for a constitutional court ruling, which ruled in Widodo’s favor. [Straits Times]

Prabowo’s appointment has met with criticism from human rights groups and others who have questioned his fitness to lead a ministry that should be spearheading military reforms. As commander of the Army’s special forces, Kopassus, Prabowo was allegedly involved in the forced disappearance of prodemocracy activists between 1997 and 1998. He has also been accused of being involved in other human-rights abuses, including during the Army’s East Timor counter-insurgency operations in the 1970s. Prabowo has repeatedly denied all such allegations. [Jakarta Post]

It appears that Widodo’s strategy favors compromise over confrontation. Some observers note that, on the one hand, there is a risk is that tensions between Jokowi and Prabowo will not subside and that the choice could pave the way for the politicization of the armed forces and police. On the other hand, the choice could bring political stability after five years of heated rivalry. [BBC]

29 October 2019

The role of social media companies in shaping political discourse in Indonesia

(ls) The New Mandala has published a piece by Aldila Irsyad who argues that social media companies have more control than the government of Indonesia in limiting the freedom of expression of its citizens. Irsyad discusses the question to what extent they will control the political discourse in Indonesia. [New Mandala]

22 October 2019

Indonesia: Update on President Widodo’s plans to move the country´s capital from Jakarta to Borneo 

(nj) Plans to move Indonesia´s capital from Jakarta to East Kalimantan – located on the island of Borneo will cost the country about US$ 33 billion. According to East Kalimantan governor the project depends on the financial support from China and other countries, like Japan, to provide a solid infrastructure. With a relocation from Jakarta to Kalimantan, Widodo is looking to escape the environmental challenges the capital is facing right now. Whereas Jakarta suffers from high air pollution, East Kalimantan is rich in natural resources like oil, gas, timber and oil palms. Furthermore, Jakarta is more susceptible to floods and is among the world’s fastest sinking capitals.

Beijing already invested a little over US$ 60 million for highway constructions. In return, Chinese manufacturing companies seek to compete on Indonesian markets but local suppliers fear a fast developing monopoly of Chinese. [The South China Morning Post]


22 October 2019

PNG: Bougainville independence vote to go ahead

(jk) The vote in Papua New Guinea’s autonomous region of Bougainville, which is feared to trigger separation negotiations to create a new nation, will go ahead as per the agreement between the Government of Papua New Guinea and the Autonomous Bougainville Government despite having been delayed twice over funding issues. The vote, now to be held later next month and in December, is not binding and the final say on independence will remain with the Government of Papua New Guinea. To overcome a funding gap, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, added around US$2 million to the US$5+ million  that PNG has contributed.

The widely expected outcome of the referendum is that the people of Bougainville will vote for some form of independence by a large margin, its anticipated success as an independent nation state however is widely disputed.  [Reuters] [Lowy Institute for background]


22 October 2019

Indonesia increases security measures for Jokowi`s second term of presidency

(jk/nj) With the presidential second term starting October 20, Indonesia remained on high alert around Joko Widodo´s inauguration. Tensions remain high following heavy protests referring to the passing of controversial bills into laws as reported previously, as well as the recent stabbing attack on chief security minister Wiranto. [The Star]  [The Straits Times]. The stabbing prompted the arrest of 36 suspects by the police, all with alleged links to the local terrorist group Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD).  [The Jakarta Post] [Antara News]

The protests that happened across Indonesia in September saw thousands of people demanding to stop any efforts which could weaken the country’s anti-corruption body, the KPK, as well as efforts to introduce a new criminal code that includes penalizing extramarital sex and insulting the president. During the protests police used teargas and water cannons leading to hundreds of injuries and the death of three students. Activists claim that at least one student died from a gunshot fired by police. As a result, people now demand to introduce independent investigations concerning the police´s involvement by Indonesian President Widodo. [South China Morning Post]

For an assessment on Jokowi’s second-term Priorities and Challenges based on an interview with the Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs, see [ISEAS]


22 October 2019

Maritime terrorism in Asia: An assessment 

(ls) A paper published by the Observer Research Foundation evaluates the possibility of an increase in maritime terrorist violence in Asia. Based on an analysis of recent incidents, it argues that the vulnerability of high seas shipping to criminal acts of violence and the weak and inconsistent nature of maritime governance raises the possibility of a terrorist strike in the Asian littorals. [ORF]


