Author: Dewi Kurniawati

Religion may sway Jakarta’s second round election

Millions of Jakarta residents are set to cast their votes in a heated second-round gubernatorial election on April 19 that is both a test of secular democracy in Indonesia and of President Joko Widodo’s political clout in delivering back to office one of his chief lieutenants, the incumbent, an ethnic Chinese-Christian, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama.

Arrayed against Ahok is Anies Baswedan, a former education minister supported by conservative Muslims. He is backed by the powerful political machine of Prabowo Subianto, the president’s chief rival in the 2014 election, as well as several Islamic organizations that have capitalized on the discontent and said they will create equality for the city’s poor.

The race is considered too close to call according to recent opinion polls. A survey conducted on April 12-14 by polling firm Indikator showed Anies with 48.2 percent support versus 47.4 percent for Ahok, with 4.4 percent undecided. The Jakarta-based Charta Politika survey showed that 47.3 percent of nearly 800 respondents favored Ahok and deputy governor Djarot Saiful Hidayat while 44.8 percent supported Anies and running mate Sandiaga Uno, a businessman.

The race has been complicated by a blasphemy case filed against Ahok over comments he made last September on the Quran that were deemed insulting to Islam in what is regularly described as the world’s most populous predominantly Muslim country. The Jakarta governor, in a public speech, said there are people who deceive Muslims into believing the Quran commands them not to vote for Jews and Christians.

That resulted to massive street protests by conservatives in November and December, with continuing rallies and protest as the runoff has neared, an indication of the growing conservatism among Indonesia’s Muslims.

Although he has apologized for the remarks and at one point broke into tears publicly, Ahok was charged with blasphemy, which many regard as a political use of the courts, and faces a maximum five-year jail term if found guilty. He remains free and a verdict is expected after the election, after the police asked the court to postpone the reading of charges.

Jokowi, as the president is known, has thrown his political resources into the race to aid Ahok, who was his deputy governor when he rose to the presidency in October of 2014 and subsequently took over the job.

Ahok won a three-way first-round vote on Feb. 15, securing 43 percent of the votes, while Anies Baswedan came second with 39 per cent. However, after the first-round election, congregants in some areas in Jakarta installed banners calling for Muslims not to vote for an “infidel.” The banners also warned that those who did so would not receive Islamic rites when they died.

“Honestly, I am confused of whom to vote for, unlike the presidential election in 2012 when I was confident of voting for Jokowi,” Indriaty Octarina, a housewife in South Jakarta told The Parrot. “What I want from a governor is someone who can deliver good results, anti-corruption, firms with all regulations so that we can have a better Jakarta,” she said.

“I think Ahok is doing a good job as a governor, but obviously he has a problem of controlling what’s coming out of his mouth; he is too arrogant” Octarina said, adding that although Anies Baswedan is not her favorite either, when it comes to religion, she wants to “be a good Muslim and follow Islamic teaching,” a belief that the Quran commands her not to vote for Jews and Christians as leaders. “Most of my family members feel the same about this election,” she said.

Octarina’s story is shared by millions of Muslim voters in Jakarta, who despite agreeing that Ahok is doing a good job as governor, won’t vote for him in the coming election. A research by Pollmark Indonesia recently shows that as many as 21.6 percent of voters say that their vote will be based on their religion.

As many as 7.9 percent of respondents remained undecided according to face-to-face interviews conducted between April 7 and 12 by pollster Charta Politika.

Ahok, the first Christian to lead Jakarta in 50 years, has been perceived as an effective administrator in a bureaucracy long plagued by corruption and incompetence. He has implemented a raft of infrastructure projects including parks and transport, with efficient services becoming commonplace after decades in which political hacks ruled the sprawling city. He has won praise for cleaning up rivers clogged with rubbish, thereby reducing annual flooding in the capital city of 10 million people.

