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Sunday, September 28, 2014

A 19-Year Journey Into Javanese Folklore

Jakarta Globe, Ari Susanto, Sep 28, 2014

German archeologist and art historian
Lydia Kieven. (JG Photos/Ari Susanto)
Nothing exerts a pull on Lydia Kieven, 58, in life more than temple reliefs. For more than 19 years, she has searched for stone artifacts to reveal the mysterious story of the Javanese prince, Panji, and was astonished to discover a journey of spirituality rather than love.

Through her personal journey of learning ancient Javanese language, art and culture, the German archeologist became transfixed by the chronicles of Panji, which originated from the 14th-century Majapahit era. Kieven stumbled across the stories of Panji during a hike of East Java’s Mount Penanggungan sanctuary in 1996 to seek out reliefs depicting the epic Mahabharata poem’s Arjuna and Bima at Kendalisodo temple.

Unfortunately, her trip had been in vain as the panels were nowhere to be found. Instead, Kieven discovered four reliefs portraying a couple’s journey with the romantic backdrops of mountains, forests and the ocean. The woman had long, flowing hair, while her male companion seemed to be wearing a cap.

“[The reliefs] were beautiful; they caught my attention and reminded me of a photograph I had once seen of Panji,” Kieven says.

The archeologist returned to Germany and immersed herself in old literature about the prince written by Dutch authors, but none satisfied her curiosity, so she decided to return to Java, where she reconstructed the relief carvings that had captured her attention, instead of focusing solely on text.

The story of Panji can be traced as far back as the 1300s, appearing in various cultures and parts of Southeast Asia, including Kalimantan, Bali, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Cambodia. The tale was adapted in each tradition and given various titles but bore the same storyline. Throughout the centuries, the Panji epic has been developed into various artistic performance, including the shadow puppet show of Wayang Beber and the mask dance Topeng Dalang.

The series of stories followed the journey of Prince Panji (or Inu Kertapat) from the kingdom of Kahuripan and Princess Galuh Candrakirana (or Dewi Sekartaji) from Kediri. The two monarchies ruled in East Java prior to the Majapahit period. The narrative begins when the two engaged lovers are torn apart and must each embark on a journey — in disguise — to be reunited.

“The couple’s journey to find each other is not a love story, but rather a spiritual journey to seek sanctity, purity, and peace. In the reliefs, we could find Panji’s finger pointing at objects as if he is asking us to follow the path of spirituality, such as dipping in water — for purifying — and meeting the spiritual guru,” she says.

Lydia Kieven has dedicated nearly
two decades of her life to the ancient
Javanese folklore of Prince Panji and
his love, Princess Galuh. (JG Photo/
Ari Susanto)
What mesmerizes Kieven is not the story itself, but rather the symbolism found in ancient Javanese agrarian culture. Panji is a masterpiece that is completely different from both the Mahabharata and Ramayana, which feature gods and goddesses manifested in human forms.

“Panji represents a human, like us, who searches for [spirituality] through stages depicted in the reliefs. Both Panji and Galuh are presented as being modest and humble, leaving their royal lives for adventure,” she says.

Kieven’s mission to capture the lingering traces of Panji throughout Java, Kalimantan and Bali has not been without its challenges, but the archeologist says she gained inspiration from the ancient tale she has dedicated her life to.

“Panji and Galuh were very steadfast in their efforts to find on another. No obstacles could stop them,” Kieven says.

Two months after her first encounter with the reliefs depicting Panji and Galuh, doctors diagnosed Kieven with a malignant form of cancer that required surgery and chemotherapy. Despite her weakened condition, the German continued with her research paper on narrative sculptures and literary traditions of Southeast Asia, presenting a complete draft in September 1996, to the Netherlands’ Leiden University.

Then, while still reeling from the devitalizing effects of radiation, Kieven once again traveled to Java to complete her research. Back in the archipelago, however, she was faced with another obstacle: lack of funds. The resilient art historian didn’t let a debilitating illness stop her expedition, nor would she allow something as trivial as money to keep her away from Panji and Galuh’s adventures, so Kieven took up work as a travel guide, leading German tourists.

She continued her work, scrutinizing reliefs from temple to temple, including the Penataran, the largest Hindu temple complex of East Java and home to multiple intricately-carved reliefs and two statues of Panji and Galuh. In 2000 alone, she visited 20 sites for her research.

The two statues have since been moved and are now conserved separately: Panji is kept in the art library of the Bandung Institute of Technology in West Java, while Galuh is housed in Jakarta’s National Museum. Kieven hopes the two will once again be united, as described in the epic tale of their spiritual journey

Friday, September 26, 2014

Indonesia’s scrapping of direct elections raises fears for democracy

Controversial legislation criticised as attempt by old political elites to consolidate their loosening grip on power

The Guardian, Kate Lamb in Jakarta, Friday 26 September 2014

President-elect Widodo. Indonesia, the world’s third-largest democracy, was held up
as an example in the region after the July poll. Photograph: Darren Whiteside/Reuters

Fears have been raised for Indonesia’s democracy after its parliament voted to abolish the direct election of local leaders, a key post-dicatatorship reform credited with assisting president-elect Joko Widodo’s rise to popularity as a mayor and governor before he won July’s national election.

The legislation – passed in the early hours of Friday after intensive lobbying – will mean provincial governors, district chiefs and mayors will now be elected by legislative bodies rather than directly by the people.

