A Muslim man on a quest to introduce Hebrew in anti-Israel Indonesia

Hebrew is unlikely to be among the most preferred list of foreign languages to learn in Indonesia. Not just because it is the language of Israel, the country that most Indonesians have a hostile view to, but also because there was not a place that offered the courses.

But a Muslim man who studied at an Islamic boarding school in East Java and earned his degree in Arabic literature from Al Azhar University in Cairo, Sapri Sale, saw this as an opportunity to introduce the language in Muslim-majority Indonesia.

Sapri said there is nothing political or ideological in his mission to teach Hebrew in a country where solidarity with Palestine is a strong issue and Israel is regarded as the enemy. He also said despite the religious and political contexts, he just wanted to introduce Hebrew as a language worth learning for Indonesians just like any other foreign language.

“We lack information about Israel because we don’t have access to their language,” he said on the sidelines of the course earlier this week, which is held every Monday and Wednesday at the office of Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace (ICRP) in Central Jakarta.

“It’s like the old saying, ‘keep your friends close, but your enemies closer’, by learning their language so we can understand them better,” he added.

Sapri Sale showed his students how to write in Hebrew during a session at the office of Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace (ICRP) in Central Jakarta. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

The course at ICRP is the first one that has been open to the public, but Sapri has taught private courses for groups in several places in Jakarta since August 2017. Now that he’s open with his activities, he said that various groups in other parts of the country have asked him to teach them.

According to Sapri, unlike in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries where Indonesian as a language is learned out of necessity because of the significant presence of Indonesian migrant workers there, Indonesian is introduced in Israel through cultural studies program in university.

Sapri became interested in learning Hebrew during his student days in Egypt in the early 1990s and noted that Egyptians in general see Israel as an enemy.

“It triggered my curiosity, so I decided to learn Hebrew to be able to know more about it,” he said, adding that he self-taught himself the language for two years and at the beginning he used second-hand text books from Cairo University’s Jewish literature studies. He then took a Hebrew course at the Israeli Academic Center in Cairo.

Sapri, who also teaches Arabic, is aware that his positive intention to promote the language would result in a backlash against him and he has found himself the target of verbal intimidation from those who find his activities unacceptable.

“People have even called me ‘Sapri Jewish’, in a sarcastic way,” he said.

Sapri also wrote the first-ever Indonesian-Hebrew dictionary which he worked on for 10 years. The dictionary is divided into three parts, dictionaries for Indonesian-Hebrew and Hebrew-Indonesian as well as a glossary and was launched in late February.

Sapri said he was not surprised that he could not find a publisher that wanted to publish a book potential to trigger controversy, so he foot the bill to have the dictionary with 35,000 vocabularies published. As expected, major bookstore chains would not display it on their shelves, but Sapri said he could still make a sale through small, independent bookstores and online marketplaces.

The dictionary is acknowledged in the “Israel Berbahasa Indonesia” or Israel Speaks Indonesian official fan page on Facebook, which identifies its administrator as a government organization in Jerusalem and lists the Israeli foreign ministry’s web address in its profile.

His students come from different background, such as Alz Danny Wowor, a computer science lecturer at a university in Central Java and cryptography enthusiast. He signed up last month and since then, he has been commuting eight hours by train from Semarang in Central Java to Jakarta to learn the language in a 1.5-hour afternoon session. He takes the night train back to Semarang when the session is over.

“I have a keen interest in cryptography, and Israel is well-known for its sophisticated cryptography. I am learning the language so I can understand it better, such as the Atbash cypher,” Wowor said, adding that he hopes to study cryptography in Israel someday and learning Hebrew is part of his preparations.

Sapri said most of his students are Christians who want to improve their understanding of the Bible through its original language. They make up 70 percent of his students, with  the remaining 30 percent being Muslims.

“The 30 percent can learn Hebrew faster because as Muslims, we are usually taught to read the Qur’an in Arabic, so it makes them easier to understand Hebrew because of the similarities in the two languages,” he said.


Sapri said that geopolitical issues aside, he hopes Indonesians would not be “allergic” to learn Hebrew just because it is associated with Israel.