His administration has also built more parks and children’s playgrounds.
However, he has caused resentment with his decision to evict poor residents from their riverbank homes and relocate some of them to low-cost apartments, where they have to find rent money despite having been separated from their source of income. He has also drawn criticism for going ahead with a plan for the reclamation of Jakarta Bay to create 17 artificial islands, which has been criticized as benefitting the Chinese conglomerates and adding to the economic inequality in the country.

Meanwhile, the Jakarta Police released announcement on Monday prohibiting mass mobilization that could result in physical or psychological intimidation of voters on April 19. KPU Jakarta commissioner Dahliah Umar said too much security might make citizens feel uneasy when they come to polling stations to cast their votes.

Does MUI fatwa on homosexuality help shape how Indonesians see LGBT community?

By Irwan Martua Hidayana*

Talking about religion and homosexuality can be like mixing water with oil. They don’t go well together.

Discourses on homosexuality are part of religion’s long history, particularly among Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Broadly speaking, these religions do not tolerate homosexuality and consider it a sin. Although there are exceptions within those faiths. Even Pope Francis, who has spoken out against same-sex marriage, has said that people “shouldn’t be marginalised” just because of their sexuality.

Last year, Indonesia’s top Muslim clerical body, the Council of Indonesian Ulema (MUI) issued a fatwa (an Islamic legal edict) condemning homosexuality. This came around the time the Indonesian government carried out a flurry of executions of drug traffickers on death row, which prompted international pressure against Indonesia’s policy on the death penalty. In its edict, the MUI suggested that same-sex relations to be added to the list of crimes punishable with death.

The MUI also recommended the government to set up rehabilitation centres to cure “perverts”. They argued that perversion is increasing in the society. Aside from sexual molestation, the MUI included homosexuality as perverted.

Reaction from LGBT community

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community in Indonesia has responded to the fatwa in a calm manner. Suara Kita (Our Voice), an LGBT rights organisation, wrote on its website that the MUI has a right to its opinion as much as Suara Kita has the right to dismiss the fatwa.

Aside from the calm response from the LGBT community, what are the implications of the MUI’s edict in the struggle for LGBT rights in Indonesia?

Indonesia and LGBT rights

While more and more countries acknowledge the rights of LGBT people through same-sex marriage laws, Indonesia actively obstructs international advancement of LGBT rights.

In 2014, Indonesia, along with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, was one of the countries that opposed the passing of a UN Human Rights Council LGBT resolution.

Indonesia does not explicitly ban same-sex relations in its criminal code. However, under Indonesia’s anti-pornography law, homosexuality is defined as a sexual deviance.

The sharia-ruled Aceh province in Sumatra bans same-sex relations, with a sentence of up to 100 public floggings. Palembang, another province in Sumatra, also criminalises same-sex relations with a penalty of up to six months imprisonment.

Fuel for discrimination

The MUI’s fatwa will most likely not be implemented in Indonesia’s legal system. Indonesia’s religious minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin said he did not agree with the MUI. He argues homosexuality is an individual’s choice.

But the fatwa’s existence may be used by religious vigilante groups to attack Indonesia’s LGBT community. Islamic edicts from the MUI are not legally binding. However, the state and Muslim society in Indonesia often use a fatwa to solve Islam-related matters. Lawmakers often refer to MUI fatwas in drafting many state laws, such as the law on halal products and hajj management.

Even though the fatwa is not legally binding, for some Muslim conservatives it is more than enough to ban homosexuality in public spaces. It can become a foundation for many policies and practices that reinforce hetero-normative and binary gender systems.

Religious vigilantes have previously attacked events organised by LGBT groups. In 2010, they attacked the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) conference in Surabaya and the Q!Film Festival in Jakarta. In October 2010, the MUI urged the national censorship board to ban any movies that promote homosexuality.

Through the fatwa, the MUI label homosexuality as a sin, unnatural and immoral. By releasing edicts, the MUI tries to play a role as Indonesia’s morality police and the guardian of the faith of Muslim society.

