Monday, June 07, 2004

Rights Advocate's Expulsion A Step Backwards

By Andreas Harsono

Jakarta, 7 June 2004 (IPS) -- Freedom of expression in Indonesia's emerging democracy suffered a big blow Sunday with the expulsion of a U.S. citizen researcher with a well-respected think tank, who had exposed links between the Indonesian military intelligence and an Islamic group allegedly linked to terrorism.

The expulsion provoked condemnation in the country, prompting a number of Indonesian NGOs to openly challenge the government's decision in a parliamentary hearing on the researcher's marching orders.

"We haven't even been told directly what we've done wrong and the officials concerned won't meet with us. We have not been able to respond to any charges, and there is no legal mechanism to challenge the expulsion," Sidney Jones of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, or ICG, told IPS on Sunday before leaving the country for Singapore.

Jones is ICG's Indonesia expert and director of the group's Indonesia branch.

She was handed a letter, last week, by the National Intelligence Agency ordering her to leave the country by the weekend at the latest, along with her Australian analyst assistant Francesca Lawe-Davies.

There was immediate condemnation of Jones' expulsion.

"I'm ashamed to be an Indonesian today because a friend, who did nothing wrong, is being expelled arbitrarily from Indonesia," said Ishak Santoso, head of the Jakarta-based Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information, at a hearing to discuss Jones' matter at the House of Representatives.

The powerful National Intelligence Agency chief Gen A M Hendropriyono said Jones had undermined national security and damaged Indonesia's image with critical reports on separatist conflicts in Aceh and West Papua.

Hendropriyono, a close ally of President Megawati Sukarnoputri, told a committee of Indonesian MPs that ICG's reports were untrue and were written to slander the country in order to get money from abroad.

"She's (Jones) been working here drawing attention to human rights. Then she writes reports and sends them abroad, even though they are not all true," the intelligence chief, told 'Tempo' magazine.

"There must be steps taken against people who are not liked by the people of Indonesia," he said angrily.

But ICG's seminal work in recent years has been Jones' reporting on Jemaiah Islamiyah - a regional network that aims to create a pan-Islamic state in South-east Asia and which several governments have classified as a terrorist organisation.

In August 2002, ICG published a report entitled 'al-Qaeda in South-east Asia.'

Some governments and certain intelligence agencies claim a connection between Jemaiah Islamiyah and al-Qaeda and allege the Islamic regional grouping's members had trained with al-Qaeda militants in Afghanistan.

Jemaiah Islamiyah is claimed to be responsible for the blasts in a popular Bali bar-strip on Oct. 10, 2002, which killed at least 190 people - most of them Australians.

Its spiritual leader and Muslim cleric Abubakar Baasyir is now under detention.

One week after the Bali bombing, Baasyir was arrested by the Indonesian police. But prosecutors have so far failed to convict him.

Last September, a court sentenced him to four years in jail for taking part in a plot, supposedly by the Jemaiah Islamiyah to overthrow the government. But it said there was no proof he was its leader.

An appeals court in November overturned the treason conviction but ruled that Baasyir must serve three years for immigration offences and forgery. This April, the Supreme Court halved that sentence and said the time he has spent in detention counted toward it, prompting expressions of dismay from the United States, Australia and Singapore.

Baasyir was released on Apr. 30, but was promptly re-arrested.

But what has upset some sections of the Indonesian political and military elite are not the findings of Jones and her team, but rather the links and ties they have uncovered in the course of their research, some of which go right to the Indonesian military elite.

"Several of the ICG reports contain adverse comments on Hendropriyono's National Intelligence Agency. Jones' reports also mentioned the names of some people who are his informers," an intelligence source, who did not want to be named, told IPS.

Since the tragic events of Sep. 11, 2001 and more importantly the 2002 Bali bombings, Indonesia has been wooed and later co-opted into the U.S.-led 'coalition of the willing' in the fight against global terrorism.

Hendropriyono is one of the Bush administration's favourite Indonesian officials because he is widely seen as among the few senior army officers, in the world's largest Muslim country, who has taken the threat of terrorism seriously.

But Malaysian political analyst Farish Noor points out the irony of Indonesia's inclusion by the U.S. government in its fight against terror.

"The most worrying development of all has been the near-total erasure and collective amnesia about the close links between the Indonesian army, intelligence and the so-called Islamic militant groups in Indonesia," he told IPS.

"When the Indonesian government was told to rein in these groups some of their leaders openly stated that they enjoyed close relations with the Indonesian army," added Noor.

It comes as no surprise that Jemaah Islamiyah welcomed Jones' expulsion.

"We call on the government to ban Sidney Jones and also have her apologise to Abu Bakar Bashir," Fauzan al Anshari, spokesman for the Muslim cleric told reporters.

The momentum to expel Jones apparently began after a closed-door parliamentarian hearing with Hendropriyono on May. 25. It was also a coincidence that her work permit was soon to expire.

Ibrahim Ambong, who heads a parliamentary commission on intelligence, said Hendropriyono had told the legislators that Jones had falsely spoken in a Washington forum about Indonesian soldiers helping "spreading HIV/AIDS" in the remote province of West Papua in eastern Indonesia.

Jones' assistant Lawe-Davies, Ambong said, was expelled because she had no work permit.

The move against Jones is arguably conveniently timed.

Indonesia is in campaign mode in the country's first direct presidential election scheduled on Jul.5 and political leaders seem reluctant to rush to the defense of a foreigner and make themselves unnecessarily vulnerable to nationalist criticism.

But the other hand, it is interesting to note that no other senior political figures have jumped on the anti-Jones bandwagon.

Jones' expulsion unexpectedly prompted scores of Indonesia's big names, ranging from Muslim scholar Nurcholish Madjid, often regarded as a national guru, to internationally-recognised Indonesian journalist Goenawan Mohamad, to form a coalition in her defense.

They collected signatures to fight against her expulsion and petitioned parliament to renew her work permit.

Ulil Abshar-Abdalla of the Liberal Islam Network told the legislators that Jones was really a big lover of Indonesia.

"She has been involved in Indonesia since the 1970s, living in an Islamic boarding house," he said.

"She also has her own personal struggle with the Bush administration. Once she told me that she would like to change her citizenship into Indonesian if President Bush is to be re- elected in for a second term (this November)," Abdalla revealed to IPS.

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