Indonesia Democracy and Rights

Democracy and rights

Abbreviated as INA by Abbreviationfinder, Indonesia has been developing in a clear democratic direction since the late 1990s, although legal security is still weak and corruption is widespread. The military has managed to maintain an informal influence on politics. However, Indonesia is now referred to as a democracy where political leaders are elected in free and fair elections.

During President Suharto (1967–1998), the military gained formal political power by reserving a certain number of seats in the House of Representatives for military and police officers. Even more important for the influence of the armed forces was the doctrine dwi fungsi (dual role). It meant that the military, in order to ensure the stability of the country alongside the military tasks, would also ensure that civilian civil service worked well. Under this system, the military was able to build up a large hierarchical organization and business – even illegal ones – that brought in billions of dollars in dollars.

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During the democratization of 1998, the military’s influence gradually diminished. Dwi fungsi and the reserved seats in Parliament have been abolished, and since 2003, militants are not allowed to vote in national elections. The police, formerly under the military command, are now directly responsible to the president and have taken over responsibility for the country’s internal security from the military.

But despite these changes, the military has managed to maintain an informal influence, mainly through its business activities and involvement in illegal activities such as poaching and illegal logging. Another important reason for the military’s continued influence is the escalation of the fight against terrorism after the Balidade in 2002 (see Militant Islamism).

There are plenty of political parties and the opposition can express and act freely. Criticism against those in power can be expressed in both media and manifestations. In recent years, however, fundamentalist Muslim groups have threatened and acted violently against politicians and parties that represent a more secular view of society.

Civil society and the corporate world are active and can operate openly. In Papua, where a separatist uprising is taking place, police and military sometimes use harsh methods to disperse demonstrations of increased autonomy for the disputed area (see further Papua). In Papua and Aceh, there is often electoral violence.

At the local level there are rules and regulations that discriminate against women. The Muslim sharia laws applied in the province of Aceh often hit women especially hard (see further Aceh).

Corruption permeates society. Widespread corruption in the justice system and the police force undermines democracy and respect for human rights. In recent years, however, the country’s anti-corruption authority KPK has been praised by assessors for good and effective work. Street protests therefore erupted when laws were passed in October 2019 that are feared to undermine KPK’s work: the authority must be supervised by a newly established board, while limiting the possibility of intercepting suspects. In 2019, Indonesia ranked 85th among 180 countries in the Transparency International Index of Corruption in the World, ie almost exactly in the middle (see full list here). It was four investments better than the year before.

Freedom of expression and media

The Constitution and a media law from 1999 guarantee freedom of the press and expression and prohibit censorship. The Indonesian media can generally operate freely and there is an open debate climate. However, there are a number of restrictions for the media.

Reporters Without Borders ranked Indonesia in 2020 ranked 119th out of 180 countries in its index of freedom of the press in the world (see full list here). It was 27 investments better than 2012.

For example, the Indonesian media must show “respect for the religious and moral values ​​of the public”. If they violate this principle, they may be fined. The bans on “spreading hatred of the government” and “insulting the president” were lifted in 2007. Instead, the Law of Defamation is more often used against journalists, as if they are being jailed risking prison. This leads to self-censorship among media workers.

The government is no longer entitled to revoke the media companies’ licenses and the licensing of printed media is largely abolished. Until the spring of 2015, journalists had to have a special permit to visit Papua, where an armed conflict is ongoing (see Papua). In May that year, the government abolished the permit requirement.

One problem is that professional ethics among journalists is considered low. It is not uncommon for journalists to receive bribes. A special press council has been formed to establish ethical rules for journalists and receive complaints from the public.

It appears that journalists are being abused and harassed for practicing their profession. There is also information about murders of media workers.

With media reports about student demonstrations and the opposition’s demands for democracy, the media played an important role in Suharto’s fall in 1998. A large part of the coordination of student demonstrations and criticism of the regime took place via the Internet. A large number of newspapers have since established themselves online.

Internet use is widespread, especially in mobile phones. Social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, are popular. However, a law on digital information and transactions (ITE) from 2008 has been heavily criticized by media organizations for restricting freedom of expression on the Internet and in social media. According to ITE, slander in digital media can give up to six years in prison.

Judicial system and legal security

According to the Constitution, the judicial system should be independent of political involvement, but in practice, persons within the military and the Ministry of Justice have influence over the judiciary. Legal security is judged to be poor and despite attempts to fight corruption in society, it still permeates the legal system.

Constitution and legislation guarantee citizens respect for human rights. In reality, there are violations of these rights, such as torture in detention and prisons. However, the situation has improved considerably since the fall of the Suharto regime in 1998.

A widespread problem is that so few are punished for abuses and violations of human rights. The problem became clear when a special tribunal for East Timor was appointed in Jakarta in 2002 following pressure from the outside world. Of 18 indicted Indonesian military commanders and civil servants suspected of human rights violations during the 1999 wave of violence in East Timor (see East Timor, Modern History), six were found guilty. Of these, five were released following the appeal. The only remaining convicted was Eurico Guterres, leader of the Indonesian-friendly militia in East Timor. He received ten years in prison, but was released after two years. (For information on the Friendship and Truth Commission established by Indonesia and East Timor together in 2005, see East Timor: Political system).

