Protection of social justice leaders in Indonesia: a mapping exercise


Democratic regression, the rise of authoritarianism and backsliding of important reforms following the fall of Soeharto in 1998 mark the reality of President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo’s administration.  A rise in populism and the power of radical Islam coupled with Jokowi’s rehabilitation of the Indonesian security forces threatens hard-fought freedoms including freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of association. Indonesia’s secular and once tolerant and pluralist foundations are under attack.

Jokowi’s focus on large-scale infrastructure projects and the promotion of foreign investment in the extractive industries has led to an unprecedented grab for land and forest owned and managed by, and representing the main source of livelihood of indigenous peoples, farmers and communities across the archipelago. A combination of developmental authoritarianism, repressive legislation, relaxation of environmental protection and removal of rights of workers at once increases the need for social justice and whilst also increasing the risk levels that SJLs operate in.

Risks and Threats

Under these circumstances it is no coincidence that Indonesia has seen a rise in attacks against SJLs, particularly those working on environmental and land-rights issues and anti-corruption. The rise in the power of conservative Muslim organisations has seen an increase in attacks against women, religious minorities and LGBTIQ activists. Criminalisation, defamation, stigmatisation, the use of Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) as well as physical and emotional violence are used to silence SJLs and undermine their credibility and their work. The state is the primary perpetrator alongside thugs hired by big business, the law enforcement agencies, security forces and radical Islamic organisations. Most recently, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a sharp increase in cyber-attacks, hacking and doxing targeting SJLs, in parallel with dissemination of hoaxes and black campaigns aimed at discrediting them and their work.

Gaps in Protection

SJLs and their supporting organisations are largely aware of the importance of security planning and protection mechanisms. However, their capacity to implement, review and evaluate mechanisms and procedures that are relevant to the needs of the SJLs and that respond to the often highly fluid and complex local contexts are limited. This impacts negatively on the efficacy of protection mechanisms, as well as the trust SJLs place in protection procedures and the extent to which they are prioritized.

Some of the most significant gaps are to be found in levels of awareness and capacity; relevance and sustainability of interventions; significant challenges including cost, time and technical expertise required to deal with the courts; complex and fluid conditions in the field; mismatch between local level and national/international level priorities and access to funding and relevant and appropriate resources.

Evidence suggests that the specific challenges women and LGBTIQ are not well understood, nor are they sufficiently considered when undertaking security planning. The government’s apparently wilful derogations of its responsibilities and its own laws to protect SJLs, the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators coupled with less than enthusiastic public support all point to the fact that serious threats to SJLs and their work will remain for some time to come, and are in danger of further degenerating.


Addressing the threats, vulnerability and risks that Social Justice Leaders SJLs) face in Indonesia requires a significant increase in targeted responses that directly support security assessment, planning, mitigation, and protection interventions that are relevant, sustainable, and inclusive. Promotion of the importance of security and protection should be integrated with the social justice aims themselves, and ensure that social justice movements are inclusive and representative.

Part VII of this report presents a set of eight overarching recommendations that may be further refined in the form of specific and detailed interventions, and which are summarised below in terms of key interventions and approaches

a. Building Capacity and Resilience

Interventions must prioritise the needs of SJLs working in the field on high-risk issue areas, in remote locations and that have increased and complex vulnerabilities must be prioritized based on a thorough understanding of complexities on the ground.

Interventions must adopt and intersectional, holistic, and integrated approach to security and protection, develop through bottom-up dialogue with SJLs working in the field.

Strengthening security and protection includes raising the capacity of SJLs and intermediaries to reach out to gain public support, educate government agencies and participate in relevant networks and coalitions.

b. Responding to Emergencies and Immediate Threats

Improve coordination and transparency to deliver assistance by international, national, and regional organizations that is coordinated and systematic, including providing information that is accessible to SJLs on the ground.

Develop knowledge and information management mechanisms that enable the sharing and alignment of strategies to address the criminalization of SJLs, particularly but not exclusively in terms of legal expertise and case-law and medical and psychological support.

c. Reducing Threats and Long-Term Strategies

Support legal advocacy, policy development and practice targeting parliamentarians and other law-makers including the ministries and the NHRIs by improving knowledge and information management, the capacity of lawyers and legal experts – including community-based paralegals, advocacy and campaign management.

Collaborate and establish broad alliances with pro-democracy activists in order to address democratic regression and the shrinking civic space, which poses a current and long-term threat to SJLs and their activities.

Address the threat of populist rhetoric and anti-democratic forces by, inter alia, by working with and including authoritative voices, such as religious scholars and public figures.


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