Many racists and bigots will make at least some attempt to mask their prejudices, covering hatred with a facade of tolerance and balance. But this is not the case when it comes to the regime of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who seems to flaunt bigotry and persecution with a kind of twisted pride.
Of course it has long been clear that his authorities have relegated certain groups under their control – most prominently Papuans, Ahmadis and Christians – to the status of second class human beings. Official persecution, formal hate speech and impunity for those carrying out attacks against the maligned communities, have always been part of Yudhoyono’s programme for government. Yet two legal decisions carried by his corrupt court system over recent weeks have underscored just how little the president or any of his fellow thugs care for Indonesia’s reputation when it comes to such matters.
At the start of August, the court case of three soldiers involved in the horrific and brutal torture of civilians in occupied West Papua reached its conclusion. The crime involved burning, cutting and beating a priest by the name of Kindeman Gere, along with another innocent man, whilst recording the whole incident on mobile phones. It concluded with the summary execution of Kindeman Gere and the subsequent decapitation of his body.
The soldiers were found guilty of insubordination and handed sentances sentences ranging from six to fifteen months.
The unbelievable and sickening decision to send such violent murders to prison for less than one-and-a-half years is even more outrageous considering that under Indonesian law Papuans who peacefully fly their own flag are regularly detained and can face life sentences.
Being known as the regime that allows its soldiers to literally get away with murder was not however, anywhere near enough for Yudhoyono, whose judiciary went on to make an equally abhorrent decision regarding another barbaric incident captured on video. This time the case related to the mob killing of three Ahmadyyia Muslims in February, following years of hatred whipped up and encouraged by the authorities.
Yet this week’s sentence was not for anyone involved in the killings: it was for one of the mob’s victims who managed to escape. Prompting outcry from governments and rights groups around the world, the court ruled that Deden Sudjana had injured one of the one-thousand-plus extremists who were beating his co-religionists to death and that he had refused the orders of police to leave the scene (most likely in an ill-fated attempt to help the dying men). As if another layer of lunacy was needed, his sentence is six months imprisonment – equivalent to the maximum sentence handed to the twelve people convicted for their part in the killings (it is worth noting that despite video evidence of the Ahmadyyia men being smashed, kicked and stamped on, none of these twelve convicted mob-members were found guilty of murder and many received just three month sentences.)
With these two verdicts the Yudhoyono regime has set out its stall once and for all: it will not try to hide its bigotry, its racism or its crimes. Those deemed to be second-class will continue to be persecuted and to be killed. Those responsible for the persecution and the killings will walk away with nothing more than a ceremonial slap on the wrist. And those who oppose the status quo will face the force of the authorities.
The disgraced Indonesian state –where victims are locked up and murderers walk free- is as horrific as it is surreal. It is time for the international community to step up and hold to account those who strip Indonesia’s minorities of their rights…and it is time for the Indonesian people to step up and hold to account the tyrants who have shamed their nation.