Human rights violations are especially common in areas where there are active independence movements. In Aceh, the situation has improved since a peace agreement was signed in 2005 (see Aceh), but in Papua the violations continue. There, Indonesian military and security police have committed civilian attacks in the form of murder, torture and disappearance (see Papua).

The death penalty can be punished, for example, for serious crimes against the state, such as treason, terrorism and insurgency, as well as for serious drug crimes. In March 2013, the first execution was carried out since 2004. The executed had been found guilty of drug offenses. In January 2015, six people, many of whom were foreign nationals, were executed for drug smuggling. Despite protests from the outside world, including the UN chief Ban Ki-Moon, seven foreign nationals and one Indonesian were arch-bused in April the same year after being sentenced to death for serious drug crimes. Indonesia justified the executions of the country in a “war on drugs”. Otherwise, it is unusual for the death penalty to be enforced.

Indonesia Crime Rate & Statistics



Violent when the police break up a Papuan encounter

Hundreds of people gather in a field outside the town of Jayapura in Papua to attend the Third Papal Council of the People’s Council (MRP). Police disperse the meeting with tear gas and fire warning shots into the air. Dozens of participants are arrested, accused of declaring Papua independently of Indonesia and of proclaiming a transitional government. According to some media reports, hundreds of MRP supporters are arrested, while others flee the meeting in panic as the firing begins.

Low confidence in the president

The confidence of President Yudhoyono among the population has dropped to 46 percent from 61 percent in 2010 and 85 percent in the July 2009 election. In an effort to improve the figures, Yudhoyono is making a major government transformation. He appoints a number of unpolitical professionals to the economic and financial ministerial posts.


Suicide bomb against church in Solo

Two people are killed and about 20 injured when unknown perpetrators trigger an explosive charge in a church outside the city of Solo in central Java. Solo is an important stronghold for religious leader Abu Bakar Baasyir, who is strongly associated with militant Islamist group Jemaah Islamiah. A few days later, the police arrest a man suspected of being involved in the act as well as in the suicide attack against a police station in the city of Cirebon in Java (see April 2011).

Violence outbreak between Christians and Muslims in Ambon

Rumors spread via text message that a Muslim motorcycle taxi driver must have been killed by Christians leads to violent clashes between Christians and Muslims in Ambon in the eastern part of the country. Eight people are killed and about 130 injured in disturbances in connection with the taxi driver’s funeral. Police say the man died on his way to hospital following a traffic accident. The bloated violence causes the government to send a reinforcement of 400 security police to Ambon, which has many times been affected by violence between Christians and Muslims.


Prisoner for disputed prayer leader

The Islamist böneledaren Abu Bakar Baasyir sentenced to 15 years in prison for having given its support to the establishment of Islamist training camp in Aceh.

Stop work as a maid in Saudi Arabia

Indonesia introduces a moratorium (temporary halt) for citizens to take up employment as a maid in Saudi Arabia. The decision is made after an Indonesian maid has been executed without the Saudis first notifying the Jakarta government. The woman had been sentenced to death by decapitating since she murdered her employer, who she reportedly had beaten her and refused to let her go home. The moratorium will take effect on August 1 and will only be removed when Saudi Arabia and Indonesia can agree on stricter rules on how Indonesian guest workers should be treated in Saudi Arabia. About 1.5 million Indonesians works in Saudi Arabia, many of them as domestic workers. Recently, a number of cases where the maids were treated badly by their Saudi employers have stirred up strong feelings in Indonesia. In April, for example, a Saudi woman was acquitted after appealing a convict for assault and torture by her Indonesian maid.

The president is accused of nepotism

President Yudhoyono appoints his brother-in-law to the army chief of staff and receives criticism for nepotism (friendship corruption).


More stringent punishment for smuggling

Indonesia raises the penalty for human smuggling to up to 15 years in prison. This comes after pressure from Australia, which has criticized the Yudhoyono government for failing to take adequate action against human traffickers using Jakarta as a transit port on their way from South Asia or Afghanistan to Australia, where refugees are seeking asylum.

Suicide bombings are directed at the police

A suicide bomber blasts himself into the air and injures 28 other people during Friday prayers at a mosque at a police station in Cirebon in western Java. The act is the first suspected suicide attack in two years in Indonesia. Most of the injured are police officers, and judges believe the act was aimed at the police force as revenge for several high-ranking militant Islamist leaders recently arrested or killed in police raids.


Criticism against mild judgments for soldiers

An Indonesian court sentenced three soldiers filmed as they tortured two civilian Papuans (see Papua) to prison for between eight and ten months for disobedience. Human rights organizations criticize the judges for being mild and believe that the criminalization of crime should have been torture, not disobedience.

Jail shows severe corruption

A former tax official is sentenced to seven years in prison for corruption. During the trial, a picture of severe corruption within the justice system, the criminal justice system and the police corps fades out.