This is more sinister than a Bali bonk ban: my people’s freedom is on the line

The penal code has predictably led to Islamophobic commentary from the international community, but for us this is about the continued erosion of democracy under President Joko Widodo. This is about the consolidated power of the oligarchs, including the conservatives, who are shrinking bourgeois space.

When I was able to live in my own country, it was acceptable to warn the police a day in advance, or even on the day of a protest. About six years ago, the police started treating the report as if it were a permit and made the requirements much stricter. The new penal code illegalizes rapid protests and violates international human rights law.

Under the new code, any discussion of Marxism and Communism is illegal. Indonesia is still stuck in the past without telling the truth about the crimes against humanity that took place in 1965-66. At least 500,000 communists and people accused of being communists were killed. Justice has never been done, despite time running out as the remaining survivors age.

It will be West Papuans rather than frisky Australian tourists who bear the brunt of the updated Penal Code. The repression there, which I have seen first hand, is beyond anything I have seen anywhere else in the country.

Charges of treason, normally punishable by life imprisonment, are often used to silence West Papuans. Just last week, three West Papuans were charged with treason for peacefully waving the symbol of West Papua’s independence – the Morning Star flag. The new treason law comes with the death penalty.

It is shameful that Australia has just awarded the Chief of the Indonesian Armed Forces the Order of Australia, as his institution is the main perpetrator of human rights abuses in West Papua.


The new criminal code will come into force in three years. A window is open for the international community, including Australia, to protect the world’s third largest democracy. Indonesians need you to raise your voice and not just because you are worried about your trip to Bali.

Veronica Koman is an Indonesian human rights lawyer in exile and a campaigner with Amnesty International Australia.

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Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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