22 October 2019

Indonesia Launches $212M International Development Aid Fund

(jk) Albeit very small in scale, particularly compared to major projects such as the BRI, the Indonesian government has launched the Indonesian Agency for International Development, to “help reduce poverty and social inequality around the world.” [Jakarta Globe]

15 October 2019

Indonesia: Chief security minister attacked by suspected terrorist sympathizer

(ls/nj) Indonesia’s Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Wiranto was attacked with a knife by a man suspected to be a sympathizer of the local terrorist group Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) on Thursday during a visit to a town on the island of Java. Wiranto has been designated by President Joko Widodo as the person in-charge with the handling of the unrest in the country’s West Papua region. He had been previously accused of committing atrocities during Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor but was not found guilty. [Al Jazeera] [Jakarta Post]

8 October 2019

Indonesia: Sukarno heir elected as Indonesia’s first female House speaker

(td) The Indonesian parliament elected its first female house speaker, Puan Maharani Nakshatra Kusyala, granddaughter of the country’s first president and daughter of former president Megawati Sukarnoputri.

The 46-year-old politician was coordinating minister for human development and cultural affairs in President Joko Widodo’s Cabinet, before she resigned to take up her seat in parliament. Maharani is a member of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, which is led by her mother and is the largest party in parliament. (Aljazeera)

8 October 2019

Indonesia: More than 16,000 flee unrest in Indonesia’s Papua region

(jk) Due to the ongoing unrests in Indonesia’s Papua region, the military said on Monday that more than 16,000 residents have fled from the violence in Wamena. [Al Jazeera] Human Rights Watch called for an independent investigation into 33 deaths during the Wamena riots which ought to be led by the country’s National Commission on Human Rights. [Human Rights Watch]

1 October 2019

Indonesia: Indonesian police arrest hundreds linked to forest fires

(td) Indonesian police arrested 230 people on suspicion of starting some of the fires which have spread health-damaging haze across a large part of Southeast Asia. Those arrested could be prosecuted under an environmental protection law that provides for a maximum 10-year prison sentence for setting fires to clear land. [The Independent]

1 October 2019

Indonesia: New unrest in Papua as new joint defense commands take shape

(ls) New unrest has erupted in Indonesia’s Papua region. More than 30 people were killed and dozens injured in riots, with some victims burned to death in buildings set ablaze by protesters. 16 people died in Wamena city where hundreds demonstrated and burned down a government office and other buildings. Papua, on the western half of New Guinea island, has seen weeks of violent protests ueled by anger over racism and calls for self-rule. [The Star]

Residents of Wamena city have been fleeing the city amid rumors that there will be a military deployment to prevent further turbulence in the area. The Papua Police said the unrest was triggered by “baseless information” about a teacher who allegedly used a racial slur against a student. [Jakarta Post]

Meanwhile, the Indonesian government has appointed the chiefs for three new joint defense commands (Kogabwilhan). They are equipped with naval, air and army assets. Each Kogabwilhan will be responsible either for the country’s western, central or eastern parts. One of the three command centers is established in Biak, Papua. The eastern command in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan, is expected to support Indonesian efforts to assert its sovereignty over an area north of the Natuna Islands following encroachments by Chinese and Vietnamese vessels. [Straits Times]

1 October 2019

Indonesia: Massive student protests against draft criminal code and new KPK legislation

(ls/td) In Jakarta and other Indonesian cities, thousands of students have taken to the streets and occupied local parliaments to protest against the draft criminal code that would include outlawing extramarital sex and a controversial new law that could weaken the nation’s anti-corruption body. It was the biggest student protest in decades. Police fired teargas and water cannon to disperse the demonstrators. One student died in Kendari city on Sulawesi island, where the local parliament was torched. Passage of the controversial changes has now been delayed. [New Straits Times]

Updating Indonesia’s Dutch colonial-era criminal code has been debated for decades and appeared set to pass in 2018 before momentum dried out. Among a series of contentious articles are those that would outlaw adultery, unmarried couples living together, as well as make insulting the president a criminal offence that could carry a jail sentence. [The Guardian]

