Freedom takes backslide in Indonesia, report claims


JAKARTA — Indonesia is sliding back on freedoms, including the right to practice religion, but at the same time making headway in upholding the rule of law and fighting corruption, according to a new report.

The survey, conducted last year by the Center for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (Demos), said that while many civil and political rights were being upheld, the advances had deteriorated somewhat since 2003-04.

Indonesia removed political and religious restrictions after autocratic President Suharto resigned under pressure in May 1998.

The country has since had an unbridled press, held two rounds of free multi-party elections and witnessed the withdrawal of the military from politics.

“Much of the successful democracy-building is on the sand,” Demos executive director Asmara Nababan said in a statement. “Most of the relatively impressive freedoms and rights are stagnating and backsliding.”

These include freedom of religion and culture, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and art and freedom of association, Demos said in a summary of the survey posted on its Web site.

The government has been criticized by rights groups for its plan to ban Ahmadiyya, an Muslim sect deemed heretic by mainstream Islamic authorities.

The Demos report was based on an assessment of information provided by 900 activists throughout the country who were questioned last year.

The report said the rule of law, corruption control and government accountability have improved, though from very low levels.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has made fighting corruption a key priority. Officials ranging from former ministers to provincial governors have been jailed for graft. Demos said elitist and localized identity politics was threatening attempts to develop democracy.

But in Aceh, where separatists have given up an armed struggle under a pact with the government signed in 2005, decentralization had paved the way for peace and democracy.

“Politics in general continue to be dominated by the elite. Yet, the elite groups are more broadly-based, more localized and less militarized than under Suharto,” the report said.