For the MUI, the objection to homosexuality is definite, without room for critical discussion. Many Muslim people follow the MUI’s line of thinking and believe that homosexuality has no place in Islam. Criticising its view of Islam can be perceived as opposition to Islamic law.

The change role of the MUI

The MUI is a non-government Islamic organisation established by the late president Suharto in 1975. Suharto used the organisation to gain political support from diverse Islamic organisations.

When Suharto established the MUI, there were many Islamic groups that were political with the intention to replace the state ideology Pancasila with Islam. A key role of the MUI was to convince other Islamic organisations to accept Pancasila as state ideology. Accepting Pancasila would mean abandoning their political intention of establishing Islam as a state ideology. The Islamic groups would have to recognise pluralism as inherent in Indonesian society.

After the fall of Suharto’s dictatorial rule in 1998, political Islam began to re-emerge. This has affected the way the MUI responds to socio-religious problems in Indonesia.

The MUI has since become more in favour of Islam and moved away from the notion of pluralism. It seems to ignore Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity), the national motto. It attempts to impose its authoritative interpretation of Islam on Indonesian society.

For instance, in 2005, the MUI issued a fatwa that banned pluralism, secularism and liberalism. The MUI view pluralism the same way as it views syncretism (the combination of different forms of belief or practices) and religious relativism: as a threat to Islamic belief, as it can lead to heresy.

Beyond dividing society into ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’

By issuing the recent fatwa, the MUI categorised members of the LGBT community as —to borrow philosopher Judith Butler’s term – the abject. The creation of the abject aims to ensure “normal” behaviour. The boundaries between “normal” and “abnormal” are always scrutinised by the family, school, community, state apparatus and religious institutions. To make the “abnormal” conform to social norms, they are stigmatised, marginalised and attacked.

However, LGBT communities and organisations in Indonesia have shown that they refuse to be labelled as the abject or “abnormal”. They continue to fight for their rights. What keeps them going are lessons from past experiences of other movements and solidarity from other human rights groups.

The MUI is not the only voice on Islamic interpretation in Indonesia. There are a number of Muslim scholars who are critical of the MUI’s strict interpretations of Islam. For example, noted Islamic scholar Musdah Mulia has proposed a humanist interpretation of Islam. In 2009, she argued that there is a room in Islam for gay, lesbian and other non-normative sexualities.

Mulia’s view on Islam is based on the central principles of justice, virtue, equality, wisdom, compassion, pluralism and human rights. These leave no place for discrimination and hatred. For Mulia, the reinterpretation of Islamic texts must be done contextually, not literally, with reference to the true objective of Islamic legislation.

By adopting this view of Islam, talking about religion and homosexuality will no longer feel like mixing oil and water

*This article was first published by

Indonesia needs to move beyond security measures to fight terrorism

By Noor Huda Ismail*

Indonesian police have named a convicted terrorist, Afif Sunakim, as one of five perpetrators of Islamic State-linked bombings and shootings in Jakarta that killed eight people, including four attackers, last month.

Indonesia is considering amending its counter-terrorism laws to respond to the phenomenon of returned foreign fighters from Syria.

But fighting terrorism purely through security measures will not be enough. Indonesia should devise policies to rehabilitate and monitor former convicted terrorists to prevent recidivism. The government should also work with civil society to counter the spread of extremism online.

Preventing recidivism by ex-terror convicts

The Indonesian police have arrested more than 1200 people on terrorism charges, according to data from the counter-terrorism unit. Some convicted terrorists seemed to become more radical behind bars. At least 40 convicted terrorists have re-offended after release.

Afif Sunakim was arrested in 2010 and sentenced to seven years in jail for his role in a militant training camp in Aceh. In prison, he became the masseuse for Aman Abdurrahman, one of Indonesia’s most influential jihadi ideologues and a vocal promoter of Islamic State (IS).

My series of interviews with terrorist recidivists suggests that the majority of them believe that jihad is a religious obligation. In a purely linguistic sense, the word “jihad” means struggling or striving. It can refer to the internal as well as external struggle to be a good Muslim. However, for terrorists, jihad means to fight against Indonesia’s secular regime.

