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This week in Jakarta: New year, new start?

This week in Jakarta: New year, new start?
Published 8 Jan 2016 

It appears President Jokowi is hoping to start 2016 with a clean slate. After a year that disappointed human rights observers and shook international relations, Indonesia's president has started the new year with a renewed commitment to resolving past human rights abuses, promoting religious freedom, and mending foreign relations. 

New year's eve celebrations in Jakarta. (Getty/Barcrft Media.)

Jokowi spent Christmas in Kupang, West Timor, where Christians are the majority, rather than the minority as in most of Indonesia. Speaking to a crowd of thousands, the President supported the right of Indonesia's religious minorities to worship and celebrate in line with the national motto of 'Unity in Diversity'. In contrast to the previous president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Jokowi has openly supported religious freedom, regardless of attempts during the campaign period to 'smear' his image via rumours that he is a closet Christian. While past years have seen episodes of violence, Christmas was celebrated peacefully across Indonesia in 2015.

New Year's Eve became a topic of controversy in Banda Aceh, where celebrations were banned for not being in accordance with Islamic law and culture, and for posing a risk of 'immoral' behaviour. Aside from this extreme response,  the change of the Roman calendar was peacefully celebrated across the rest of Indonesia. Without commenting on the ban in Aceh, Jokowi welcomed in the new year in the Papuan islands of Raja Ampat, which are fast becoming a domestic and international tourist destination. The President used his visit to promote foreign tourism in Indonesia, and pledged a greater focus on developing infrastructure in the country's eastern provinces.

Immigration officials are hoping that the offer of a free visa will lure more foreign tourists to Indonesia in 2016. An additional 84 countries, including Australia, are slated to be added to the list of 90 already able to enter Indonesia without paying the usual US$35 visa fee. An increase in foreign arrivals this year has been attributed by officials to the free-visa policy. Australia was nominated twice last year, but was scrapped from the list after refusing to offer a reciprocal arrangement for Indonesians visiting Australia. However, the real reason for excluding Australia was assumed to be diplomatic, since reciprocity wasn't demanded as a condition for any of the other countries on the list. Brazil and Malawi, two other countries whose citizens were executed in Jokowi's 'war on drugs' last year, have also been nominated for free visas in the latest round. [fold]

Wearing a white shirt and sarong without sandals, he sat on the dock and fed the fish below.

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Meanwhile, a recent survey by the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace recorded a decrease in human rights promotion in 2015 compared to 2014, when Jokowi came to power. Setara found that human rights were not promoted in Jokowi's Nawa Cita, or 'nine principles' for development, nor in any of the major development plans issued by his government so far. This week the Human Rights Working Group (HRWG) also reminded Jokowi's government that the promotion of rights should not be overshadowed by economic imperatives, since the goal of both should be to improve general welfare. In response to such criticism, Jokowi this week urged the Attorney General's Office to address unresolved human rights abuses by the state, 'so that it won't come back to bite us later on'. 

However, one of the major factors against Indonesia's human rights performance in the Setara survey was the enforcement of the death penalty last year for 14 drug convicts, including 12 foreign citizens. Aside from violating the basic human right to life, the executions were considered by Setara to have damaged Indonesia's ability to promote human rights in an international setting, including its ability to protect the lives of Indonesian citizens on death row abroad. President Jokowi's 'war on drugs' broke records in democratic Indonesia for both the number of foreigners executed in a single year and the number of executions carried out in a year. Despite the protests from rights groups and the damaging diplomatic fallout, Jokowi still has not publicly abandoned the policy of fighting drugs with capital punishment. 

Regarding HRWG's reminder that economics should not overshadow rights, news this week emerged that preparations were being made to resume drilling by controversial oil and gas company Lapindo Brantas in Sidoarjo, East Java. The company was blamed for triggering a mudflow in 2006 that drowned thousands of homes, and is expected to continue to flow for the next few decades. Locals and rights groups have rejected the proposal, citing trauma from the previous incident. But the company says drilling will go ahead. 

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