In early April 2018, Indonesian police reportedly initiated a criminal investigation against Widjo Kongko, a government scientist of coastal, earthquake and tsunami engineering, in response to his research findings on the potential for tsunamis along Indonesia’s southwestern coast.
Dr. Kongko is a scientist specializing in tsunamis at the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT), which falls under the Ministry of Research and Technology. On April 3, 2018 he reportedly gave a presentation at the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) on potential tsunamis in some regions of Java, Indonesia including Pandeglang. Dr. Kongko’s presentation reportedly suggested that a 57-metre-high tsunami wave could hit Pandeglang as “the worst possible scenario.”
That same day, an Indonesian news portal, detik.com, reported on Dr. Kongko’s presentation in an article titled “BPPT Predicts Potential for 57-Meter High Tsunami in Pandeglang.” After the report was shared over social media, a local police official publicly announced a criminal investigation of Professor Kongko. Police reportedly claimed that Professor Kongko’s statements caused concern among citizens in Pandeglang and “undermined the investment climate in the area.” The same source reported that the police also planned to question the organizers of the April 3 event at BMKG.
The news portal detik.com subsequently apologized for using the word “predict” in its article and issued a correction. On April 11, the local police reportedly dropped their investigation and plans to summon Dr. Kongko.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about a criminal investigation launched against a scientist in apparent retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the right to academic freedom and freedom of expression — conduct which is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Indonesia is a party. State authorities have a responsibility to not interfere with such rights and to refrain from taking actions intended to restrict them. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such actions have a chilling effect on academic freedom, freedom of expression, and undermine democratic society generally.