It could also lead to Widodo’s opponents in the incoming parliament – in which his coalition will hold just over a third of the seats – using its appointees to block his reforms at the local level.

Direct elections, part of the decentralisation measures implemented after the fall of dictator Suharto in 1998, have been credited with producing a handful of promising new leaders unconnected to the old elite, including Widodo, who beat a former general in the election in July.

After the tightest elections in the nation’s history ran peacefully, the world’s third-largest democracy was lauded for it political maturity and held up as an example in the region.

Raised in a riverside slum in Central Java, Widodo, known in Indonesia as Jokowi, is the first elected president with no direct ties to the old political and military establishment.

“The bill is a setback. A step back to a process of electing political leaders that is now in the hands of political parties,” said Djayadi Hanan, a political analyst from Paramadina University in Jakarta. “It is like a comeback for the political oligarchy.”

Doing away with direct elections, say analysts, will stymie the emergence of a new breed of accountable, responsible leaders and entrench the old elite.

Citing a recent poll by the Indonesian Survey Circle that showed more than 80% of Indonesians opposed the bill, Hanan argued that Indonesia’s political elites were trying to tighten their loosening grip on power and in doing so acted “against the will of the people”.

The bill has also been seen as attempt to even political scores, rushed through by an outgoing parliament and passed by a coalition of parties led by Prabowo Subianto, the former general who lost the July election to Jokowi.

“[The Prabowo coalition] want to humiliate Jokowi in the parliament, and this is the first battle,” said Eva K Sundari, a legislator from Jokowi’s Democratic party of Struggle

The ruling coalition in the incoming parliament will account for just over 36% of the seats and unless Jokowi manages to secure the support of another political party, he looks set to face a belligerent parliament after his inauguration on 20 October.

Analysts say that while he might hold power at the top, the opposition could further derail his programmes at a local level following the elimination of direct elections. More than 200 new local leaders, including 11 new provincial governors, are scheduled to be appointed next year and the new bill could help consolidate power in the hands of Jokowi’s opponents.

Aleksius Jemadu, the dean of political sciences at Pelita Harapan University in Jakarta, said the bill reflected an unsavoury new development in Indonesian democracy, one where the parliament “can do anything they want now because they control the majority and no one can stop them”.

In the lead-up to the boisterous 12 hours of debate and lobbying that preceded the vote, it appeared the bill was likely to be quashed. But the party that held the crucial swing vote, outgoing president Yudhoyono’s Democratic party, reversed its position at the 11th hour, walking out of the plenary session and abstaining from the subsequent vote.

That decision cost Jokowi’s coalition more than 100 votes and sealed an easy victory for the Prabowo-led coalition by 226 votes to 135.

Civil society groups and NGOs have vowed to challenge the new law at the constitutional court, but it is unclear whether they could win. Depending on the interpretation of the law, both direct and indirect elections are arguably constitutional.

As Prabowo’s Gerindra party hailed victory, critics on social networks described the bill as the death of democracy and directed their anger towards Yudhoyono under the Twitter hashtag #ShameOnYouSBY.

At a press conference on Thursday evening in Washington, where he was on an official visit, Yudhoyono expressed his regret at the vote. He said his party was preparing a lawsuit to challenge the bill and would seek recourse at the constitutional or supreme court.

Not all political observers are convinced he is sincere, given Yudhoyono could have thrown out the draft law to begin with.

“This reflects the real face of President Yudhoyono’s commitment to develop a genuine democracy,” argued political observer Aleksius Jemadu, “The president was in a position to stop all this in the first place, but he didn’t.”

Widodo has vowed to fight against the law and on Friday said the Indonesian public should remember which “political parties have robbed them of their political rights”.


The Democrats may file for review at the Constitutional Court, but experts
say others have better standing. (Antara Photo/Puspa Perwitasari)




Aceh’s Non-Muslims Voice Opposition to Shariah Law

Jakarta Globe, Nurdin Hasan, Sep 25, 2014

A convicted gamber is being caned in front of Al Falah mosque in Sigli, in Aceh's
Pidie district. On Friday, lawmakers in the province plan to pass a bylaw that will
impose Shariah law on non-Muslims. (Antara Photo/Zian)

Banda Aceh. The Aceh provincial administration’s plan to impose Shariah on non-Muslims has met a chorus of disapproval from the province’s minority religious groups.

Lawmakers in the Aceh Legislative Council (DPRA) plan to pass a bylaw on Friday that would impose a Shariah-based criminal code on both Muslims and non-Muslims, with offenders facing lengthy caning sessions or jail terms for acts that are legal elsewhere in Indonesia.

Speaking to the Jakarta Globe on Thursday, three prominent figures from the province’s minority religious groups — a Christian, Catholic and Buddhist — all expressed concern about the bylaw, known as qanun jinayat.

“Basically I disagree because there are already positive laws in Indonesia,” an Aceh Catholic figure, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Jakarta Globe.

A prominent Christian who has lived in Aceh for more than 35 years — and also spoke anonymously — said he disapproved. He said the province’s 50,000 Christians, who were unfamiliar with Shariah laws, could be caught out unfairly.

A draft of the local criminal code includes a clause that stipulates that a non-Muslim caught violating Shariah would be given the option of being tried at a Shariah court or at a regular court, based on the national criminal code.

However, if the act is considered a crime under Shariah but not under the national criminal code, even non-Muslim violators would be tried based on the regulations stipulated in the qanun.