In response to the protests, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said on Thursday he was considering revoking the new law governing the country’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). The law creates a committee to oversee the agency and limits the agency’s freedom to wiretap suspects. The KPK has prosecuted hundreds of politicians, officials and businessmen since its formation in 2002, becoming one of the country’s most respected agencies. [Channel News Asia]

24 September 2019

Continuing violence in West Papua, dozens confirmed dead and wounded 

(jk) According to latest reports, at least 26 West Papuan demonstrators as well as an Indonesian soldier have been killed and wounded in clashes in the regional capital of Jayapura and in Wamena [Straits Times]. According to footage that surfaced on social media, the protesters, among them many students, clashed with pro-Jakarta forces who are taking an exceedingly tough and violent approach with several demonstrators suffering from bullet wounds. In Wamena, protesters set ablaze government offices. Amidst the new outbreak of violence, the administration in Jakarta has reinforced its claim that everything is under control. [ABC] [SBS]

24 September 2019

Couples in Indonesia’s Aceh whipped over public displays of affection

(jk) Charged with breaking local Islamic law by publicly displaying affection, three couples have been publicly caned in Indonesia’s Aceh province last week. The six men and women were struck between 20 and 22 times by a masked sharia officer. [South China Morning Post]

24 September 2019

Indonesia’s President Halts Bill That Would Ban Sex Outside Marriage (law)

(td) On Sep 21 Indonesia’s president Joko Widodo pushed back a legislation that would have criminalized sex between unmarried people, including gays and lesbians, days before it had been expected to pass. The provision intends a punishment of up to one year in prison.

The measure, aimed at overhauling Indonesia’s penal code, had appeared likely to win approval on Sep 24 from the country’s outgoing Parliament.

But after an outpouring of opposition to many of its provisions from rights activists, women’s groups, legal experts and others, President Widodo announced that he had asked lawmakers to drop the legislation and leave the matter for the next Parliament, which will be seated in October.

Many of the wide-ranging bill’s provisions — it had 628 articles — mirrored elements of Shariah, the Islamic legal code. It would have restricted access to contraception for minors, outlawed cohabitation without marriage, restricted freedom of speech, reduced the rights of religious minorities and imposed harsh punishment for insulting the dignity of the president. (New York Times) (Straits Times)

24 September 2019

Indonesia raises minimum age for brides to end child marriage

(td) Indonesia’s parliament has revised the country’s marriage law to lift the minimum age at which women can marry by three years to 19, a move welcomed by campaigners as a step toward curbing child marriage in the world’s biggest Muslim majority-country. (Reuters)

All factions in parliament agreed the revision at a plenary session on Sep 16, according to a statement on its website. Indonesia is among the 10 countries in the world with the highest number of child brides. One in four girls is married before they turn 18.

Indonesia previously allowed girls of 16 to get married or younger – with no minimum age – if their parents requested it. Indonesia’s Constitutional Court ruled in December that it was discriminatory to have a lower marriage age for women than for men, who could legally marry at 19.

Child marriage in Indonesia has been blamed for causing maternal and infant deaths, as well as encouraging child labor, Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Minister said in a statement. (Channel News Asia) (Straits Times)

17 September 2019

Indonesia: Arrests in Papua as Widodo meets with representatives

(td/ls) Indonesian Police in Papua have arrested 85 suspects since ethnic unrest erupted in the country’s easternmost region in mid-August. At least four people have been killed in the political violence following protests over perceived racial and ethnic discrimination, spread over two weeks in a string of Papuan towns. Some protesters have demanded a referendum on independence, something the government has ruled out. In Jakarta, President Joko Widodo met with Papuan leaders and students at the presidential palace a bid to soothe tensions. An internet blackout had been lifted for most parts of Papua after three weeks, though it remained in place for major cities like Jayapura, Manokwari and Sorong. [Channel News Asia]

In an RSIS commentary on the recent violent riots in Indonesia’s Papua and West Papua provinces, the author describes who Papua’s problems are more complex than just isolation and economic poverty. It is argued that, although Jokowi’s focus on welfare and development-oriented policy in Papua is important, money is not enough. The author points out that the government does not recognize the political and historical grievances of the conflicts, leaving the Papuans in constant unrest over the years, undermining the efforts to make Papuans feel like the government is serious about their welfare. [RSIS]

