On September 14, 2022, Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry and Environmental Affairs (KLHK) issued a letter banning five foreign scientists from conducting research in Indonesia and ordered KLHK offices and national parks to report any research conducted by foreign scientists to the ministry. The letter came shortly after the five scientists published an opinion piece about orangutan conservation.
The piece, written by Erik Meijaard, Julie Sherman, Marc Ancrenaz, Hjalmar Kühl, and Serge Wich, highlighted the discrepancy between current data on orangutan population decline and remarks made by KLHK Minister Siti Nurbaya in The Jakarta Post. On August 19, World Orangutan Day, Nurbaya stated that evidence shows that orangutan populations are growing and far from extinct. In the opinion piece, the scientists, who are all based outside Indonesia, disputed Nurbaya’s claims, called on Indonesian conservation authorities to “retain trust in peer-reviewed science,” welcomed a meeting with the ministry, and offered to share data with the ministry.
The KLHK letter claimed the scientists discredited the government and mandated that all work conducted by foreign scientists would now be subject to monitoring and control by the KLHK.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about state authorities restricting international academic exchange in apparent retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the right to freedom of expression and academic freedom — conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights standards, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Indonesia is a party. International academic engagement, including the sharing and exchange of ideas across borders, is a core aspect of academic life, and crucial for social and democratic advancement. Arbitrary restrictions on international academic exchange erode academic freedom and harm democratic society generally.