The maximum punishment under the Shariah-based code is 200 strokes of the cane, a fine worth the price of 2 kilograms of gold or 200 months in jail.

The Catholic figure said that non-Muslims, who were not invited to speak during the draft discussions of the law at the DPRA, should have been given consideration.

“For non-Muslims, it is better for crimes to be charged under the KUHP [national criminal code],” he said.

Ramli Sulaiman, head of Commission G at the DPRA — which drafted the new code — admitted the legislative council did not invite non-Muslims to give their view in two years of discussion about the law. However, Ramli said there were no obligations or regulations that required it.

“But we will release information through mass media stating that the qanun will also be imposed on them,” he said.

Among doubts relayed to the Jakarta Globe, the minority leaders expressed concern about how the bylaw would affect the application of their own religious laws.

“My fear is if it is imposed … The violators will say, ‘I have been punished with shariah law, why would I be punished again by the church and by Catholic regulations?’ There will be overlapping [issues],” the Catholic leader said.

The Christian figure said: “We have our own regulation and we comply with the Criminal Code. There is no caning in Christianity.”

The Catholic leader said non-Muslims respected the province’s right to apply Sharia law, but requested the “wisdom” of minority voices be heard too.

A Buddhist from Aceh asked why the law should be applied to non-Muslims, but he said if the bylaw was passed, he hoped there would not be any discrimination.

There are an estimated 90,000 non-Muslims in country’s westernmost province.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

SBY to Discuss Islamic State Threat With US Religious Leaders

Jakarta Globe,  Sep 18, 2014

Presiden Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and the first lady, Ani Yudhoyono, boarding their
plane at Halim Perdanakusuma International Airport on Thursday. (Antara Photo/
Widodo S. Jusuf)

Jakarta. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will discuss solutions to contain the Islamic State terrorist organization active in Iraq and Syria when he meets with religious leaders in the United States this week.

“This is one of the themes that will be discussed in Washington DC when I meet with US Islamic and non-Islamic leaders,” Yudhoyono was quoted as saying by state-run Antara news agency on Thursday morning, before departing for Portugal on the first leg of his trip.

Besides Portugal and the US, the president and his wife, Ani Yudhoyono, will also visit Japan.

“This is not just about the military operation by Western powers or other members of the international community, what is needed, according to Indonesia, is a political solution and a non-military solution.”

Yudhoyono is scheduled to leave Portugal on Saturday and then head to the US. In New York, Yudhoyono will attend the high-level plenary meeting of the UN General Assembly. He will chair the plenary meeting of the UN Climate Summit, give the opening speech at the Open Government Partnership High Level Event and officially open the Indonesian Muslim Association in America (Imaam) Center.

The president has also been invited to give a speech at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Yudhoyono’s term in office ends on Oct. 20, when President-elect Joko Widodo is set to be inaugurated.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Australian PM Governs From Tent as He Keeps Vow to Aborigines

Jakarta Globe – AFP, Sep 15, 2014

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott speaks at a joint news conference with
 his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak during an official visit in Putrajaya on
Sept. 6, 2014. (Reuters Photo/Olivia Harris)

Sydney. Australian premier Tony Abbott shifted his office to a tent in an isolated Aboriginal community on Monday, keeping a promise made when he came to power despite having just committed troops to the fight against Islamic State.

Abbott vowed to spend a week each year in a remote indigenous location when he was sworn in 12 months ago, seeking to be the “prime minister for Aboriginal affairs”.

He made good on his commitment by moving the hub of government to a tent compound on the outskirts of Nhulunbuy on the northern tip of Australia, nearly 1,000 kilometers east of Darwin.

Despite the remote location, he said he would stay in close contact with Canberra and had access to secure communications to do so.

“Obviously, if there are dramatic new developments I can move if needs be,” he said during a round of morning radio and television interviews, a day after committing 600 troops to a multinational strike force against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

The decision to join the anti-IS campaign came just days after Canberra lifted its terror alert level to “high” on growing concern about Australian jihadists returning from fighting in Iraq and Syria.

Aborigines, who number about 500,000 of a total population of 23 million, are the most disadvantaged Australians, suffering disproportionate levels of disease, imprisonment and social problems as well as lower educational attainment, employment and life expectancy.

They are believed to have numbered around one million at the time of British settlement two centuries ago.

‘Strangers in their own country’

Abbott, who used to volunteer in indigenous communities before becoming prime minister, said he wanted to give Aborigines his full attention “to gain a better understanding of the needs of people living and working in those areas”.

“I am very serious, the government is very serious, both sides of politics are very serious about an indigenous recognition referendum,” he said.

Australian lawmakers formally recognized indigenous peoples as the country’s first inhabitants last year, five years after an historic apology to Aborigines for past wrongs.

There are now plans for a referendum to recognize Aboriginal people, and their rights, in the constitution.

“I think we’re all in favor of doing the right thing by Aboriginal people and the point I make is that the right constitutional change will complete our constitution rather than change it as such,” Abbott said.

“The important thing now is to set a timetable for this… It’s more important that we get it right than we rush it, because the last thing anyone ought to want is to put a proposal of this nature to the people and have it fail.”

He added that part of his task this week was “to try to build a consensus for change; change that does help lift Aboriginal people, that does help to ensure that never again do the first Australians feel like strangers in their own country”.

