In May 2020, a group of Gajah Mada University (UGM) law students belonging to the Constitutional Law Society were forced to cancel an academic discussion titled “Dismissing the President in a Pandemic, a Constitutional Perspective,” after the speaker and event coordinators faced death threats and harassment.
The Constitutional Law Society of UGM was scheduled to host an academic discussion on presidential impeachment during the pandemic on May 29, 2020 over Zoom. The event featured Dr. Ni’matul Huda, a professor of law at the Indonesian Islamic University (UII) in Yogyakarta, who the dean of UII’s Faculty of Law described as a “very neutral” academic (translated by Google from Indonesian).
On May 28, a leaflet was circulated with the theme – “Dismissing the President in a Pandemic, a Constitutional Perspective” – and other details, including the names and contact information of some of the students organizing the event. The leaflet was then uploaded to the internet by UGM engineering professor Dr. Bagas Pujilaksono – a known supporter of Indonesian President Joko Widodo – in an article accusing the group of treason. His article went viral and quickly garnered a public reaction.
Following the circulation of the leaflet, the students initially attempted to depoliticize the name of the event, asserting that it was intended to be a procedural examination of the topic rather than a political one. Nevertheless, anonymous individuals believed to be supporters of the president began to harass and threaten members of the event committee, UGM, and the speaker. The students included in the leaflet received threatening messages, as did the university, including threats to kill those involved with the discussion and their families. The event committee’s social media accounts were also hacked. Meanwhile, critics of the event attempted to hack Dr. Huda’s phone and attacked her residence; according to UII’s Faculty of Law dean, several people pounded on the door of the professor’s residence from 11:00 pm on May 28 to 9:00 am on May 29.
Ultimately, the discussion was canceled due to security concerns. UGM’s Faculty of Law reportedly collected evidence of the threats and harassment and UII condemned the use of intimidation tactics and its impacts on academic freedom.
Scholars at Risk (SAR) is concerned by violent threats and harassment intended to intimidate scholars and students and shut down an academic event. Faculty, students, and members of civil society who disagree with the content of academic activity should refrain from engaging in threats, harassment, and other coercive actions intended to chill or punish such activity. Politically motivated attempts to limit academic discussion and exchange undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.