The police and military in Indonesia are stepping up the campaign against communism by arresting people suspected of promoting the outlawed ideology.
Earlier this month, two activists in Mollucas were jailed for wearing t-shirts that bear the logo “Partai Kopi Indonesia” (Indonesian Coffee Party). According to the police, the symbol resembles the acronym of the now-defunct Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), even if the t-shirt refers to coffee lovers.
Jailed activists accused of spreading communism for wearing “Pecinta Kopi Indonesia” (PKI) t-shirt https://t.co/uSsdB7g61Q
— Coconuts Jakarta (@CoconutsJakarta) May 16, 2016
Meanwhile, the owner of a memorabilia shop and his employees were also arrested for selling t-shirts of German heavy metal band Kreator that feature the hammer and sickle logo.
— widiaji (@widiaji) May 9, 2016
In February this year, the Belok Kiri Fest (Turn Left Fest), which was organized to discuss leftist ideas, was canceled after the police revoked its permit.
In Indonesia, communism and Marxism are considered subversive ideologies and a threat to national security. Any manifestation of support for communism, Marxism or Leninism can be viewed as treason under the amended Indonesian Criminal Law. The law could even criminalize the work of a scholar who writes about communism.
Military officials believe there is a treasonous plot to revive communist groups in the country, but some analysts think the army is only trying to undermine efforts to probe the anti-communist hysteria in 1965 which led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of suspected communists and their sympathizers across Indonesia.
The military is accused of orchestrating the mass killings, which led to the rise to power of General Suharto. For its part, the military claims it only retaliated against attacks instigated by communists.
Suharto banned the PKI and prevented the public from investigating the role of the army in the 1965 killings. Suharto ruled for 32 years until his resignation in 1998.
When President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) won in 2014, human rights groups urged him to give justice to the victims of the 1965 killings.
Reacting to the string of recent arrests, Jokowi asked law enforcement to stop any effort to revive the communist party, but he also urged them to respect human rights and freedom of expression.
The country's cabinet, meanwhile, seems to be divided on the issue. While the defense chief rallies active and retired army officials to help in blocking the revival of communism in Indonesia, the coordinating minister for justice and human rights sees nothing wrong with exploring leftist ideas as long as it's for scholarly research.
For Muslim scholar Akhmad Sahal, there is a better way to defeat communism instead of arresting suspected communists:
Cara terbaik MENOLAK komunisme itu dgn mendalami pemikiran kiri. Yg kita hidupkan bukan PKI, tp sikap imiah-kritis. Krn parno = picik.
— akhmad sahal (@sahaL_AS) May 16, 2016
The best way to DEFEAT communism is by analyzing leftist thoughts. Reviving not the communist party, but critical and scientific mindsets. Because paranoid=closed-minded.
Because of this tweet, he was accused by some netizens of defending communism and betraying his Islamic faith. Sahal then clarified his stance:
(1) Saya ga pernah setuju komunisme. Yg kubela itu hak utk jd cerdas dgn baca, termasuk aliran kiri. Biar gak parno. https://t.co/U7kK5KKvh7
— akhmad sahal (@sahaL_AS) May 15, 2016
I disagree with communism, what I stand for is the right to be smart and to read, including those of leftist ideas. To stop being paranoid.
In Indonesia, it is common to hear officials equating communism and the LGBT community with terrorism. These are often described as concepts that disturb the country's unity and sovereignty. Some Twitter users are against this simplistic mindset:
Marxisme tak akan mati karena gertak FPI. Marxisme akan mati ketika ia jadi dogma. Spt kitab suci.
— goenawan mohamad (@gm_gm) May 19, 2016
Marxism won't die because of the threat from [hardline religious group] Islamic Defenders Front (FPI). Marxism will die once it becomes a dogma. Just like the holy books.
Takut pd komunisme, takut pd liberalisme, takut pd lgbt, takut pd aseng dan asing: watak para inferior yg tak takut pd kebodohannya sendiri
— fadil putra (@fadillahputra) May 18, 2016
Fear of communism, fear of liberalism, fear of LGBT, fear of Chinese and foreign powers: personalities of those with inferiority complexes. Fearing their own stupidity.
— TIFA Foundation (@TifaFoundation) May 12, 2016
There's an effort to fabricate false enemies by reviving the communism issue or LGBT. #stopshacklingthedemocracy
Seperti biasa lah kalo liat berita, liat polanya…
kemaren LGBT, trus miras, sekarang Komunisme, besok apaan? tebakan gw sih pornografi
— The Game Master (@SoundOfYogi) May 9, 2016
As usual, it's a news pattern. Before it was LGBT, then alcohol, now communism. What comes next? My guess is pornography.