17 September 2019

Indonesia: Former president Habibie dies at 83

(ls) Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie, who as president of Indonesia ushered in an era of democracy that ended the rule of Haji Mohamed Suharto, whose 32-year dictatorship was one of the most brutal and corrupt of the 20th century, died on Wednesday at a hospital in Jakarta at the age of 83. He received a state funeral with military honors on Thursday. The New York Times has published an obituary. [New York Times]

Habibie, who was Indonesia’s president for only 17 months in 1998-99, allowed democratic reforms and an independence referendum for East Timor following the ouster of Suharto. An engineer educated in Indonesia and Germany, Habibie spent nearly two decades working for German aircraft maker Messerschmitt-Boelkow-Blohm, rising to the position of vice-president and director of applied technology. In 1974, he became the science and technology minister under Suharto. [South China Morning Post]

10 September 2019

Indonesia restores internet access in parts of restive Papua region 

(td) Indonesia has partially lifted an internet blackout imposed following civil unrest in the country’s easternmost region of Papua, but is yet to restore access in areas where the most violent protests erupted. These include  places where protesters torched buildings, such as the capital of Papua province Jayapura and the capital of West Papua province of Manokwari. 

The government had throttled internet speeds in the region for a few days before cutting off access entirely in the two provinces in the region from Aug 21. [Channel News Asia] [The Straits Times]

The region of Papua has suffered the most serious civil unrest in years since mid-August over perceived racial and ethnic discrimination. Some protesters have also demanded an independence referendum, something Jakarta has ruled out. About 6,000 police and military personnel have been flown in to Papua, reinforcing a heavy military presence in a region that has endured decades of mostly low-level separatist conflict. [AiR 36, September/2019, 1]

03 September 2019

Disinformation, violence, and anti-Chinese sentiment in Indonesia’s 2019 elections

(ls) An interesting piece from ISEAS takes a look at the violence that broke out in Indonesia on 21-23 May 2019, which, according to the author, marks the world’s first instance of online disinformation leading to election-related riots. The author describes how a disinformation cascade followed the opposition’s claim that the election had been stolen by incumbent president Jokowi. Framed by this narrative, social media platforms saw a large spike in the volume of anti-Chinese disinformation. [ISEAS]

03 September 2019

Indonesia: Jakarta sends more security forces as violence continues in Papua

(ls/td) Indonesia’s Papua and West Papua provinces continue to grapple with incidents of violent unrest. In Papua’s provincial capital Jayapura, protesters torched a local parliament office, a building housing the offices of a state-controlled telecoms firm and cars parked on the street. More than 1,000 people took part in the protest. On Monday, one student was killed. Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda called for the United Nations to act on the crisis. [The Guardian] [Straits Times 1]

At least two civilians and one soldier have been killed in the remote district of Deiyai. However, information coming from the region is difficult to gather as an internet blackout remains in place. The government claims this is to stop the spread of misinformation and “hoaxes”. [ABC News]

The Indonesian government has sent 2,500 police officers and soldiers to confront the violence and restore order in Jayapura. 1,500 security forces had already been deployed in West Papua, which is the neighbouring province to Papua, the week before. [Straits Times 2]

For about two weeks, thousands of people have taken to the streets across Indonesia’s easternmost territory for protests believed to have been initially sparked by racist comments made towards Papuan students in Surabaya over allegations of a damaged flagpole. [AiR No. 35, August/2019, 4]

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16 July 2019

Indonesia: President Widodo promises economic reforms and “millennials” as ministers

(ls/kj) After having won the presidential election earlier this year, Indonesian President Joko Widodo vowed to implement a wave of reforms to attract foreign investment. He announced to quickly lower corporate taxes, ease stringent labor laws and lift curbs on foreign ownership in more industries. Indonesia’s economy grew about 5% in recent years, short of the 7% the president targeted ahead of his first term. Widodo apparently tries to reassure investors as the election aftermath saw the deadliest political violence in Jakarta in two decades after runner-up Prabowo Subianto’s supporters took to the streets to protest. [Bloomberg]

Last week, Widodo and Prabowo Subianto also publicly put their differences aside and sought reconciliation. They met on a Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) train, which was newly inaugurated in Jakarta. [BBC]