There is a common understanding among jihadists that if they are imprisoned, they are simply taking leave. Upon release, they will be ready to rejoin the movement. With this kind of belief, no matter the situation former terrorist inmates face, there is a big chance they will return to their terrorist groups and carry out further attacks.

A prominent terrorist, convicted in 2004, is an example of such recidivism. He was released in 2008. He was then involved in weapons training in Aceh in 2010. In his opinion, as long as what he believes in is right, he will have no other option than to act, whether inside or outside prison. He said: A committed mujahideen will not be limited by any condition or situation beyond himself.

Additionally, there is a desire among convicted terrorists to experiment or retry what they failed to achieve. A convicted terrorist now on the run after a prison break in Medan was involved in the Lippo Bank robbery in Medan in 2003 and again in the CIMB Niaga Bank robbery in 2010. He said: If jihad acts fail, it is most likely that improved jihad acts will be tried again later.

The choice for a released convicted terrorist is stark. Do I return to the pathway of jihad or do I re-enter society to follow a normal life? If he lives in a difficult social and economic situation, with a lack of education and a family that does not support him, it is most likely that a former terrorist inmate will return to the jihadist community, where he will be protected and cared for.

A 2013 report by the Institute of Policy Analysis of Conflict showed that Indonesia’s judicial system has insufficient funds, infrastructure and resources to handle the successful rehabilitation of former terrorists. This lack of post-detention care leaves terrorist inmates at risk of returning to violence, because they are not being properly assessed. They do not receive sufficient re-programming to prepare them to return to mainstream society.

Indonesia needs to set up special placement, supervision, development and rehabilitation programs for former terrorists. The government must train corrections officers to actively engage with former inmates, to support them in finding a new calling in life and to mentor them while doing so.

Countering radical narratives online

The second challenge is to stop IS spreading extremism over the internet.

IS propaganda has created a hype and fad among Muslim youths around the world about a fantasy idea that violent armed struggle against non-Muslims and Muslims identified as “enemies of Islam” is a “jihad” that requires urgent participation.

IS has also created a false hope and a perception that the perfect government system based on the purest Islamic principles has been implemented and is working – but that it still requires Muslims from “impure” Muslim and non-Muslim lands.

Until now the Indonesian government – let alone civil society – has made no systematic effort to challenge the arguments of jihadists on social media. The jhadists are cleverly targeting individuals at risk, mainly young people. These at-risk people tend to spend their time online rather than offline and enjoy being “liked” on Facebook.

If extremists have successfully employed social media to spread their message on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, we also need to create a campaign on social media to counter their movement. We can take a closer look at how “creative” extremists use technology to spread their ideology by monitoring their videos and reading their tweets and online posts.

With the help of civil society, the Indonesian government could launch campaigns on social media to challenge the extremist narratives.

Terrorism is rooted in a belief in an extreme ideology. If we want to prevent acts of terror from happening again, we should strive to prevent the young from being won over by extremists’ messages. We should also find a way to change the minds of those convicted of terrorism so they will not return to their old ways.

Noor Huda Ismail is a PhD Candidate in Politics and International Relations, Monash University. This article was first published by

Indonesia needs creative economy law to spur job creation

By Muhammad Faiz Aziz*

Indonesia should put in place a law on the creative economy to allow businesses in the sector to operate with legal certainty.

Supporting the growth of the creative economy will spur job creation, an answer to the country’s problems of rising inequality, youth unemployment and exploitation of Indonesian workers abroad.

What is the creative economy?

Indonesia lists 15 industries as part of the creative economy: architecture; art; craft; design; fashion; video, film and photography; interactive games; music; performing arts; publishing and printing; computer services and software; television and radio; research and development; and culinary.

These industries have the potential to provide much-needed jobs in Indonesia. The World Bank has reported that, despite sustained growth in the past decade, Indonesia is facing rising inequality between rich and poor. Only 20% of Indonesia’s population benefited from the country’s growth, while 200 million people are struggling.

