How Tolerant is Indonesian Democracy?


About the Seminar

President Suharto’s resignation in May 1998, after three decades in power, triggered political changes in multiethnic, multireligious, and multilingual Indonesia. Many ethnic and religious groups tried to have more say in their political, economic, and cultural domains. Some became involved in bloody conflicts. At least 90,000 people were killed in mostly communal violence in the decade after Suharto’s departure.

The speaker’s new book, Race, Islam and Power: Ethnic and Religious Violence in Post-Suharto Indonesia, tries to describe the new equilibrium appearing two decades after 1998. He documented how races and religions have come to be increasingly prevalent within Indonesia’s politics.

The 1965 blasphemy law has been increasingly weaponised to corner religious minorities. It punishes deviations from the central tenets of Indonesia’s six officially recognised religions – Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism – with up to five years in prison. It was only used in eight cases in its first four decades, but convictions spiked to 125 during the decade when President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was in power from 2004 to 2014.

The 2006 regulation requires each local administration in Indonesia to have a “Religious Harmony Forum” to approve the construction of houses of worship. The composition of the membership of these forums are “proportional” with the religious population in each area, allowing majority religious adherents to effectively have veto power over the construction of houses of worship of religious minorities. Hundreds of regulations made in the name of Islamic shariah, discriminating religious minorities –non-Islam, non-Sunni and local religions—as well as women and girls and LGBT people.

The speaker spent five years travelling around Indonesia, from the westernmost island of Sabang to its easternmost city of Merauke in West Papua, from Miangas Island in the north, near the Philippines border, to Ndana Island, near the coast of Australia.

About the Speaker 

Andreas Harsono is an Indonesia researcher for Human Rights Watch, a position he has held since 2008. Prior to that, he helped found the Jakarta-based Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information in 1995, and in 2003 he helped create the Pantau Foundation, a journalist training organisation also based in Jakarta. A staunch backer of the free press, Harsono helped establish Jakarta’s Alliance of Independent Journalists in 1994 and Bangkok’s South East Asia Press Alliance in 1998. Harsono began his career as a reporter for the Bangkok-based Nation and the Kuala Lumpur-based Star newspapers, and he edited Pantau, a monthly magazine on media and journalism. His published books include Jurnalisme Sastrawi: Antologi Liputan Mendalam dan Memikat (with Budi Setiyono), “Agama” Saya Adalah Jurnalisme and Race, Islam and Power: Ethnic and Religious Violence in Post-Suharto Indonesia.


For registration, please click here. Registration closes on 20 September 2019.


Sep 24 2019


10:30 am - 12:00 pm


ISEAS Seminar Room 2