Widodo also announced his intentions to involve young people in key governmental positions. The plan is a specimen of the international trend of millennials increasingly being appointed to governmental roles. Malaysia, for example, has appointed 25-year-old Syed Saddiq for its Youth and Sports Minister. [Channel News Asia] [The Jakarta Post]

9 July 2019

Indonesia’ environment: Country rejects to be turned in a dumping ground/Jakarta residents sue government over air pollution

(cl/jk) Indonesian officials announced to crack down on trash imported from the world’s richest countries after an increase of toxic waste ‘exported’ to the country. Port authorities have boosted checks after a random inspection in May led to the discovery of more than 80 containers containing illegal waste from the US, Australia and Europe, with the US being the worst offender. [Bloomberg] Now, tougher counter measures are planned. China’s restrictions and bans on imports on environmental grounds led the Indonesian authorities tighten their monitoring process. [World News]

Indonesia’s more stringent environmental policies follow a trend among neighbouring countries in Southeast Asia. Last month, Malaysia announced to send back more than 3,000 tonnes of scrap plastics back to countries including Australia, Japan, and China followed in June by the Philippines returning dozens of illegal containers of waste back to Canada. [Independent] [Guardian]

Environmental standards in Jakarta remain, however, in the spotlight. Now, residents filed a lawsuit against the government over the toxic levels of air pollution. [CNN News] Jakarta has been shrouded in hazardous smog for much of the past month with air quality readings recording high concentrations of harmful microscopic particles. As a response, the head of Jakarta’s environment agency denied that Jakarta had the world’s worst air pollution citing lower government figures that used a different methodology of measurement. [Guardian]

Several times last month, Jakarta was ranked as the most polluted city in the world, sparking a storm of social media criticism. [Aljazeera] Air Visual, an independent online air quality index monitor, pegged the air in Jakarta at the “very unhealthy” level of 231 on some days in June, higher than notoriously polluted cities like New Delhi and Beijing. Environment groups blame the air pollution on vehicle fumes, smoke and emissions from coal-fired power plants that ring greater Jakarta. [The Daily Star]

9 July 2019

Indonesia’s Supreme Court upholds jail sentence for woman who reported sexual harassment

(cl) Indonesia’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal and jailed a woman who tried to report her employer for alleged sexual harassment, finding her guilty of violating the strict anti-pornography laws and overturning her acquittal by a lower court. [The Washington Post] The woman had complained of getting lewd phone calls from the principal of a high school where she worked, resulting in the principal losing his job. Subsequently, in 2015, the principal reported her to the police, leading to her conviction. The ruling is criticized for opening wide a door for perpetrators of sexual violence to criminalise their victims. [BBC News] [Jakarta Post]

The woman’s legal team can hope now only for an amnesty from the president after having exhausted all other legal avenues. Although President Joko Widodo previously suggested the woman could seek clemency from him if she did not find justice through the judicial channels, a spokesman for the President’s office now declined to comment on the ruling. [New Straits Times]

2 July 2019

Terrorism: Attack at Philippine military base; arrests in Indonesia

(cl/ls) According to the Philippines Army, the bomb that killed eight people at a military base in southern Philippines on Friday was likely a suicide bombing. [Arab News] The prime suspect is Abu Sayyaf, a militant group that President Duterte had vowed to crush after decades of banditry, kidnapping and countless attacks on civilian and military targets. Radical factions of Abu Sayyaf have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, who through its news agency, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying its fighters had infiltrated the base. [Rappler]

If these suspicions are confirmed, this would be the Philippines’ third suicide bombing in a year, which all occurred in Abu Sayyaf’s stronghold and includes a twin bombing of a church in January. In response, the director has stepped up security and policing efforts in Metro Manila, placing the entire region under a “full alert status” despite detecting no threats within the national capital. [Philippine Star]

In Indonesia, a man believed to be the top leader of the Southeast Asia terror group Jemaah Islamiah (JI) was arrested in a West Java province after a 16-year long hunt. [Straits Times] The JI network is affiliated with Al-Qaeda. The network was behind Indonesia’s most deadly attack in Bali in 2002 and the 2009 attacks on the JW Marriot and Ritz-Carlton hotels in Jakarta. [The Diplomat]

Although the group was initially believed to have been decimated in Indonesia following a series of operations by security agencies, counter-terrorism experts had warned that young militants were being recruited and hat the JI network in the country may have expanded to become a 200-strong force.