Large numbers of Indonesians of productive age have low education levels. Many are stuck in low-wage informal jobs.

Some work as migrant workers in countries such as Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Hong Kong. Indonesia migrant workers are overworked according to The International Labour Organisation. Some undergo torture and rape. More than 200 migrant workers are facing the death penalty abroad.

The growth of the creative economy may help reduce the unemployment rate in Indonesia, perched at around 7.39 million people or 6.35% of the total workforce. In 2014, 7.1% of Indonesia’s GDP came from the creative economy, absorbing up to 12 million workers.

The popularity of IT-based start-up businesses that provide apps for transportation services in Indonesia, such as Go-jek, Grab Bike, Grab Taxi, Uber, Blue-Jek and Lady-Jek, is a great example of the creative economy’s potential.

Go-jek, which connects motorcycle taxi drivers with passengers, has now attracted 200,000 motorists, half of them in Jakarta. Motorists who uses these apps have reported a two to three times increase in income.

Go-jek plans to expand the app for other services such as housecleaning, massage and salon services through Go-Clean, Go-Massage and Go-Glam. These three apps have potential to recruit domestic workers, therapists and hairdressers to provide house cleaning, massage and salon services on demand, and would potentially increase their incomes.

Countries such as Australia and the United States have expressed interest in investing in the growing digital creative industry in Indonesia.

Bill on creative economy

Currently, a bill on the creative economy is in the Indonesian parliament. Lawmakers should make it a priority to pass the bill into law.

To provide guidelines for the government, businesses and intellectuals to develop creative industries, Indonesia’s Ministry of Trade had published policy blueprints “Creative Economy Development Plan 2009-2015” and “Creative Industry Development Towards a Creative Economy 2025”. President Joko Widodo has also set up a Creative Economy Agency (BAKREF). The agency is tasked with policy making, program planning, coordination and synchronisation with other government agencies, guidance and supervision.

But this is not enough. Without legally binding regulation of the creative economy, industries are being subjected to rigid sector-based regulations. This is creating problems for IT-based referral businesses such as Uber and Gojek, which have been facing legal hurdles as the Transport Ministry deems them illegal.

A law on the creative economy would support business players who are looking to create innovative ways to provide goods and services. It would provide incentives for businesses, such as tax holidays, access to financing sources and intellectual property rights (IPR) facilities.

The legislation will also create rules and obligations for business players. These incentives can be taken away from them if violations occur.

Legislating for the creative economy will bring certainty for businesses and legally bind the government to support the sector. In the end, it could create wider employment opportunities in Indonesia.

Muhammad Faiz Aziz is a Researcher at the Indonesian Center for Law and Policy Studies (PSHK). This article was first published by

Finding tranquility in Luang Prabang, Laos

As the sun rises, saffron-robed Buddhist monks, with a basket at their hip, stand in a long line down the street near their temples to receive their daily meal from local people. Continue reading “Finding tranquility in Luang Prabang, Laos”

How will a 40% cut in Australian aid affect Indonesia?

Don K. Marut

Lecturer in International Relations at Bina Nusantara University

The Australian government has announced it will cut aid to Indonesia by A$220 million, or 40%, compared to the allocation in last year’s budget. President Joko Widodo responded with a straightforward statement: Continue reading “How will a 40% cut in Australian aid affect Indonesia?”

Transnational campaign against death penalty in Indonesia began with political prisoners

Vannessa Hearman

Lecturer in Indonesian Studies at University of Sydney

World attention has focused on Indonesia’s recent executions. But this year also marks the 30th anniversary of the execution of three Indonesian political prisoners.

In 1985, the Suharto regime executed Joko Untung, Gatot Lestario and Rustomo. With little warning to their families, they were taken in the middle of the night to a field in Pamekasan on the island of Madura, off the north coast of East Java, and shot.

The men had been in prison since 1968 and 1969. Their crime was to try to resurrect the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) in the southern parts of East Java.

