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This week in Jakarta: Military matters and media freedom

This week in Jakarta: Military matters and media freedom
Published 29 May 2015 

The role of the Indonesian military under President Jokowi came into focus this week with the release of a report on its encroachment into political and civilian life. Meanwhile, an activist was stabbed in Jakarta, allegedly by a member of the Navy, and the president was asked to respond to concerns over continued limitations on press freedom in Papua.

Jokowi's administration is undoing some of the early work of the reform era by allowing an increased civilian and political role for the military, warned a new report released on Monday. The report was produced by the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), directed by Sidney Jones, who spoke at the Lowy Institute earlier this year. A return to the military's entrenched role under Suharto's New Order is not predicted in the report, but concerns are raised over the increasing encroachment of the military into domestic security and civilian affairs.

The report says several of Jokowi's ministries have signed Memoranda of Understanding with the military promoting its involvement in development programs, such as handing out fertiliser to farmers and in providing security for public and private infrastructure. Among other things, this has increased overlap in authority between the military and police, adding to tension between the two forces, already heightened due to the ongoing spat between the police and the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). Meanwhile, little progress has been made on defence policy and reform, as pushed by former president Yudhoyono, or on improving military accountability. It remains to be seen how closely Jokowi will ally himself with the military, and what the implications will be for politics and civil freedoms in Indonesia.

The accountability of the armed forces also came under the spotlight this week when an activist was stabbed to death in Jakarta, allegedly by a member of the Indonesian Navy. Jopi Peranginangin, an activist for several social and environmental causes and one of the ranks of volunteers behind Jokowi's presidential campaign last year, was fatally beaten and stabbed outside a Jakarta nightclub early on Saturday morning. No link has been made between the incident and Jopi's work as an activist, including his involvement in palm oil monitor Sawit Watch. [fold]

Since military personnel in Indonesia are subject only to military courts, investigation of the suspect, a Navy private, has been handed over by Jakarta Police to the Naval Military Police. While there are fears that justice will not be served by an internal trial held within the ranks of the Navy, the case is likely to come under intense scrutiny from the victim's friends in civil society, who have already launched an online petition for the perpetrator to be arrested, fired and imprisoned, and have started a hashtag in solidarity: #Solidaritas4Jopi. With continued public attention, the trial may yet become an open test for justice in cases involving military personnel.

Meanwhile, other elements of civil society are monitoring action on Jokowi's promise to lift restrictions on foreign journalists reporting from the region of Papua. Human Rights Watch this week urged Jokowi to issue a clear directive on the matter, since a number of ministers have expressed their reluctance to give foreign press free access to the region, as ordered by the President.

In addition to the expectation that foreign media report only on 'good news' stories, ministers have said that journalists' movements will be closely monitored, and that they will be expelled for any actions perceived as amounting to sedition. The slow response to implement the President's orders highlights his weak political position, and adds to concerns that despite rhetoric from the central government, the 'security approach' remains firmly in place in Papua and West Papua.

Photo by Flickr user Hendrik Mentarno.

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