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Freedom of speech showing strain in the new Indonesia JAKARTA - When 76-year-old Professor Winarno Surachmad shuffled before 30,000 of his former teaching colleagues to pour out his poem about the woes of the education system, he drew the wrath of Indonesia's Vice-President, Jusuf Kalla. Mr Kalla scowled at lines, among them: "When rhinos and komodo are protected, teachers are just neglected."

"Teachers form the nation's soul and character," Kalla told the throng, who had warmly applauded the poem. "If you mock the nation, who will respect it?" he scolded the crowd. Still fuming after the meeting, Kalla described Winarno, the respected former head of Jakarta's main teaching college, as offensive. The outburst was another sign of the continued sensitivity of the supposedly open, freedom-loving regime of Indonesia's President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Last Thursday, Sidney Jones, the world's leading expert on the terrorist network Jemaah Islamiah and the director of the International Crisis Group, was barred from Indonesia for the second time.

Jones was returning from Taiwan, where she had received a Time magazine award for her work in the region. Since being readmitted to Indonesia two months ago she has made numerous comments about the ongoing threat posed by JI, praising the work of the authorities while pointing out areas where more had to be done. The Justice Minister, Hamid Awaluddin, said yesterday that Jones was deemed a security threat. "We are not talking about security in a physical sense but security in relation to the stability of our life in the form of public opinion."

Australian journalists attempting to cover the ongoing cavalcade of drugs cases in Bali have had great difficulty obtaining visas. Indonesian officials, alarmed at the Schapelle Corby backlash and some of the extreme tactics by the media, want coverage of the trials reduced. The Prime Minister, John Howard, openly acknowledged this sensitivity when he called on the recently-released model Michelle Leslie not to "tell all" about her arrest for ecstasy possession. The implication was that causing offence to Indonesia could harm the cases of other Australians facing charges. Bribes and extortion are allegedly involved in her case.

Australia has been boosting ties and military links with Indonesia, citing progress in advancing human rights and supporting Yudhoyono's anti-corruption crackdown. Aside from comments suggesting Indonesians are petty enough to take revenge on the Bali nine, corruption in the justice system needs exposure if it is to be addressed. Free speech, Howard has often maintained, is democracy's friend. It is a sentiment shared by Winarno. "To me it seems that the system tries to shut our mouth up, just like in the New Order time," he told the Herald. "I am a supporter of freedom of expression."

His poem claimed teachers could not afford to eat on their salaries and likened school buildings to chicken coops. Kalla said he did not like the poem, and its rendition was unbecoming of a professor. "I know our school buildings are not that luxurious, but I'm convinced they are not like chicken coops," he said. "I know your salary is low, but it will not run out in just a day," he said. "If we all work hard, our economy will improve and everybody will be well paid." Winarno said he never intended to mock. "I wrote the poetry for teachers across the country, I did not write it to satisfy any bureaucrats. "



Posted in Human rights @ 29 November 2005 07:16 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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