While reformasi in 1998 has undoubtedly had a positive impact on democratization, there has also been a setback to democracy triggered, inter alia, by the rise of Islamist forces in Indonesia, and which has seen a rise in the number of arbitrary arrest and detention against citizens, social justice leaders and human rights defenders who have expressed their opinions, expose abuses, and mobilized protest.

Indonesia is facing increasing intolerant attitudes to the idea of the public sphere as an arena for civil discourse and association. The public sphere is crucial for the expression and discussion of ideas, opinions, dreams, grievances, disagreements, etc. It is important, therefore, to nourish and sustain the public sphere and maintain its vibrancy in the face of encroaching authoritarianism and intolerance to the diversity of opinion, critical thinking, and democratization.

One of Public Virtue’s strategies is to promote the compatibility of democracy, Islam, and freedom of expression by promoting Indonesian critical thinkers and activists who believe in democracy and freedoms. By promoting their thinking, we aim to expand the capacity of young activists and the wider public to participate in the public sphere, express their opinions, and engage critically in democratic alternatives.

Why critical thinkers and activists? These are the people who ensure that democratic pluralism, tolerant conversation, and exchange of ideas continue to take place in the public sphere. They are the ones who safeguard the openness of the public sphere. Their voices are crucial in building public pressure that becomes a key factor for change in policy and practices.