Moreover, Indonesian police have arrested a member of the Muslim Cyber Army, a self-proclaimed cyber-jihadist network, for spreading fake news and hate speech via social media. [South China Morning Post]

2 July 2019

Indonesia: Constitutional Court upholds President Widodo’s victory over Prabowo in April election

(cl/ls) Prabowo Subianto lost his bid to overturn the result of the presidential election after the nation’s Constitutional Court on Thursday unanimously rejected allegations of “systematic electoral fraud”. [New York Times] In the nine-hour session, the nine-judge panel described many of the allegations – including vote buying and that biased civil servants favoured “Jokowi” – as baseless. The court further questioned the credibility of witnesses and quality of evidence, stating that Prabowo’s legal team’s submissions comprised mostly photographs and scans of vote tally forms from unclear sources. [Bloomberg]

In a speech following the ruling, the president called for all Indonesians to unite, regardless of their different political preferences, to advance the country. While Prabowo stated that he accepts the outcome, he has expressed his intention to search for more options by consulting his legal team on “whether there are still other legal and constitutional steps [he] might be able to take”. [The Guardian]

With the court’s final and binding decision, the president and his vice-president are set to take office in October. Prabowo has said that he is open to striking a deal with the president to ensure that his party becomes part of the government, and has also flagged that he might be running for presidency again in 2024. [South China Morning Post]

A day before the Constitutional Court’s ruling, the Supreme Court had alreacy rejected a lawsuit by Prabowo’s campaign team against the Elections Supervisory Agency’s (Bawaslu) ruling on alleged election campaign violations. [Jakarta Post]


11 June 2019

Alleged hitman names former Indonesian army general as mastermind of assassination plot

(cl) A hitman allegedly hired to assassinate four high-profile state officials during riots in Jakarta last month has named former army general as the mastermind of the plot. One of the suspects apprehended said the murder plot was hatched during a casual discussion at a restaurant in North Jakarta. In response, the former army general has denied the accusation. He is, however, in custody for offences over illegal arms and treason in conjunction with rallies held last month to call for the Indonesian President Widodo to be disqualified from the presidential race. [Tempo]

The alleged plot, aimed at destabilising the country, was first exposed by the national police on May 27th after they arrested 6 suspects who they said were linked to the riots. The unrest followed the announcement on May 21st by the elections commission that Mr Widodo had won the April 17th election over his old rival. 8 people died and more than 700 injured. The national police said that the street violence was a deliberate and coordinated strike, planned through WhatsApp. [The Jakarta Post]

11 June 2019

Failed suicide attack in Indonesia

(cl) An Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) sympathiser carrying explosives around his waist was the only casualty of a failed suicide bombing outside a police post in the Indonesian province of Central Java. The attacker is thought to be a lone-wolf terrorist, and there were no indications yet that he was working with a terror cell or network. [The Jakarta Post]

However, the blast occurred on Monday, just two days ahead of Hari Raya, and bears striking similarities to a series of attacks that had occurred during public holidays. On the eve of Hari Raya in 2016, a suicide bomber attacked a police station in Central Java, killing himself and injuring an officer. On the first day of Hari Raya in 2017, a policeman on sentry duty was stabbed to death by two assailants. In 2018, four men reportedly preparing for terror attacks during Ramadan and Hari Raya were shot dead in West Java by counter-terrorism troops. Since these attacks, National Police chief has called on officers on duty during the long holiday period to remain vigilant to prevent terrorist attacks. [Straits Times]

4 June 2019

Indonesia hopes to revive army special unit’s training in US

(cl) The US Defence Secretary met with Indonesian Defence Minister last week, with the latter expressing hope that the Indonesian army’s special forces unit can be trained again in the United States in the near future. [Jakarta Post] The US had previously suspended cooperation with the Indonesia military in 1998 following reports of beatings, kidnappings and other abuses committed by it. The 1997 Leahy Law prohibits U.S. military assistance to the security forces of a foreign country that commits gross violations of human rights. In 2005, the US lifted the ban on cooperation with Indonesian military units except its army’s special forces unit, which has been accused by multiple international human rights organisations of many human rights abuses, including the anti-Chinese rioting that led to the fall of former President Suharto. During the conference, US Defence Secretary stated that the US has agreed to help Indonesia counter terrorism and radicalism. [Kyodo News]

