On this day remember: Zhao Ziyang

Addressing the students - AFP

Zhao Ziyang was a senior member of the Chinese politburo and Communist Party chief, a reformist who campaigned hard against corruption and a supporter of dialogue with students leaders during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. He famously told the students: “You are not like us, we are already old, it doesn’t matter to us any more”. As the Party declared martial law and sent in the tanks to crush the pro-democracy uprising, Zhao was placed under house arrest. He remained incarcerated and shunned by the Party until his death aged 85 from pneumonia on January 17, 2005.

Brazilian atheists have a message for Indonesia

"If god exists, everything is permitted"

This powerful advertisement commissioned by a Brazilian atheist group sums up, in one slogan, what is happening with religious bigotry, persecution and violence against the Ahmadiyah community in Indonesia at the moment.

Last month a court gave sentences of 3-6 months’ jail to 12 Sunni Muslim thugs who led a lynch mob of around 1,500 armed extremists against about 20 members of the Ahmadiyah sect, who are Muslims in every sense of the word except they don’t believe Mohammed was the final prophet. In the eyes of the Indonesian courts, this means you can kill them in front of police and receive less punishment than you would for stealing someone’s buffalo or making a naughty video of yourself with your girlfriend.

Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa put his Cambridge masters degree in philosophy to good use on Friday, cynically inverting logic and ethics in justification of the sentences. He said the judiciary’s independence could not be questioned (ignoring that laws such as prohibitions against murder are created by parliament to be enforced) and noted that Indonesia was not the only country to experience “heinous” acts as a result of religious intolerance (ignoring the fact that heinous acts which go unpunished are likely to be repeated).

Getting away with religious murder in Indonesia

I must applaud A. Lin Neumann for his powerful opinion piece in today’s Jakarta Globe newspaper. Indonesia is letting murderers, people who kill in the name of the dominant form of Islam, to get away with slaps on the wrist.

In an appalling series of decisions on Thursday, a court in Serang, western Java, gave sentences of three to six months’ jail to 12 men who led a mob of around 1,500 Muslim fanatics against a small group of Ahmadiyah sect members in February this year. Three of the followers of the minority Muslim faith were viciously slaughtered in front of police, who did nothing to intervene. Then the mob set upon the corpses and the property, and hunted the survivors through the surrounding fields.  Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch summed it up with one word: “savagery”.

The whole thing was captured on video for all to see. Be warned, this is disturbing footage.

Only 12 people were charged over this incident. None was charged with murder. None received a sentence stiffer than six months in jail. All will walk free in weeks. That’s Indonesian justice and tolerance. It is tolerance of murder and mob rule.

You can read more on the pathetic judicial process here at Human Rights Watch.

Here are some extracts from Neumann’s piece:

I still cannot get one sound from the Feb. 6 Cikeusik mob attack on a handful of Ahmadiyah followers out of my head. At some point the shouting and mayhem, which millions have seen on YouTube, seems to subside as a lifeless body in the mud is beaten with wooden staves. There follows a series of sickening wet slaps against the corpse as a crowd shouts in approval.

But that man and two other victims were not murdered, according to prosecutors who chose the lightest possible charges to throw up against the clearly identifiable suspects in the Banten province attack. On Thursday, a court made it official, handing out sentences of three to six months to 12 men accused of leading and carrying out the assault.

Dani bin Misra, a 17-year-old, smashed a victim’s skull with a stone; he was charged with manslaughter and got three months. The leader of the mob of about 1,000 people who attacked 20 Ahmadis, Idris bin Mahdani, was convicted of illegal possession of a machete and got five months and 15 days in jail.

In other words, murder – organized, premeditated and captured on video – is not much more of a crime than stealing a bunch of bananas. In Indonesia, it appears, you can get away with murder, as long as the killing is done in the name of religion…

The sad truth is that Indonesia, despite its progress on so many fronts, still allows preachers of hate to foment criminal acts against others. In this upside-down world, Ahmadiyah followers can be killed for their belief that their prophet came after Mohammed. They are fair game.