Agence France-Presse

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Yogyakarta, Solo to Host Celebration of Design and Culture

Jakarta Globe, Sylviana Hamdani, Sep 14, 2014

The annual gathering of the Asia Pacific Space Designer Alliance in Solo and
Yogyakarta will present top designers from around the region.  (Photos courtesy
of APSDA Indonesia)

Yogyakarta and Solo, two picturesque cities located in the heart of Java, still manage to retain their old charms in this dizzyingly fast-paced, modern world.

The birthplace of Indonesia’s kings and kingdoms, their cultural riches and traditional heritage are great national assets that act as sources of inspiration until this day.

The two cities will again do us proud as next week, from Sept. 15 to Sept.19, Yogyakarta and Solo will play host to the general assembly and congress of the Asia Pacific Space Designer Alliance (APSDA).

A confederation of design associations from across the Asia-Pacific region, the APSDA was established in Taipei in 1989 by the Chinese Society of Interior Designers (CSID), the Japanese Society of Commercial Designers (JDC) and the Korean Society of Interior Designers (KOSID).

Today, the design organization consists of 15 locally and internationally acclaimed members, including Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Thailand. It gathers every two years in different member countries.

Indonesia is currently represented by the non-profit Indonesia Interior Designers Association (HDII).

“It’s a big honor for Indonesia to be able to host the general assembly and congress of the APSDA this year,” says Lea Aviliani Aziz, secretary general of the APSDA and chairwoman of the HDII Jakarta’s chapter, adding that this year’s gathering is especially important as it will mark the 25th anniversary of the confederation.

“We’ve prepared a great concept and a string of interesting programs,” Lea says. “That’s why we won the pitching process, which was done in Beijing in 2010.”

This year marks Indonesia’s second turn as the APSDA host; the first one was held in Bali in 2000.

“[The Bali meeting] was very successful; it exceeded expectations,” Lea says. “The participants were amazed to see Indonesia’s rich cultures and traditions.”

Mystical design

This year, the APSDA’s general assembly and congress will revolve around the theme of “Mystical Design.” Yogyakarta and Solo were specially chosen as both cities perfectly represent the concept.

“Architects and interior designers are all spiritual translators,” says Francis Surjaseputra, chairman of the HDII. “We translate people’s ideas and fantasies, which are spiritual, into buildings and spaces. That’s a mystical work for me.”

Those fantasies usually blend with religious and cultural backgrounds.

“And that’s why Yogya and Solo would be the ideal venues for the gathering,” Francis says.

Both cities boast age-old traditional structures that speak to the glory of Javanese kingdoms past, as well as historical buildings that bear witness to the country’s struggle for independence.

“There is a lot for us to learn in these cities,” Francis says.

The theme also addresses the issue of the loss of cities’ cultural and historical overtones to modern spatial designs.

“It’s happening everywhere,” Francis says. “Cities around the world are getting pretty similar. A travel writer once wrote that when he woke up in the morning and looked out the window, he rarely ever recognized which city he was in. The sense of place is lost in modern cities.”

One of the aims of the APSDA meeting is to marry modern sophistication and local backgrounds in each country.

“It’s our duty as architects and designers to follow [modern] universal developments, without leaving behind our own local wisdom,” Francis says.

Participants at the meeting in Solo and Yogyakarta will also take part in tours to well-preserved traditional structures and historical buildings in both cities.

Roemah Rempah

The series of events will start with the APSDA general assembly at Solo’s Sunan Hotel on Monday, set to be opened by Solo Mayor F.X. Hadi Rudyatmo.

“During the general assembly, representatives from each country will present talks on the ‘Mystical Design’ topic,” says Francis, a graduate of the Parsons School of Art and Design in Paris.

“It will be an interesting opportunity for us to get to know design concepts from each country.”

There will also be a workshop on batik and a tour of Roemah Rempah, a one-of-a-kind design studio by Solo architect Paulus Mintarga, which uses discarded industrial materials in its structure.

“We hope that the visit will inspire architects and interior designers participating in this gathering to use old and discarded waste materials in their own buildings,” Francis says.

On the second day of the gathering, the APSDA participants will visit traditional batik workshops and antiques markets in Solo.

In the evening, they will visit the Mangkunegaran Royal Palace, the heart of the legendary Mataram Kingdom, and have dinner with the traditional royal family in the palace.

A series of dance and musical performances will be presented to the participants during the dinner.

On Wednesday, the participants will visit the ninth-century Borobudur temple, the world’s biggest Buddhist monument.

“We want to show to the international participants that we have one of the greatest temples in the world,” Lea says. “It’s well-preserved and still hosts religious and cultural events until now.”

From the temples, the APSDA participants will make the one-and-a-half-hour trip to Yogyakarta, where the APSDA congress will opened on Thursday at the Grand Royal Ambarrukmo Hotel.

Mari Elka Pangestu, the minister of  tourism and the creative economy, is scheduled to open the congress.

After the opening ceremony, the congress will then proceed with presentations and discussions by keynote speakers who are all experts in their respective design fields.

Holographs and pyrotechnics

Among the speakers on the first day of the APSDA congress will be Indonesian textile designer Josephine Komara, interior designer Hadiprana and art director Jay Subiyakto.

“We want to highlight Indonesian talent [in the forum] and show how much creative designs have become interwoven into our daily lives,” Lea says.

Jay will talk about his involvement in the epic dance and musical performances “Matah Ati” (2011) and “Ariah” (2013).

In “Matah Ati,” Jay created an elevated trapezium-shaped stage made of stainless steel. With the elevated platform, the audience was able to see everything that was happening onstage.

