SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: July 14, 2020

Attack Types: Prosecution | Loss of Position

Institution(s):National University

Region & Country:Southeastern Asia | Indonesia

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On July 14, 2020, police reportedly arrested and brought criminal charges against thirteen students in retaliation for their participation in a protest at the National University. 

Student protests at National University had begun more than a month earlier, with demands that the university reduce tuition fees as a result of educational time lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the university did take measures to cut tuition, students — organized under the title UNAS Gawat Darurat (UGD), which translates as National University Under Emergency — complained that the cuts were not universal, or sufficient. Following the protests, 31 students were reportedly placed under disciplinary investigation, leading the following months to expulsions of three students, suspensions of three more, and verbal warnings to another fifteen. (See report).

In response, thirteen members of the UGD alliance staged a protest in front of the National University campus. According to reports, the students sought to enter the campus, but were not permitted to do so by campus security, leading to shoving between protesters and officers. Students reportedly burned tires outside the gate as they spoke. 

National University authorities reported all thirteen protesters to the South Jakarta Police, alleging they had threatened and committed violence against people and property. The students could face up to five years and six months in prison if convicted. 

Additionally, the university imposed academic sanctions on eleven of the students: three were expelled, two were suspended, and six were given verbal warnings.

Scholars at Risk is concerned by the arrest of, and institutional retaliation against, students in apparent retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and academic freedom — conduct that 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 an obligation to refrain from restricting or retaliating against expressive activity, so long as it is nonviolent and responsible. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, criminal and administrative actions intended to retaliate against expressive activity undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.