Thursday’s court verdict seems likely to spur still more mob terror since the crime carries virtually no punishment and the government does so little to speak out against such heinous acts.

This is a frightening black mark on a nation that prides itself on being a bastion of tolerance guided by Pancasila, whose first pillar is religious freedom and whose second is Kemanusiaan yang Adil dan Beradab, which states that all people should be treated with dignity as creatures of God.

This is not the first time such an outrage has gone virtually unpunished. Just two days after the Cikeusik killings, a mob in Temanggung, Central Java, ran riot in reaction to a blasphemy verdict. They were angry because a Christian accused of defaming Islam got only a five-year sentence – mind you, he killed no one.

That mob burned churches and buildings and injured bystanders. Most of the accused were given five-month sentences by a Semarang court last month. The ring leader, a cleric, got a year’s sentence, which was reduced by several months for time served.

What is so deeply alarming about the Cikeusik verdicts and other outrages, however, is the absence of reasoned and consistent leadership from the top reaches of government to set a tone of tolerance in the face of criminal acts committed in the name of religion…

The impression that Indonesia is a major success story is increasingly widespread. But don’t take it for granted. Mob rule, disrespect for the law and courts that treat killers with kid gloves are also still part of Indonesia’s story.

 

Indonesia’s smoking clinic featured on Al-Jazeera

I’ve written quite a bit about a bunch of Indonesians who claim they can treat cancer and all sorts of other ailments with magic cigarettes. It’s bizarre stuff. The Sydney Morning Herald and AFP news agency have picked up on the story. Now Al-Jazeera and the Global Post are joining in. The images tell 1000 words, but still the government has done nothing to intervene:

Cranberries etc peddle tobacco to Indonesian kids

Delores O'Riordan of the Cranberries giving a peace sign - or is she asking her fans for a smoke?

It’s that time of year again. It doesn’t seem like that long ago that I was ranting and raving against the likes of Wolfmother and Chris Carrabba for accepting tobacco sponsorship to play in Indonesia. Well, another crop of muso sell-outs led by the Cranberries (that’s what’s-her-face pictured left) are lining up like dirty little piggies at the tobacco-money trough to play at the Java Rockin’ Land music festival from July 22 to 24.

In other words, they’re telling Indonesian kids it’s cool and sophisticated and very, very sexy to smoke. Nice one, creeps.

Here’s a message from a kind reader, Marita Hefler, drawing my attention to the event and a petition against the show’s tobacco sponsorship. Marita writes:

Hi there, great writing – love your posts about the tobacco industry in Indonesia. Java Rockin’ Land is happening again 22-24 July, with Gudang Garam the main sponsor. There is a petition urging all the bands involved to demand the sponsorship be dumped, see: http://www.change.org/petitions/tell-international-bands-to-drop-tobacco-sponsorship-in-indonesia. So far, no artist has responded. Yet again, double standards prevail in the lineup: the Good Charlotte frontman is a UNICEF goodwill ambassador and he and his brother have their own children’s foundation; 30 Seconds to Mars are active in environmental causes, and lead singer Jared Leto support Elysium, a charity to support critically ill children; Neon Trees have said they don’t want to be part of tobacco sponsorship and have played at an anti-smoking gig; Ed Kowalczyk is a World Vision rep. Blood Red Shoes have supported a cancer charity, and The Cranberries are well-known for speaking out about political issues. Apparently international bands just dump their principles in a bin before they board a plane to Jakarta. Disgraceful.

To these musicians I say: Do the right thing. Follow the example of Alicia Keys or Kelly Clarkson, and demand the tobacco companies cancel their sponsorship of the event. Failing this, cancel your shows. That’s the only way you can salvage your credibility in the eyes of people who care about kids in countries like Indonesia, where they are the explicit targets of an aggressive and foul Big Tobacco marketing campaign the likes of which the West has not seen in decades (because it was made illegal). By playing at this event you are being used by tobacco companies to create young nicotine addicts in a way that would be unacceptable and illegal in your home countries.