“It’s scenography, the art of taking the audience into the play,” Jay says. “It’s also part of study in spatial design.”

“Matah Ati” was presented in Singapore, Jakarta and Solo in 2011 and garnered rave reviews from the media, critics and audiences.

In “Ariah,” Jay similarly mesmerized the audience by creating another elevated platform, measuring a colossal 72 meters by 48 meters, to present the story of Jakarta’s founding, against the backdrop of the National Monument, or Monas. A series of holographic and pyrotechnics plays were also presented in the open-air Monas park.

“People should know that Indonesia also has fascinating theatrical plays, just like on Broadway,” Jay says. “And they’re all deeply rooted in our traditions.”

On Friday, the fifth day of the APSDA gathering, organizers will present another impressive lineup of keynote speakers in discussion forums, including Australian architect Richard Kirk, Garuda Indonesia president director Emirsyah Satar, and Malaysian geomancy expert David Koh.

The gathering will culminate with an al-fresco farewell dinner at the Prambanan temple complex.

“It will be a cultural night,” Lea says. “During the dinner, we will present the epic Ramayana dance performance at the temple. Lanterns and firecrackers will also highlight the performance.”

Networking opportunity

All the APSDA events will be open to the public, with students and members of the public encouraged to choose among the several program schedules available.

For Indonesians, the registration fees range from Rp 1.3 million to Rp 7.5 million ($110 to $635). For foreigners, the fees range from $275 to $1,700.

“It will be well worth it,” Lea says. “The fees also cover accommodation, meals and transportation costs during the events.”

Another benefit of participating in the events is the chance to get to know the international delegates.

“It’ll be a great opportunity to meet these great people and learn from them,” Lea says. “On the other hand, they can also learn about your works and maybe be interested in doing business with you.”

Indonesian delegates will also have a chance to learn more about the country’s own rich cultural heritage.

“Learning about our own traditional cultures and traditions will hopefully encourage Indonesian designers to perpetuate them in their next modern designs,” Lea says.

Four Turks Arrested in Poso Over Islamic State Link

Jakarta Globe – AFP, Sep 14, 2014

The ISIS logo is displayed on a wall in Grogol, Central Java. (JG Photo/Ali Lutfi)

Jakarta. Indonesia’s anti-terrorism police have arrested four Turks suspected of being linked to the Islamic State jihadist group, a spokesman said on Sunday.

The elite Detachment 88 police squad arrested the men, along with three Indonesians, after tailing their car on Saturday in central Sulawesi district of Poso, a known hotbed for militant activity, Boy Rafli Amar told AFP.

“They are Turkish,” Amar said, confirming the arrest and adding that the men were being investigated for their connection to the dreaded Islamist group.

“We suspect they are linked and are investigating further,” he said.

Indonesia is home to the world’s biggest Muslim population of about 225 million and has long struggled with terrorism. But a successful clampdown in recent years has seen the end of major deadly attacks.

Jakarta has estimated that dozens of Indonesians have travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said he was concerned about their return, adding that he had tasked agencies to oppose the spread of extremist ideology in the sprawling nation.

Ronny Sompie, another police spokesman said two of the Indonesians arrested Saturday had fetched the foreigners “believed to be from an international terror group” from Makassar airport in South Sulawesi.

“The four foreigners managed to flee to the mountains” before their capture, he said.

Agence France-Presse

Sunday, September 7, 2014

UN’s Ban Ki-Moon Meets Young Eco-Warriors at a Bali School

A green school makes the effort in nurturing its students' potential in becoming green leaders

Jakarta Globe, Nadia Bintoro, Sep 07, 2014

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon greets young students in Sibang Kaja,
Bali on Aug. 28, 2014. (Photo courtesy of Green School Bali)

Putting theoretical discourse into real action, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited Green School in Sibang Kaja, Bali, on Aug. 28, to learn about and witness firsthand sustainable education from a group of future leaders.

Accompanied by several significant figures in the political movement for climate change, including Norwegian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Morten Hoglund; Ambassador of Norway to Indonesia Stig Traavik; founder of the Green School Bali, John A. Hardy; and head of school John Stewart.

Ban and the delegation were warmly welcomed by 412 students of Green School, from pre-kindergarten to high-school level.

Equally excited to salute the secretary general on stage was Green School’s own deputy secretary general of the campus’ Model United Nations Club, Clover Horan.

The 10th grader leads the Green School’s own version of the UN, which aims to expand students’ knowledge on international issues and policy making.

Together with Ban, the delegation took the stage to give their remarks on the importance of young leaders to create a more sustainable future ahead.

In his opening speech, the UN secretary general shared his amazement over Green School’s commitment in molding the younger generation into future green leader of the world.

“This is the most unique and impressive school I have ever visited. Thank you very much for your strong commitment and vision to [making] this world green,” Ban said.

Recognizing the alarming threat climate change poses on the development and betterment of the world’s poorest communities, Ban noted that around today’s world leaders have had “though choices to make,” especially in the months leading up to the Sept. 1-4 Climate Summit and its post-2015 Development Agenda.

Onlookers as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon speaks at the school
on Aug. 28, 2014. (Photo courtesy of Nadia Bintoro)

He encouraged his young audience to take an active part in the world’s ongoing efforts to combat climate change by developing into global citizens.

“Tomorrow you are going to be [our] leaders. And today, we need to be together working very hard to make the world of tomorrow much better for all its people,” Ban appealed to the crowd of enthusiastic students.