4 June 2019

Indonesia: Jakarta’s residences sue government for better air quality

(cl) Grouped under the Capital Advocacy Team and represented by the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH Jakarta), residents are set to file a citizen lawsuit against the government to the Central Jakarta District Court for the polluted air in Jakarta. A representative stated that they would like to push the government to take action to address air pollution by creating stricter policies that have a significant impact on reducing air pollution in the capital. [The Jakarta Post] This is especially as the government had been using the outdated 1999 regulation on air pollution, which has to be updated with new stipulations given the worsening of air pollution, according to Greenpeace Indonesia climate and energy campaigners. Citing Article 28H of the 1945 Constitution about the right to live in a healthy environment, another plaintiff commented that the proliferation of PM2.5 particles, above the World’s Health Organisation’s safe limit, could cause various illnesses such as acute respiratory infections. [The Straits Times]

28 May 2019

Indonesia: Post-election riots in Jakarta and Papua

(ls) Six people died and more than 700 were injured over several days in Jakarta after protesters clashed with security forces in riots triggered by mass protests against the re-election of incumbent President Joko Widodo, who triumphed over rival Prabowo Subianto after securing 55.5 per cent of the vote. Thousands gathered at Indonesia’s election supervisory agency on Wednesday, protesting against what they claimed was widespread fraud in the 17 April presidential poll. Nearly 60,000 security personnel were deployed on to the streets on Thursday. [The Guardian] [South China Morning Post 1]

Prabowo has lodged a legal challenge against the result at the Constitutional Court, alleging widespread fraud and claiming Widodo should have been disqualified. The Election Commission has said there was no evidence of systematic cheating and independent observers have said the poll was free and fair. The Constitutional Court must make a ruling on any challenge 14 days after it considers the plaintiff has provided sufficient documentation and the Election Commission should resolve the dispute by June 15. [Al Jazeera]

More than 300 supporters of a legislative candidate in Papua who claimed he should have won the seat in the local council attacked a district office. As a result, four people were shot dead by police during the riot. [South China Morning Post 2]

The recent election appears to have polarized Indonesia even more, reviving old divisions in an atmosphere of renewed anxiety about ethnic and religious identity. Moreover, after the fall of Jakarta’s governor “Ahok” in 2017, some of the Muslim organizations that had formed a movement to remove him began targeting Jokowi. In response, Jokowi has taken tough measures against them, including giving himself new powers to ban civil society groups. Many Islamist conservatives who reject Jokowi have since lined up behind Prabowo. [The Conversation]

During the protests, anti-Chinese images and messages spread rapidly, leading the government to temporarily block or slow the sharing of photos and videos onto Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, to halt the spread of false information. Chinese Indonesians living in Jakarta said they were worried they would once again be a target of mob violence similar to the one in 1998, where mobs attacked Chinese-owned shops, homes and individuals, leaving more than 1,000 people dead. [South China Morning Post 3]

19 March 2019

Indonesia: Key political ally of president Jokowi arrested on corruption charges

(ls) The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), Indonesia’s anti-corruption agency, detained the chief of a political party backing President Joko Widodo’s bid for a second term, just weeks before the nation goes to the polls. The suspect is the Chairman of the United Development Party, an Islamic party which is among the 10 parties backing Widodo’s bid for re-election in the April 17 election. [Bloomberg]

19 March 2019

Indonesia: Anti-terrorism operations on the rise

(ls) The wife of an arrested Indonesian militant detonated a bomb that killed herself and her children on Wednesday in North Sumatra inside a house besieged by the police including the Detachment 88 anti terror squad. Figures from the Indonesian police showed that last year Detachment 88 killed or detained 396 militants, a record number and a sharp jump from the 176 in 2017. In May last year, a family of six carried out suicide bombings at three churches in Surabaya in Indonesia’s East Java province during Sunday mass, killing 13 people. [Straits Times]

19 March 2019

Malaysian court releases Indonesian woman charged with killing Kim Jong-nam – Vietnamese suspect stays in custody

