Sat, 05 Mar 2005

Govt attacked for banning Aussie scholar

Adianto P. Simamora, The Jakarta Post/Jakarta

A top human rights activist criticized the move by the immigration office to ban Australian academic Edward Aspinall from entering the country, describing it as an "irresponsible act" by the government.

Hendardi of the Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association (PBHI) said that the ban was the sort of thing that would have been par for the course during the era of authoritarian president Soeharto.

"This is truly an irresponsible decision. The government has to explain this. They have to explain to the public why they banned Aspinall," he said on Friday.

The immigration authorities sent Aspinall back to Sydney on Tuesday shortly after he arrived on a business visa at Soekarno- Hatta International Airport. He was on his way to Aceh to help an aid agency there. The immigration office said that the ban had been imposed at the request of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Indonesian Embassy in Canberra.

The ministry declined to give reasons for the ban.

But a source said that Aspinall was allegedly also acting as an "advisor" to the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) separatist group.

"I personally know Dr. Edward Aspinall. He has contributed a lot to the development of Indonesian democracy through his thoughts and writings. He is very objective in his writings. Why should the government be worried by what he thinks?" Hendardi asked.

Hendardi also said that if the government suspected that Aspinall had a relationship with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), the accusation should have been proven first before imposing the ban.

"This ban shows that there is no room for freedom of thought in Indonesia," he said.

Political analyst Fachry Ali was also surprised by the ban.

"I was so surprised to hear this. I know him. He was the one who read my thesis while I was studying for my master's. This reflects the old pattern, a government that is afraid of intellectuals. This is an irresponsible decision."

"This is the first time that this country has ever been led by an intellectual, Dr. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. I can't figure out why his government has blacklisted a fellow intellectual whose writings and thoughts are valuable for promoting Indonesian studies among Western scholars."

"Don't mire Indonesia in backwardness by banning intellectuals who have a deep, abiding interest in the country."

Meanwhile, Marty Natalegawa, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, insisted that the government's decision to ban Aspinall from entering Indonesia was not intended to restrict freedom of expression in this country.

"I don't think we are obstructing academic freedom in Indonesia. We should not use him (Aspinall) as a barometer of academic freedom here," he said.

Marty said that the decision was made after considering the advice of many parties.

"But I don't know (the reason) why he has not been allowed to enter Indonesia, and we do not have an obligation to explain it as it is something that is the inherent right of every country, to be able to say 'yes' or 'no' to anyone visiting the country," he said.(006)