He especially congratulated “Bye Bye Plastic Bag,” an initiative led by Green School students Isabel and Melati Wijsen, which aims to collect one million signatures to ban the use of plastic bags in Bali. Ban said he hopes children all over the world could have the drive and passion to start a similar campaign.

During his visit, the secretary general also witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Green School Bali, the National Redd+ Agency and the United Nations Office for Redd+ Coordination in Indonesia (UNorcid).

The joint endeavor, called “Green Schools for Sustainable Development,” details a collaborative framework between the three parties involved for the implementation of sustainable development in Indonesia’s schools and other educational institutions.

The MOU will serve as a guide for facilitation and development of green schools across Indonesia.

The three signatories are committed to recruiting one million Green Youth Ambassadors in schools across the archipelago by 2017.

“The Green School is an outstanding proof of concept. The next step is to achieve proof of scale. Supporting [the development] of green schools and strengthening environmentally sensitive educational curricula are two of the ten imperative actions of the National Redd+ Agency in 2014,” said Heru Prasetyo, head of the Indonesian National Redd+ Agency (BP Redd+).

The international delegation’s visit continued with a tour around Green School, showcasing several of the institution’s efforts to promote sustainable living and green education.

The event came to an end with the secretary general and his wife releasing two Bali starlings, which were bred by the Begawan Foundation — located within the school’s premises — to limit the risk of the species’s extinction.

As the magnificent white birds soared into the blue Bali sky, so did the hopes of those in attendance that day, for a greener and better future.

UN Secretary General Ban was in Bali on Aug. 28-29 for the Alliance of Civilizations’ Sixth Global Forum, which this year carried the theme of “Unity in Diversity: Celebrating Diversity for Common and Shared Values.”


Renowned conservationist Jane Goodall was the star of a recent conference
in Bali on sustainability. (Photo Courtesy of Green School)

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Saturday, September 6, 2014

Yudhoyono Recognized for Press Freedom in Decade of Office

Jakarta Globe, Yustinus Paat, Sep 06, 2014

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono gives a speech at an event for the release of a book
titled ‘SBY and Press Freedom’ in Jakarta on Sept. 5, 2014. (Antara Photo/Andika Wahyu)

Jakarta. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was recognized by members of the press on Friday for his effort in guaranteeing press freedom throughout his 10 years in office.

Press Council chairman Bagir Manan said that Yudhoyono acted properly when facing criticism from the press.

“SBY only complained that the news was unfair, but he never intervened in press freedom,” Bagir said on Friday, at an event for the release of a book titled “SBY and the Press Freedom.”

The book was written by 32 journalists as well as by press council officials, academics and nongovernmental organization members.

Atmakusumah Astraatmadja, a senior journalist who had presided over the Press Council in 2000-03, said that Yudhoyono’s presidency has provided the best years of press freedom in Indonesia.

“These past 10 years we have experienced the longest press freedom without pressure from the government. Even though we have the Press Law, never once has the president used it to file a lawsuit and jail a journalist,” he said.

Atmakusumah used to work at Antara, the state-owned news agency, and at other news organizations. His work has been featured in such publications as Tempo, Republika, the Jakarta Post, Independent Watch and Bisnis Indonesia.

Yudhoyono thanked the press back for supervising his authority.

“Overall, I should be the one thanking and appreciating my press friends for helping me restrain myself from abusing my authority and power,” he said on the same occasion. “The press has been motivating and controlling me so that my choices, plans, and policies don’t go outside the corridor of democracy and the Constitution and don’t go against the people’s will.

Yudhoyono hopes that the Indonesian press can keep up the good job by criticizing the leaders but not hating them.

“The press should be critical, but don’t hate the leaders as they always want to give the best for the nation and people,” the president said.

Yudhoyono will have served the two-term limit when he steps down from office next month. He will be succeeded by Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo, who defeated former Army general Prabowo Subianto in a close presidential election.

Attending the event were journalists, writers, Coordinating Economics Minister Chairul Tanjung and State Secretary Sudi Silalahi.


President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at the Presidential 
Palace in Jakarta on Sept. 1, 2014. (Antara Photo/Andika Wahyu)


A Decade After Munir’s Assassination, Questions Still Linger

‘Test of Our History’: President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono promised to solve murder of prominent human rights activist, but its masterminds remain at large as his administration comes to an end


Munir Said Thalib, center, his wife Suciwati, left, and an unidentified staff member of the
Indonesian Human Rights Monitor (Imparsial), moments before the human rights defender
boarded a flight on Garuda Indonesia on Sept. 6, 2004. (Photo courtesy of Imparsial)

Jakarta. They were the last pictures of human rights defender Munir Said Thalib alive, taken late on Sept. 6, 2004, shortly before he took the Garuda Indonesia flight where he would draw his last breath.

The pictures showed Munir with his closest friends: his staff from the Indonesian Human Rights Monitor (Imparsial) and his wife Suciwati, sharing jokes and laughs over cups of coffee at a doughnut shop at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport.

He looked well. Healthy as could be. His short, curly hair was golden brown, like ripe corn kernels glinting from the camera’s flash.

In almost every shot, Munir is grinning from ear to ear, enthusiastic about his planned post-graduate studies in the Netherlands — a dream he’d had to postpone so many times before because he was too busy advocating for victims of violence, too anxious about leaving Indonesia, whose democracy was still in its infancy.