Musdah Mulia, the chairwoman of ICRP said the institution was willing to provide the space for the course because they share the same vision in developing better
understanding between faiths and cultures, though she is aware of the possible repercussion against the institution.

“Language is neutral. We can learn about another culture and history through language and Hebrew is a language,” she said.

This story has been expanded from its original version in Arab News


Government to move Abu Bakar Bashir to a Central Java prison

The Indonesian government will move ailing radical cleric Abu Bakar Bashir to a prison near his hometown in Solo, Central Java for humanitarian reason.

“[The decision] is final. We’ll just need to move him to Central Java,” chief security minister Wiranto told journalists on Wednesday.


On Tuesday, Wiranto said the government has made the decision by taking into account the firebrand cleric’s old age and poor health without compromising the legal and security aspects. He also said that Bashir will have access to medical treatment and if necessary, the government will take him to the hospital “using a helicopter”.

Bashir will be moved from his isolation cell in Gunung Sindur prison in Bogor, West Java to a prison near Klaten in Central Java where  he can be close to his family.

Earlier in the week, Ministry of Justice and Human Rights said Bashir is ineligible for house arrest. It was one of the options the government said it was considering as leniency to the ailing cleric.

“House arrest is only available for a defendant who is standing trial, while Bashir is no longer a defendant. He is a prisoner, convicted to serve time in prison,” Ade Kusmanto, a spokesman for the ministry’s Directorate General of Correction said.

Last week, Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu told journalists at the state palace that house arrest for the cleric is very likely, as the government is weighing up which form of clemency it could give to Bashir. The cleric suffers from pooling of blood on his legs, a condition which requires him to undergo regular medical check-ups.

On Mar. 1, Bashir was taken to a hospital in Jakarta for treatment which his lawyer, Achmad Michdan, said had been scheduled for Nov. 2017. He is scheduled for another check up on Thursday.

President Joko Widodo said the government gave permission for Bashir to go to the hospital on humanitarian grounds.

Kusmanto said the cleric can ask the president for clemency, given that he is in poor health and will become an octogenarian this year. Another possibility is to demand parole, for which he will be eligible in June 2019 when he will have served two-thirds of his 15-year prison sentence.

Michdan said his client rules out both the options since applying for either one would mean that Bashir pleads guilty to the charges against him.

Bashir was convicted in 2011 for supporting paramilitary training in Aceh, and the firebrand cleric is described as the ideological icon of Jamaah Islamiyah (JI), including those who carried out bomb attacks in Bali in 2003.

“Bashir believes he is innocent because he was merely observing his faith as a Muslim. He was collecting money to fund training and travel for those who wanted to go as mujahideen to Palestine. He wasn’t rebelling against the country,” Michdan said.

Michdan said that it should be possible for the government to “relocate the place” where Bashir serves his sentence from Gunung Sindur prison to his house in Solo, Central Java.

He cited examples of jailed former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who is serving his two-year sentence for blasphemy at a special police detention instead of a correctional facility, and East Timor resistance fighter Xanana Gusmao who had been imprisoned in Jakarta when he was fighting for East Timor’s independence from Indonesia. He was then confined to a house in Central Jakarta in 1999.

Terrorism analyst Adhe Bakti said even though house arrest is not regulated in the Criminal Procedures Code, Gusmao’s case was laden with political context at that time when East Timor was going for a referendum in which they voted for independence from Indonesia on Aug. 30, 1999.

“But the government could make a breakthrough by giving Bashir leniency to serve the rest of his sentence on house isolation based on humanitarian grounds. At least it would project a positive image of the government before the Islamists,” Bakti said.

Bakti warned that isolation remains necessary given Bashir’s revered position among militants.

“Even though he is no longer affiliated with ISIS, he still very much identified with radical teaching,” Bakti said.

This story has been updated from its original version in Arab News

Terror expert: direct link between IS and Indonesian militants is ‘self-proclaimed’

There are no direct links between Indonesian militants and the leadership of IS in Syria, an Indonesian terrorism expert said on Tuesday.