Opposition to the death penalty during the Suharto era was primarily part of the campaign against the authoritarian regime in Indonesia. This campaign united Indonesian and international organisations and involved ordinary citizens in countries such as Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada and the Netherlands.

The story of Gatot Lestario

Lestario was a high school teacher and an organiser of the PKI in East Java until 1965. The PKI was the third-largest communist party in the world at that time.

In September 1965, a group calling itself the 30th of September Movement kidnapped and killed seven high-ranking army officers. This was painted as a coup attempt against President Sukarno. The army leadership, led by Major General Suharto, blamed it on the PKI.

Half a million leftists were killed in the 1965-66 pogroms. Many were imprisoned, mostly without trial, for varying lengths of time. A small number of leftists categorised as those “most involved” in the 30th of September Movement, including communist leaders, were executed. Suharto became president in 1968 and led Indonesia for the next 30 years.

Lestario and a few dozen surviving PKI cadres managed to survive in hiding. In 1967, they retreated to construct a base in South Blitar to resist the Suharto regime.

The military destroyed the base by September 1968 and thousands were killed, arrested and displaced. The surviving militants were jailed, some in Jakarta and the rest, including Lestario, in East Java. He was tried and sentenced to death in 1976.

International campaign for Lestario

While on death row, Lestario, who was adept in Dutch and English in addition to Indonesian and Javanese languages, began writing to penfriends who were involved in the Quakers and Amnesty International. Lestario convinced his penfriends to take up his case in their respective countries and in Indonesia.

One of the founders of Amnesty International, Eric Baker was a Quaker and he urged the Quakers to support Amnesty’s anti-torture campaign launched in 1973. The Quakers set up the Campaign Against Torture and the Prisoner Befriending Scheme as a result. The scheme encouraged Quaker congregations to write to political prisoners around the world.

In 1983, Doreen Brown, who lived in London, sent Lestario a Christmas card to which he replied. Through his letters, Lestario was able to provide information to Amnesty International and Tapol, an Indonesian human rights organisation also based in London. Tapol was founded by former Indonesian political prisoner Carmel Budiardjo in 1973.

Lestario described prison conditions and the situation of the 22 political prisoners in Pamekasan. Despite being behind bars, Lestario worked with this transnational network to improve the conditions of political prisoners and to campaign for their release.

The Browns wrote and circulated two petitions, signed by hundreds of people, addressed to the Indonesian government for the release of Lestario and his wife Pudjiaswati. Lestario’s clemency appeal to President Suharto was denied in 1984.

In the same year, after a brief moratorium on executions, leftist prisoners began to be executed again, starting with Mohammad Munir. Munir was formerly a trade union leader with the World Federation of Trade Unions and member of the PKI Politburo.

Lestario expressed his concern to his penfriends about this worrying development. He hoped that Amnesty could pressure the foreign minister, Mochtar Kusumaatmadja, on his 1985 visit to London to commute the Indonesian death sentences.

Despite his optimism, Lestario was shot in July 1985. His mother was able to spend his last moments with him. But his wife, herself in prison in East Java, and his children were not aware of his execution until days later.

In Westminster, England, the Browns organised a memorial meeting on October 2 1985 for the executed men. At the end of the meeting, people were asked to take home a flower to press and dry to remember the men by.

One year on, they published a book of extracts from Lestario’s letters, a tribute to their friend, titled The Last Years of Gatot Lestario. Handwritten then photocopied, hand-bound and stitched, the couple made 220 books and from the proceeds they raised funds for political prisoners in Indonesia and their families.

Campaign for abolition

The subversion law, upon which Lestario’s execution was based, was repealed in 1998 when the Suharto regime ended. But the death penalty still stands for other crimes.

The campaign against the death penalty today has been more difficult to maintain and less visible, because in the past it was so intertwined with the fight for democracy in Indonesia.

But a transnational campaign against the death penalty can be built today in the footsteps of previous campaigns developed between Indonesians and the international community.

The article was originally published on

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