New law allows prosecution of foreign researchers – academics fear restrictions of academic freedom

On 16 July 2019, the Indonesian house of representatives adopted a new science and technology bill. Indonesian researchers criticized the new bill. They fear that the law may restrict academic freedom, impede collaboration with foreign research institutions and hamper scientific development in the country. The new bill allows the prosecution of foreigners conducting research without a valid permit. The violation of the law may result in a fine of IDR 4 billion [US$287,418]. According to the bill, the damage of invaluable objects or harming of people during research may be prosecuted with criminal charges carrying a maximum prison term of seven years and a fine, ranging from three to seven billion rupiahs.

 


Scientists who plan to conduct research in Indonesia will have to face long bureaucratic procedures to obtain research permits and a limited stay visa (KITAS). Political and social scientists fear that the bill may be misused to criminalize ‘unwanted’ researchers or to prevent them from entering Indonesia. In June 2019, the two Australian scholars, Dr. Ross Tapsell from the Australian National University and Dr. David McRae from Melbourne University, were stopped from entering Indonesia with tourist visas.

 

The law may be another vague legal instrument contributing to West Papua’s isolation from the outside world, allowing authorities to restrict human rights and keep unwanted foreigners away. Recent cases and developments support this observation. In May 2019, a Polish citizen was found guilty of treason and sentenced to five years imprisonment because he had met with members of the independence movement. In May 2015, President Joko Widodo announced the opening of West Papua to foreign journalists and the abolition of restrictive policies against foreign journalists. But despite the president’s announcement, the government continues to keep its restrictive policy for foreign journalists in place. Foreign journalists intending to cover in the provinces of Papua and Papua Barat need a special permit, which can only be obtained through a lengthy bureaucratic procedure named ‘Clearing House procedure’. Applicants require approval from twelve different state agencies, including the military. The visa is only issued once the applicant has obtained all necessary documentsof approval.