Taufik Andrie, executive director of the Institute for International Peace Building in Jakarta, was speaking during a meeting about changes in the global terrorism network and the impact those changes have had on extremism in Indonesia.

Policemen were on guard around the police post damaged in bomb attacks by IS-affiliated militants in downtown Jakarta on 14 January, 2016. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

He said that attacks by self-proclaimed IS-affiliated militants in Indonesia “were not always related to IS, or even to Bahrun Naim or Aman Abdurrahman,” referencing an Indonesian militant believed to be fighting for IS in Syria and a convicted radical cleric who led an IS-affiliated network from his prison cell.

“There has never been a direct link between IS in Syria with those who claimed to be affiliated with the group here,” Andrie said. “Most of those so-called acknowledgements were self-proclaimed.

“If we follow the money trail, there has been little financial support coming in from Syria to Indonesia for terrorism activities,” he said.

However, Andrie said that remnants of the Southeast Asian militant network Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) — outlawed in Indonesia since 2008 — still remain, with a clear organizational structure and key figures implementing their strategies.

Nasir Abbas, a former militant who is now known as a de-radicalization activist, said the group now operates anonymously, but still works toward the same goals using a mixture of preaching and violence.

“They are still on the move, but they don’t put a name on their organization. They use a strategy, unlike other militants who think that they are waging war by being lone wolves,” said Abbas, adding that other militant groups were now emulating JI by putting a solid structure in place.

“They would try to settle in a small region and strengthen their base, preaching to the locals about their intention to establish a caliphate and making the locals believe in their propaganda,” he explained.

Abbas said the conflict-torn southern Philippines remains the go-to destination for Southeast Asian militants returning to the region after joining IS in the Middle East. He claimed they pass through the porous sea and land borders from Indonesia’s North Kalimantan province to Malaysia’s Sabah state before entering the Philippines in Basilan.

“It’s the preferred trail because there is a chain of small islands in the Sulu Sea and there are a lot of separatist groups there, which means there is an abundant supply of guns and ammunition,” he said.

Nava Nuraniyah, an analyst at the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) in Jakarta, said there has been little change in the role of women in extremist groups, particularly in Indonesian and Filipino organizations.

“Very few of them have become combatants. When they do, the reason is usually self-empowerment,” she said.

“But most of them play the role of financier, treasurer and recruiter. They manage the money because they are housewives who are also entrepreneurs,” she explained.

This article first appeared in Arab News

Indonesian military TNI to welcome two Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets this year

The Indonesian military is expected to welcome two Sukhoi Su-35 “Flanker-E” to its combat aircraft fleet in October, after signing a contract to buy the fighter jets from Russia.

A spokesman for the Defense Ministry, Brig. Gen. Totok Sugiharto confirmed that the contract for 11 multirole combat aircrafts was signed in Jakarta on Feb. 14.

Sukhoi SU-35.JPG
Sukhoi Su-35. Photo: Sukhoi.org

Rear Adm. Agus Setiadji, head of defense facilities agency at the ministry, signed on behalf of the Indonesian government with a representative from Russia’s state-owned defense product broker, Rosoboronexport.

The first two fighter jets are expected to arrive in early October, said Totok, in time to take part in the TNI parade to celebrate armed forces day on Oct. 5. TNI is the Indonesian acronym for the Indonesian Armed Forces.

“The Sukhoi jets would replace the existing F5-E Tiger jet fighters fleet,” he added.

The contract, worth $1.140 billion, was finalized following negotiations that started in 2017. It includes the signing of a bilateral deal in Moscow in August to barter coffee, tea, palm oil, cacao, spices and the commodities’ derivatives, processed fish and textiles as well as Indonesia’s defense products with the Sukhoi fleet. Indonesian state trading company PT Perusahaan Perdagangan Indonesia and Russian state conglomerate Rostec will be the agencies implementing the barter trade.

The part-barter deal will allow Indonesia to pay 50 percent of the Sukhoi jet fighter contract by exporting its commodities valued at $570 million, Trade Minister Enggartiasto Lukita said in August at a joint press conference with Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu.

