Friday, May 31, 2002

Black May 1998: 4th Commemoration (13 of 17)

Chinese-Indonesians still discriminated against
By Muninggar Sri Saraswati, Jakarta
The Jakarta Post (May 21, 2002)

It was a sad irony that top shuttler Hendrawan who saved the country in the Thomas Cup championship had to struggle to get his citizenship certificate before heading to China for the tournament a mere two weeks ago.

Hendrawan, the 2001 World Champion and the 2000 Olympics silver medalist, had
complained publicly about the difficulties of getting his Republic of Indonesia Citizenship Certificate (SBKRI).

Hendrawan filed the SBKRI request last year, but it was not until President Megawati Soekarnoputri, who learned about the problem from the media, stepped in and helped him, that he got the certificate.

Hendrawan was born in Malang, East Java, 30 years ago, while his parents were both born in Pasuruan, also in East Java.

But why was it so hard for Hendrawan to be recognized as an Indonesian citizen despite his birth and his considerable achievements for the nation?

Because Hendrawan is a Chinese-Indonesian.

As a Chinese-Indonesian, he is required by law to apply for the SKBRI to be officially recognized as an Indonesian citizen.

If a star such as Hendrawan had such difficulties getting the certificate, just imagine what happens with "ordinary" Chinese-Indonesians.

Ernawati Sugondo, secretary to the Advisory Council of the Society of Chinese-Indonesians, said there were no less than 12 bureaucratic institutions involved in the process of issuing an SKBRI before the certificate can be signed by the president.

The institutions are the neighborhood unit, the subdistrict office, the district office, the mayoralty office, the gubernatorial office, the police subprecint, the police precinct, the city police headquarters, the prosecutors' office, the district court, and finally the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights.

"It takes tens of millions of rupiah all along the way to finally get the certificate," Ernawati told The Jakarta Post.

She said that the applicants have to provide the money in order to "accelerate" the process.

"Even if they have handed over millions of rupiah, the process may take years. Without the money, it would probably never happen at all," she said. Hendrawan's brother reportedly applied for the citizenship certificate 20 years ago, and to this day, he still does not have one.

An SBKRI is needed to process many other documents, including passports, business licenses, credit applications and even university enrollment.

In the case of Hendrawan, he had previously obtained a passport only after he attached a copy of his father's SBKRI.

One ordinary Chinese-Indonesian, Ling Ling, 19, told the Post that two years ago she applied to a private university here. She had passed the entrance test, but the university rejected her just because neither she nor her father, had the SBKRI certificate.

"That's the most terrible thing I've ever experienced. I was born and grew up here, I only speak Indonesian, I've never stepped foot in China. Why would people doubt my loyalty to this country?" asked Ling Ling in an emotional voice.

Ling Ling, who had wanted to major in economics, now studies political science in another private university which did not require the SBKRI.

In 1996, former president Soeharto issued Decree No. 56/1996 stating that the special requirement of an SBKRI was no longer necessary.

The decree was strengthened by his successor B.J. Habibie who issued Decree No. 26/1988 ordering government bureaucrats to give the same service to everyone.

Later in 1999, he also issued Decree No. 4/1999 ordering all government officials to follow up on his earlier instruction barring government agencies and officials from discriminating against Indonesians based on their ethnic background.

To date, however, the decree has not been implemented in the various government offices. They are reluctant to implement the decree due to what they claimed was a lack of technical instructions on how to impose it.

Lawyer Esther Indahyani Jusuf alleged that government officials intentionally maintain the discriminative regulation in a bid to get bribes.

"SBKRI is a gold mine for many civil servants," she said.

She said that the Chinese-Indonesians have no other choice but struggle to get the SBKRI, otherwise, they would face difficulties the rest of their lives here.

Recent history of Chinese-Indonesians

1955: Indonesia and China signed an agreement on dual citizenships, which allowed Chinese people who lived in the country to hold both Indonesian and Chinese citizenship.

1958: Indonesia approved the citizenship law, which stipulates naturalization.

1959: Indonesia and China agreed to a repatriation process for 140,000 Chinese descendants.

1965: The Indonesian Communist Party attempted a coup d'etat. Jakarta accused China, which was denied.

1967: Diplomatic ties with China were frozen. This abruptly halted the repatriation. About 100,000 people were stranded here and considered stateless.

1969: Indonesia decided not to impose the dual citizenship agreement. A Chinese person whose parents held China citizenship could only hold Indonesia citizenship by naturalization, which was proved by the issuance of SBKRI.

1990: Indonesia resumed ties with China.

1992: Beijing said that they would issue passports in January 1993 for the more than 240,000 stateless Chinese here.

1996: Soeharto issued a decree on the annulment of the SBKRI requirement. The Chinese-Indonesians could instead use their ID cards, birth certificate and family card (kartu keluarga) for education and business purposes.

1998: Habibie issued a decree ordering government officials to treat all Indonesians the same.

1999: Habibie issued a decree banning the discrimination against Indonesians based on their origins.

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