(ls) In an unexpected decision, a Malaysian court has dropped the case against one of two women charged with the murder of Kim Jong-nam, the estranged brother of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, in Kuala Lumpur airport in February 2017. The Indonesian national Siti Aisyah was released from custody and flew home to Indonesia after the decision. Prosecutors, who had withdrawn the charges, did not give any reason for the retreat in their case against Siti. However, the court rejected her lawyer’s request for a full acquittal, as it said that the trial had already established a prima facie case and she could be recalled if fresh evidence emerged. [The Guardian]

Malaysia’s attorney-general on Thursday rejected Vietnam’s request to free the second suspect, the Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, and a court set April 1 for her trial to resume. Vietnam’s foreign ministry said it regretted the Malaysian court’s decision not to immediately free Huong. Indonesia’s government said Siti’s release was the result of its continual high-level lobbying. [Reuters]

The women were accused of smearing the toxic nerve agent VX on his face as he waited to board a flight to Macau. He died within 20 minutes. Defense lawyers have maintained the women were pawns in an assassination orchestrated by North Korean agents. Kim Jong Nam was living in exile in Macau before the killing, having fled his homeland after his half-brother Kim Jong Un became North Korea’s leader in 2011 following their father’s death.

19 March 2019

Indonesia’s ‘Red scare’ revived ahead of elections

(ls) Ahead of April’s national elections, the Indonesian police is currently engaged in raiding bookshops and confiscating books suspected of having communist content. These actions have reminded some of the 1960s, when more than half a million leftists were massacred across the Southeast Asian nation, a bloody spectacle that ushered in the long rule of dictator Suharto, whose fervent anti-communist stance remains decades on. In 2017, declassified US diplomatic documents revealed that a communist-fearing White House was well aware of the bloody purges, which one diplomat described as a “widespread slaughter”. [Straits Times]

11 March 2019

Indonesia ranked 2nd most dangerous place for women in Asia-Pacific

(cc) According to the findings of a research company based in Singapore, Indonesia is the second most dangerous country for women in Asia and the Pacific. Following the rape and murder of a 14 year-old in 2016, a bill on sexual violence is in discussion in Parliament but religious conservatives oppose strong resistance, notably on the definition of rape and the criminalization of marital rape. [Straitstimes]

11 March 2019

Indonesia: Deaths after violence in Papua

(jk) In a clash last week between Indonesian soldiers and a separatist group, three of the soldiers and between seven and ten rebels were killed. The attack on the soldiers is thought to have been conducted by the National Liberation Army of West Papua, which also claimed responsibility for an attack on construction workers at a jungle camp last year. [Channel News Asia]

11 March 2019

Indonesia: Amnesty International’s activist arrested for insulting the military

(cc/jk) Last week a board member of Amnesty International Indonesia was arrested by the Indonesian police for comparing a plan by the government to allow senior military officers to hold civilian positions in government institutions with the New Order Era under former President Suharto. He could face up to 18 months imprisonment for intentionally insult a public institution. For Amnesty International, his arrest is “not only a clear threat to the freedom of speech and expression in Indonesia, but also poses a threat for human rights activists in general”. [Straitstimes]

The plan was alleged to be a regression towards the military’s dual function doctrine which saw military influence in the government institutionalized. So far, it is supported by President Jokowi and would allow underemployed military personnel to take jobs in ministerial and civilian institutions. The legislation is still only in the early stages of discussion. [ATimes]

11 March 2019

Implications of a Ma’ruf Amin Vice-Presidency in Indonesia

(jk) Indonesian President Joko Widodo has last year decided to make 75-year-old Islamic scholar Ma’ruf Amin his running mate for next year’s presidential election. Amin is the head of the Indonesian Ulema Council, the top Muslim clerical body in Indonesia and was heavily involved in the scandal and subsequent prison sentence of ethnic Chinese Christian candidate “Ahok” who lost to Anies Baswedan in a bid to become governor of Jakarta in 2017. Making Amin his running mate for 2019 is largely viewed as an effort to make sure Jokowi appeals to the traditional Muslim vote for the presidential elections this year. With recent polls indicating the duo has a comfortable lead, this piece looks at the possible implications of this particular vice-presidency and in particular at possible further “islamization” of the Indonesian society. [ISEAS]