“With this barter deal, Indonesia can export more commodities that we have exported before, as well as the ones that we didn’t get to export previously,” Enggartiasto said.

Under Indonesia’s defense industry law, the procurement contract for defense equipment from foreign producer is subject to at least 35 percent offset requirements. Russia has said that it will provide 35 percent offset from the contract value by providing a training for maintenance and repair of the Sukhoi fleet.

In October, then-military chief Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo said in accordance to request from the air force, that the Sukhoi jets will be equipped with air-to-air missile, air-to-ground missile, bombs, ground support equipment, simulator, spare parts and spare engines.

The Indonesian Air Force already has a full squadron of Sukhoi Su-27 SKM and Su-30 Mk2 jets.

Since the administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who is President Joko Widodo’s predecessor, Indonesia has been significantly increasing its defense budget to modernize its aging Armed Forces fleet and equipment and rejuvenate its defense industry.

Its spending on military equipment aims to meet the minimum essential force target by 2024 or the bare minimum of primary defense equipment to safeguard the country’s vast archipelago.

This article first appeared in Arab News

It’s connectivity that matters: Indonesians use smartphones and internet for staying in touch

If there’s one thing that Indonesians can agree on when asked what smartphones and the internet are most useful for, it would be to access social media and messaging applications.

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 12.07.15

A survey conducted by the Indonesian Internet Service Providers Association (APJII) and the Indonesian Telecommunications Society (Mastel) showed that 95.1 percent of respondents use smartphones to access social media applications, while 73.7 percent said they use it to access messaging applications.

The survey was conducted across the country from October to November involving 1,020 respondents, more than half of them are high school and university students, followed by professionals and entrepreneurs.

The most popular social media applications among the respondents are Instagram with 82.6 percent, while 66.5 percent named Facebook and 49.6 percent said they liked Pinterest.

The top chat application is Line with 90.5 percent respondents, followed by WhatsApp and Blackberry Messenger with 79.3 percent and 33.10 percent  respectively.

Typical of these users is 19-year-old waitress Andini Sugeha, who says she uses Facebook most of the time but the features she most uses are messaging services.

Uploading photos and chatting with friends are what draws user to these applications the most.

“I use Facebook to upload photos while I also do that on Instagram, and I use WhatsApp as well to chat,” Andini said.

Media professional Ami Afriatni said she has been on Facebook for a decade and still uses it mainly to stay in touch with friends and families living in faraway places, while for her works she finds Twitter is most useful.

“It is helpful to get news updates, personal insights public figures might offer or official statements of some credible organizations. People also often take to Twitter to respond to recent issues and to express their stance,” Ami said.

As a budding photographer, she uses Instagram to sharpen her photographic skills, adding that the entertainment aspect of the photo sharing platform is the main draw for her.

In a reflection to the APJII and Mastel survery, Ami said social media and messaging applications are equally important but agreed that social media platforms have reached maturity while messaging applications are more important.

“I think there are rooms for improvement for this, let’s say creating a messaging applications that are more friendly to elders or communities who are less exposed to technology,” she added.

But the proliferation of hate speech, hoax and fake news on Facebook, especially as they relate to political preference, has made the world’s largest social networking platform no longer as enjoyable as it used to be, she said.


Internet stakeholders in Indonesia are well aware of the problems and in anticipation of regional elections this year, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, APJII and Elections Supervisory Body have launched a campaign against online hoaxes.

The three agencies, along with local representatives of internet giants including Google, Facebook, Telegram, Twitter, Line, MeTube, Bigo Live and Live Me signed on Feb 7 a memorandum of understanding to curb the spread of hate speech and fake news related to the elections.

ICT Minister Rudiantara said the drive to issue such declaration started in 2016 and every party involved in the online ‘ecosystem’ had an obligation to be part of it.

“So, there is no reason for service provider not to takedown [negative content] when the General Elections Committee and Elections Supervisory Body request for it because they are the independent bodies that organise the elections and are well aware of election rules and regulations,” Rudiantara said.