But that year he found very few reasons to put his dream on hold again. For the first time, Indonesia had held a free presidential election.

Munir was pleased with the fact that former military chief Wiranto, a candidate whom he saw as having the worst human rights record, failed to advance to the runoff vote. In a few weeks’ time, then-president Megawati Soekarnoputri would be going head to head against her former security minister, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Neither was an ideal candidate in Munir’s eyes, but at least they were committed not to let Indonesia fall back into military rule. The outcome of the election made him slightly less uneasy about leaving Indonesia.

It had also been years since Indonesia saw a major human rights violation, and he saw a growing number of people start to speak up about human rights. He was confident he could pass on his work to his peers and juniors.

Poengky Indarti, who eventually took over from Munir as Imparsial’s executive director, felt the urge to take lots of pictures of him before he left that day. She felt it would be years before she could see him again.

She also went against Munir’s wishes and asked an old research consultant friend named Sri Rukminingtyas, who had recently moved to Rotterdam, to pick him up at Amsterdam’s Schiphol International Airport.

“I don’t need anyone to pick me up,” Poengky, then Munir’s number three at Imparsial, recounts her old boss as saying. But Poengky insisted. “I’m not sure why. Maybe it was just my maternal instinct. I had been taking care of his scholarship applications and getting his visa. I guess I needed to be sure he would be taken care of when he got there.”

On Sept. 7, 2004, Munir died on board the plane as it flew over Budapest.

Sri remembered packing four tuna sandwiches that morning before she set out to pick up Munir. She thought that perhaps Munir might not have eaten on the plane, and getting breakfast at the airport would be too expensive.

She doesn’t remember now what happened to the sandwiches. All she could remember was an announcement blaring from the airport’s speakers mentioning the name “Munir.” She also remembered that shortly afterward she got a call from Poengky. Poengky told her that someone from Garuda had just called to say that Munir was dead.

Sri immediately went to the airport’s information office. A police officer confirmed that Munir had indeed died during the flight. “I lost control of myself and cried loudly. It was like being struck by lightning,” Sri says.

Her seemingly simple task of picking Munir up at the airport turned into a somber affair, but one that threw her into a crucial role in unraveling the true nature of his death.

Sri explained to the Dutch police that Munir was 39 and in good health. She explained that he was a very prominent human rights defender back in Indonesia and that the he had received multiple death threats. Based on Sri’s statements, the Dutch police ordered an autopsy done, and subsequently found a fatal dose of arsenic in Munir’s body.

“If Sri hadn’t been there, maybe his death would have been attributed to natural causes. His body would have been sent back to Indonesia without any investigation and we wouldn’t have known the truth,” Poengky says.

A man covers his face with an image of Munir Said Thalib. (JG Photo/Nivell Rayda)

Legacy of impunity

Sunday marks the 10-year anniversary of Munir’s death, a case that still holds many questions.

Three people have been convicted of his death: Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto, an off-duty Garuda pilot and suspected State Intelligence Agency (BIN) operative who spiked Munir’s drink with arsenic; and two accomplices who played minor roles in arranging for Pollycarpus to be on the same flight as Munir.

But those who masterminded the murder, giving Pollycarpus his orders, remain beyond the reach of the law. And activists blame this travesty on the reluctance shown by the administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who came into office the same year that Munir died, to bring those responsible to justice.

“At the beginning of his rule, SBY promised to resolve [Munir’s] case and even said that it would be ‘the test of our history,’ ” says Choirul Anam, the executive secretary of the Solidarity Action Committee for Munir (Kasum). “But now at the end of his administration the case is not fully resolved.”

After two months of intense pressure from human rights activists and international media, Yudhoyono formed an independent fact-finding team on Nov. 23, 2004, to monitor the police investigation into the case and conduct its own inquiry.

Witnesses on board the flight noted that Pollycarpus was seated next to Munir on the flight from Jakarta to Singapore, where it picked up more passengers. The passenger manifest indicated that Pollycarpus got off in Singapore and didn’t continue on to Amsterdam. But before he left Singapore’s Changi International Airport, he was seen offering Munir a cup of coffee, which was spiked with arsenic.

Munir’s health deteriorated from that point on, and he eventually died on board, hours before the plane landed in Amsterdam.

The fact-finding team also found that immediately prior to and after Munir’s death, Pollycarpus had communicated extensively with Muchdi Purwoprandjono, who at the time was a deputy chief of the BIN.

In their court testimonies, several intelligence officials also said that Pollycarpus often visited the BIN headquarters and met behind closed doors with Muchdi. In at least one of those meetings, Abdullah Mahmud Hendropriyono, the BIN chief at the time, was also present.

Pollycarpus is now serving a 14-year prison term after the Central Jakarta District Court, on Dec. 1, 2005, found him guilty of murdering Munir. The South Jakarta District Court, however, acquitted Muchdi of all charges on Dec. 31, 2008, despite the judges in Pollycarpus’s trial ruling that Pollycarpus had acted on Muchdi’s instructions.

Police never questioned Hendropriyono for his alleged involvement in Munir’s killing.

Kasum secretary Anam notes that during Yudhoyono’s two terms in office, Pollycarpus’ sentence went from 14 years to two years in 2006, to 20 years in 2008, and finally, last year, back to 14 years. Pollycarpus also enjoyed a number of sentence cuts, amounting to a total of 42 months during six years in prison.

Anam says recent developments in the case should give prosecutors enough evidence to launch a fresh investigation.