Acceptance of the tobacco money means you are either desperate for cash, or so greedy that you don’t give a damn about your young fans. Or both. Oink oink!

(Photo courtesy of Joe Crimmings Photography)

Is development alone the answer for Asia’s poor?

It’s often argued that development is the panacea for poverty in Asia. Rapidly growing emerging markets like Indonesia have adopted this as a mantra, putting development ahead of things like human rights, justice and enduring democratic reform.

Here’s what Professor Hal Hill, Professor of Southeast Asian Economies at Australian National University, said on the subject during a lecture in Canberra:

On the question of these trade liberalisations and poverty, I would draw the following link. We know in general that more open economies tend to do better than closed economies and generally that leads to higher growth. The question is: Does the growth translate into reduced poverty.

Most poverty reductions tend to be highly associated with growth – faster growth, higher incomes, higher incomes lower poverty. So it is growth plus – the key thing being what is in the plus. What it denotes is the capacity of the poor to connect to a faster-growing economy and typically the poor have only their labour to sell, and to the extent that the growth creates employment opportunities it is most likely to lead to a reduction in poverty.

However, it has to combine with education and health and other public goods which enable people to participate in the growth process.

So the evidence is pretty clear that higher growth leads to faster poverty reduction, but not necessarily at the same pace. You get cases like China where you get rapid growth and rapid poverty reduction but also a rapid rise in inequality.

He could have cited Indonesia as another case in point. Journalists often mention Facebook usage to illustrate Indonesia’s growing wealth and burgeoning middle class. The number is indeed impressive – Indonesians clearly love wasting time on Facebook. But the bigger picture lies in the internet penetration figures. At around 16 percent of the country’s 240 million people, it’s a lot closer to Pakistan on 11 percent than to neighbouring Malaysia at 64 percent. In other words, the vast majority of Indonesians have little or no access to the internet and probably don’t even know what Facebook is. The wealth associated with having an internet connection and a laptop or a smartphone is not reaching more than a tiny minority of the people.

Indonesia’s economy may be growing at 6% but the courts remain riddled with corruption, the hospitals are so bad people who can afford it (the five-percenters) fly to Singapore for treatment, and the education system is, to put it mildly, a joke.

Tobacco ad of the day: miracle electro-smokes!

On world No Tobacco Day, your featured cigarette ad from times past and, in Indonesia, present:

I’m not sure if you can read the newspaper “article”. It says:

Scientific miracles never cease!… Now see what modern electronics has done to increase your cigarette enjoyment! With electronic accuracy, Accu Ray checks and controls the making of your Chesterfield. For the first time you get a perfect [even smoke] from end-to-end. You’ll marvel at the extra flavour that comes through. Yet because this measurably better cigarette smokes more slowly – you enjoy a cool mildness never possible before. From first puff to last, Chesterfield gives you a smoke measurably smoother… cooler… best for you! In the whole wide world, no cigarette satisfies like a Chesterfield!

Looks like they also boost eyebrow growth (obviously tastes have changes in that department over the years … ).

Those of us from developed countries might laugh and recognise this as the old game Big Tobacco played on us for years – dressing up toxic cigarettes in pseudo-science and technology and selling them as healthy, life-enhancing products.

In developing countries like Indonesia – the new front line for international efforts to reduce death and disease from smoking – it’s not funny. Cigarette advertising is ubiquitous and The Jakarta Post, the country’s oldest English-language broadsheet newspaper, has repeatedly published uncritical articles in its editorial pages about how local scientists are using advances in nantotechnology to make “divine cigarettes” that are not only healthy, they can treat cancer. Even Chesterfield didn’t go that far.

(For more old tobacco ads, see Stanford School of Medicine’s great gallery)