APJII chairman Jamalul Izza, said application providers and related parties agreed it was time for joint effort to curb negative content, as previous experience during the divisive presidential election in 2014 and Jakarta gubernatorial election last year showed how content that incited hate and misinformation directed at some candidates can flourish and go viral.

“Therefore, as the internet ecosystem in the country we agreed to safeguard the 2018 regional elections to make them free from negative contents and hate speech,” Jamalul said.

An APJII survey released in November showed that there were 132.7 million internet users in Indonesia, out of its 256 million population.

The ICT Ministry has been stepping up its efforts to ensure that the material available online does not breach local standards for behavior and morality. That includes material related to homosexual activity. In January, it asked Google to suspend applications related to LGBT activities from its Google Play Store so that they are no longer accessible in Indonesia.

It also said it has handled 72,407 complaints regarding pornographic content on the internet in January. Earlier in the month, the ministry has begun to operate an artificial intelligence-based censorship system to using keywords to detect and crawl pornographic content online.

The US$14-million dollar machine was installed following years of manual monitoring that failed to curb the flood of illicit contents on the internet, especially pornographic material. A ministry team will evaluate and verify the data crawled and take the necessary measures such as blocking the sites if they are validated to have inappropriate content.

“Global and national internet providers are urged to be active in ensuring the availability of positive contents and suppress negative material from spreading,” ministry spokesman Noor Iza said.

The story first appeared in Bangkok Post



Muslim clerics in Indonesia push lawmakers to outlaw gay, extramarital sex

Following advice from the top Muslim clerical body, Indonesian lawmakers are poised to pass a set of revisions to the country’s penal code that would criminalize extramarital sex and gay sex.

During a meeting with House Speaker Bambang Soesatyo and members of the bill deliberation committee on Tuesday, the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) called for clauses that would expand the definition of adultery and gay sex between consenting adults, according to MUI legal committee chairman Basri Barmanda.MUI

Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) clerics, House Speaker Bambang Soesatyo and lawmakers had a meeting in MUI office on Feb. 6 to exchange views about the expansion of adultery definition in the criminal code draft. Photo: MUI

“We also asked the lawmakers to impose heavier sentences to such offenders. Thank God our requests have been accommodated,” Basri said.

The proposed revisions to the criminal code, which could be voted on next week, offer a five-year prison term for adultery and one year for couples accused of cohabitation.

Arsul Sani, a legislator from the Islamic-based United Development Party, attended the meeting with MUI and said in January that people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) could be prosecuted because of their “deviant behavior.”

“We are going to be firm, that we should forbid those kinds of relationships,” Bambang told reporters after the meeting. “The fact that they occur in private, only God knows, but the state has to regulate it when same-sex relationship is shown in public and causes public anxiety.”

The parliament is expected to vote on Feb. 14 following 12 years of deliberation to revise the country’s outdated penal code known by its acronym KUHP, which was written during the Dutch colonial era.

Bambang said that parliament could delay the vote, saying some articles require additional discussion. The next hearing session starts on March 5 and finishes on April 27.

An online petition calling to refuse the bill has gathered more than 60,000 signatures since it was launched two weeks ago.

Potential crimes

In addition to changing penalties for adultery, the bill would allow the potential prosecution of health volunteers, social workers and NGO activists advocating for family planning by publicly showing contraceptives, but unauthorized by the government to do that. Those prosecutions would not carry prison sentence but violators could face fines of up to 10 million rupiah (about U.S. $730).

“Criminalizing sexual behavior and [displaying] contraceptive tools could create a climate of fear in the midst of society and eventually makes people afraid to access health care because they could be prosecuted,” Ajeng Gandini, a researcher from Jakarta-based rights advocacy group Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR) said.

She also said the proposed bill is counterproductive to the government’s family-planning program and contradicts the health law and other regulations.

“The use of contraception is inevitable. Therefore, information regarding the use of contraceptive tools should not be something prosecutable,” Ajeng said.

