19 February 1998


Human Rights Watch protests Indonesian government warning to academics

Incident details


(HRW/IFEX) - HRW's Academic Freedom Committee is gravely concerned over the
formal warning recently sent to researchers at Indonesia's prestigious
National Institute of Sciences, Lembaga Ilmu Pengetahuan Indonesia (LIPI) by
Dr. B. J. Habibie, State Minister of Research and Technology.

On 20 January 1998, a group of nineteen LIPI researchers held a press
conference and publicly issued a "Letter of Concern" calling for President
Soeharto to step down, declaring that the Soeharto government no
longer embodied the aspirations of the Indonesian people. On 10 February
1998, Dr. Habibie issued a "Warning Letter" formally reprimanding the
researchers for their statement and sharply warning them not to engage in
such activity in the future.

The warning letter set forth four objections to the researchers' public
expression of their views: 1) researchers should channel any ideas and
recommendations relating to public problems via LIPI, their employer; 2)
public expression of views directly via the mass media might cause unrest at
a time when the country is facing a monetary crisis; 3) such expression of
views constitutes a form of practical political activity inconsistent
with the function of the experts and researchers who work at LIPI; and 4) it
is not appropriate to use the LIPI building, a government facility, to put
forward private views.

HRW's Academic Freedom Committee agrees that the researchers, as academic
professionals and government employees, have a duty when expressing personal
views to make clear to the public that they are speaking in their personal
capacity and not on behalf of the institution. In the present case,
however, there appears to have been no confusion. As emphasized by Soefjan
Tsauri, director of LIPI, no action is being taken against the researchers
by LIPI officials because the researchers made the statement in their
capacity as private citizens.

HRW objects in the strongest possible terms, however, to the assertion that,
as scientists and civil servants, the researchers are in effect
professionally obligated to refrain from expressing their personal
views in any public forum, and to the clear implication in the letter that
reprisals will be taken against them if they do so again in the future. It
is also noted that although the warning is addressed to the LIPI
researchers, the logic of the assertions appear to apply as well to the
thousands of faculty members at public universities throughout Indonesia
who, like the LIPI researchers, are civil servants dependent on
government salaries.

The suggestion that independent expression of political views is
inconsistent with the function of LIPI researchers as scientists and civil
servants is perverse. It is contrary to the respect for individual autonomy
and freedom of expression commanded by Article 19 of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, and contrary to the spirit of academic freedom.

Science and expression of social conscience are not incompatible. Some of
the most creative and productive scientists of the twentieth century are
universally revered today not solely for their scientific insights but also
because they dared to speak out publicly against what they saw as tyranny,
abuse of power and injustice, and because they actively participated in
social movements calling for reform. Albert Einstein and Andrei Sakharov
are two prominent examples.

Recommended Action

Send appeals to authorities:

  • urging them to withdraw the formal warning or modify the warning to comport
    with international standards. At a minimum, any modification should make
    clear that although researchers should take care when expressing personal
    views not to create the impression that they are speaking on behalf
    of the institution at which they are employed, the government stands fully
    behind their rights as citizens to freely express their views and to freely
    associate with those who share such views.

    Appeals To

    Dr. B. J. Habibie
    State Minister of Research and Technology.
    Gedung BPPT Lt. 3
    Jl. MH. Thamrin 8
    Jakerta Pusat

    any local Indonesian embassay, with a note to please forward to Dr. Habibie

    Please copy appeals to the source if possible, as well as to:

    "Kompas", a daily newspaper in Jakarta
    email: fax: 62 21 548-6085
    P.0. Box 4612
    Jakarta 12046

  • Source

    Human Rights Watch
    350 Fifth Avenue
    New York, NY 10118
    United States
    hrwnyc (@) hrw.org

    Fax:+1 212 736 1300
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