“This government has never been serious in punishing those responsible, let alone solving the mysteries surrounding his death,” he says. “Ever since Muchdi was acquitted, [prosecutors] have done nothing. Even after two changes of attorney general, they only made promises.”

Anam says Yudhoyono has left his successor, Joko Widodo, with the very important task of seeking justice for Munir. “They had all the evidence. All that it takes is courage,” he says.

Uli Parulian Sihombing, the executive director of the Indonesian Legal Resource Center, has called on Joko to bar those with questionable rights record from serving in his administration, following Joko’s appointment of Hendropriyono as an adviser to the team preparing the new government for office.

Munir’s widow, Suciwati, has also lambasted Hendropriyono’s appointment. “Human rights is not a political commodity. If [Joko] has promised [to resolve rights abuse cases], then he must fulfill it by forming a government that is free of human rights violators,” she says.

Human Rights Watch researcher Andreas Harsono says it is important that Joko appoint reform-minded people as his picks to head up law enforcement agencies, to ensure the resolution of Munir’s case as well as all past human rights abuse cases, in which Munir so passionately sought justice during his lifetime.

A fearless defender

Anam describes Munir as a courageous fighter, even during the Suharto era, when free speech was greatly curbed and those criticizing power ended up dead, missing, or in jail. “He was never afraid of pointing at people’s noses,” Anam says. “Even powerful generals.”

Among those he named as human rights abusers was Hendropriyono. The latter, at the time an Army colonel, led a bloody military crackdown on civilian protesters in Talangsari, Lampung, in 1989 that led to 45 people being killed and 88 others missing. The military also burned the protesters’ village to the ground.

Munir’s criticism of Hendropriyono intensified when the retired general joined Megawati’s campaign. Aside from highlighting his past cases, Munir also raised concerns that he might abuse his authorities as the BIN chief for the campaign’s benefit. Munir even lodged a lawsuit with the State Administrative Court demanding Hendropriyono’s removal from his BIN post.

“But does that have a direct correlation with Munir’s death? We don’t know yet. What we know is that [Hendropriyono] is not the only human rights violator with a military background who had a grudge against Munir,” Anam says, adding that Munir’s many enemies could have conspired to have the rights defender killed.

Then there’s Prabowo Subianto, a close friend of Muchdi’s and the losing candidate in this year’s presidential election. Munir repeatedly accused Prabowo, who was then chief of the Army’s Special Forces unit Kopassus, of kidnapping pro-democracy activists toward the end of Suharto’s 32-year rule.

Several of those activists remain missing to this day.

Munir’s constant pressure to have Prabowo tried forced the government to form a fact-finding team and the military to set up an ethics tribunal, which eventually led to Prabowo’s dismissal from the Army.

Prabowo has repeatedly denied responsibility for the abductions, saying he was simply carrying out orders from his superiors and that all the kidnapped activists were released after being interrogated.

“He would have got onto the first flight back to Indonesia,” Poengky says when asked what she thinks Munir would do if he were alive to see Prabowo running for president.

An activist lays out 10, to commemorate the death of Munir Said Thalib,
who died on Sept. 7, 2004. (JG Photo/Nivell Rayda)

Inspiring generations

Munir’s killers might have been trying to send a message by having the prominent activist killed in an elaborate assassination plot on board an international flight.

“If this can happen to Munir then imagine what could happen to lesser-known activists in remote areas like Papua or Aceh, so far away from the media spotlight,” Poengky says.

But Munir’s death only emboldened the next generation of activists to continue his struggle, advocating for the victims of human rights abuses.

Novia Seni Astriani is 25 and for three years she has been advocating for Munir’s killers to face trial, as a member of Kasum’s campaign and networking division.

“While in college, like so many of my peers, we learned that what we were taught as kids were lies. We never knew that our history was so tainted by so many human rights violations. We were never taught about Munir’s assassination,” says Astri, as she is better known.

“In college I got to know Munir. I got to know the cases he was fighting for … his thinking. And I was saddened. How could anyone murder someone like Munir? How could his case remained unsolved to this day? I felt I needed to do something.”

On Thursday, Astri organized Kamisan, a weekly rally in front of the State Palace in Central Jakarta to demand the resolution of past human rights abuses. This week’s Kamisan is dedicated to Munir with some protesters wearing a mask bearing the likeness of the slain activist.

After some 20 minutes of silent protest, Astri grabbed a microphone and began talking to the crowd to fire them up.

“Let’s all gather around facing the so-called ‘palace of the people.’ For 10 years Munir’s case has been in limbo. For 10 years the person at that palace has done so little,” Astri tells some 40 protesters.

Aside from a handful of ageing victims of human rights abuses and violence, most of the rally’s participants are youths, not much older than herself.

Munir has also inspired many to follow in his footsteps of advocating for victims of injustice.

“Munir as a human rights defender has given us a legacy that is simple yet very profound in its meaning,” says 23-year-old Ichsan, who works for the Jakarta Legal Aid Foundation (LBH).

“In his time, he wasn’t afraid to reveal injustice. All youths should learn from his courage.”

Veronica Koman, 26, another LBH Jakarta lawyer, says she always bows whenever she goes to her office, which proudly displays Munir’s pictures.

“Much of Munir’s legacy inspires me. Munir … has become a symbol of human rights in Indonesia,” she says.

Those behind the assassination might have succeeded in killing Munir, but in doing so, they unwittingly created a martyr, an inspiration and a legend.

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