Insults outlawed

The bill also includes an article advocates see as a setback to Indonesia’s progressive democratization and freedom of expression by outlawing criticism of the government’s leaders. The article states punishment for “publicly insulting the president or the vice president” is up to five years in prison.

ICJR Managing Director Erasmus Napitupulu cited the case of Zaadit Taqwa, the head of Universitas Indonesia’s student executive body, who flashed President Joko Widodo with a yellow card – as a symbolic criticism to the president – during a university event on Feb 2.

Under the bill, flashing the yellow card, which is used by referees to signal warnings against players in football matches, could result in Zaadit being prosecuted for insulting the president, Erasmus said.

In 2006, the Constitutional Court overturned similar articles in the existing KUHP because they had originated from lese majeste, the royal defamation law, and were incompatible with Indonesia’s efforts to be a democratic country where all citizens are equal.

“It is regrettable that the KUHP bill, which is intended to decolonialize the law, is going to reinstate a provision that could take us back to the colonial era. It will curb freedom of expression and goes against our constitution,” Erasmus said.

Justice and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly, a member of the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), said the article that punishes insults of government leaders is not aimed at silencing criticism. Instead, it is necessary to prevent the country from becoming too liberal, he said.

In 2013, PDIP politicians strongly opposed a similar article in the bill, saying it would be a setback to democracy.

United Nations human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said criticizing government policies and demanding government accountability accelerates innovation and economic progress.

“Jailing critics does not make society safer. It drives legitimate and constructive opinions underground, and creates deep grievances,” Al Hussein said in his remarks at an event to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday.

“Dismantling the rule of law, and the basis of participatory democracy, generates injustice. These are measures that undermine the basis of peace and the soundness of development,” Al Hussein added.

The original story appeared in BenarNews

Indonesian parliament speaker urges law against “LGBT excesses”

Indonesia’s parliament speaker has called for legislation to curb “homosexual excesses,” as lawmakers and the government debate a revised criminal code that could make gay sex and sex outside marriage illegal.

In an opinion piece published in the Koran Sindo newspaper, House of Representatives speaker Bambang Soesatyo wrote that gay lifestyles have spawned “horrifying” excesses such as murders, HIV/AIDS and paedophilia.

“It is clear that legislation that focuses on curbing the lifestyles of the LGBT community is long overdue,” said Soesatyo, using the abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Soesatyo then listed several murder cases, including two serial killing cases, involving homosexuals in Indonesia in recent years.

Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, but Soesatyo is a politician from the secular and nationalist Golkar Party.

Homosexuality is not a crime in Indonesia, but members of the LGBT community have been under pressure following remarks and action by authorities targeting them.

Since last year, police have raided places frequented by gay people and briefly detained scores of them on suspicion of prostitution and pornographic acts.

In the opinion piece, Soesatyo also wrote that gay people often resorted to paedophilia “because of difficulty in finding partners,” citing recent cases of child rape.

“Their penetration into the lives of teenagers and children has been made possible by online social networks,” he said.

Soesatyo also said, without citing sources, that the gay population was estimated to be about 3 per cent of the country’s population, or about 7 million people.

“If these people actively promote their lifestyles, it will be very worrying,” he said.

“We urge the state to take firm action,” he said, adding that the House of Representatives was seeking to add more provisions to the draft revised criminal code to include those on LGBT activities.

Under the draft revisions to the criminal code, a person engaging in “a lewd act” with another person of the same sex who is under 18 years old could face 12 years in prison.

If the act involves violence, the penalty is up to 15 years, according to the draft.

It stipulates that a lewd act committed in public between two people of the same sex is punishable up to 18 months in prison.

The draft also says that sex between a man and a woman who are unmarried to each other is punishable by up to five years.

But it also stipulates that police can only pursue charges if a relative, such as a wife, a husband, a parent or a sibling makes a police complaint.

Human rights groups warn that the new criminal code, if passed as it is, would be a threat to the privacy of citizens and violate human rights.

More than 50,000 people have signed an online petition against the proposal.

“We call on the House of Representatives to remove provisions which could penalize women, victims of rape, children, those who did not register their marriages and the public in general,” the petition read.