Indonesia’s abandonment of liberal tolerance has been further exposed as the government appears keen to pander to the vocal, conservative Muslim community.
Several ministries are refusing to consider job applicants from pregnant, disabled or lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) hopefuls, preferring “normal” applicants.
The sprawling archipelago appears to face several existential crises. It is the world’s third-largest emitter of carbon dioxide – after the US and China – because it allows its rainforest and peatland to be burned to clear land for palm-oil production.
Its colonial-style rule in Papua is looking increasingly strained, with a rising militant insurgency and popular unrest threatening Jakarta’s occupation of the ethnically distinct and resource-rich region.
And it is abandoning any moves towards establishing a tolerant society as it panders to the conservative Muslim vote. Ethnic minorities, LGBT communities and women’s rights are being trampled on by the government.
The Ombudsman Indonesia commissioner Ninik Rahayu said applicants for around 200,000 civil-service jobs were facing discrimination.
An official investigation said the defence and trade ministries and the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) were discriminating against candidates in job adverts.
Most of Indonesia’s 260 million citizens are Muslim and members of the LGBT community have seen rising levels of discrimination. Meanwhile, workplace sexism is rife.
“The defence ministry prohibits pregnant women from applying for a job, while the AGO and the trade ministry ban transgender people,” Ninik said.
“[The AGO] even made a hurtful statement that said, ‘we only accept normal people’,” she told the media. “Banning people from applying for a job simply because they are transgender is not acceptable and is a violation of human rights.”
The watchdog demanded that the ministries alter their hiring policies, although so far only the trade ministry had complied, Ninik said.
However, just because an organisation removes the restrictions from its job adverts does not mean that members of the targeted groups will be offered employment.
Government representatives have not been overly apologetic.
An AGO spokesman this week said the agency had banned LGBT applicants and instead opted for “normal” citizens.
The AGO refused to hire colour-blind and physically or “mentally” disabled applicants, including those who have ‘sexual orientation disorders (transgender) or LGBT'”.
The abandonment of liberal values has been hastened by the election of populists like Donald Trump in the west, as cultural norms are called into question across the European Union and in the US. Increasingly, other countries that abandon principles of tolerance and pluralism face little pressure to reconsider from the traditional defenders of democracy.
NGOs were quick to denounce the official discrimination in the country that used to be held up as an example of a state that had found a balance between Islam and democracy.
It is a “hate-based policy”, argues Usman Hamid of Amnesty International Indonesia.
“Indonesia should be trying to recruit the best and brightest to its civil service, not applying arbitrary and hateful restrictions,” he said.
“This is against both Indonesia’s constitution and its obligations under international human rights law,” Hamid added.
On the far west of the Islamic world, Turkey was also held up as an example of a progressive largely Muslim democracy where liberal values were upheld. Unfortunately, Turkey has abandoned tolerance in favour of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s populism.
The abandonment of Indonesian principles of diversity was made evident when it jailed the ethnically Chinese and Christian former governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama. In 2016 “Ahok” questioned a political rival’s interpretation of the Koran and was humiliatingly jailed for blasphemy. The message was clear: non-Muslims should stay out of politics.
Indonesia has also moved to ban consensual gay sex by outlawing relations and cohabiting between unmarried couples.
Same-sex relationships are not recognised under Indonesian law so homosexuality will, in effect, be criminalised.
Human Rights Watch has called for the law to be revised.
“Indonesia’s draft criminal code is disastrous not only for women and religious and gender minorities but for all Indonesians,” Andreas Harsono of the New-York-based NGO said.
MPs should “substantially revise the proposed new criminal code to meet international human rights standards”, Harsono said.
Australian government travel advice now says unmarried couples could be jailed while holidaying in tourist resorts like Bali. Although few would regard that as a likely possibility, the advice highlights Indonesia’s abandonment of western norms.
Bali is no longer the most romantic spot to propose.
Tim Lindsey of the Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society in Melbourne pointed out that numerous Indonesian laws are never enforced.
“Will tourists have to take marriage certificates to Indonesia? This also exposes foreigners to extortion. It would be easy for a police officer in Bali to say ‘you aren’t married, you have to pay me’. That’s a quite likely scenario,” he said.
Unmarried couples could face a six-month jail sentence and those cohabiting might be jailed for a year.
Indonesia is also looking to outlaw criticising the president, advocating communism, displaying contraception to a child, spreading “fake news” and practising bestiality and black magic. Abortions will also be further restricted.
Rather than embracing the 21st century, Indonesia is still grappling with 18th-century principles over the separation of religion from politics.
Rioting by Islamists in Jakarta concentrates politician’s minds. Picture credit: YouTube