Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Black May 1998: 5th Commemoration (9 of 24)

Jakarta irks ethnic Chinese
By Richel Dursin
Asia Times (February 20, 2003)

Bekasi, Indonesia (Inter Press Service) - "We're Indonesians. Why do we have to get a citizenship certificate proving that we're Indonesians?" asked Tjiong Tjoei Liong, 70.

Liong, his wife, three children and 14 grandchildren are among thousands of Chinese-Indonesians who are practically "stateless" because they do not have the document called the Republic of Indonesia Citizenship Certificate - mandatory only for Indonesians of ethnic Chinese origin.

In the small village here of Kampung Teko in Bekasi, West Java, where Liong and his family live, most residents do not possess the citizenship document, which is required to obtain identification cards. Kampung Teko is home to more than 100 poor Chinese-Indonesian families whose ancestors have lived here since the 1930s. Some of them work as farmers, motorcycle drivers, and hawkers.

Chinese-Indonesians, who make up 3-5 percent of the country's 215 million, mostly Muslim population, have long protested against the citizenship-document requirement, which was technically abolished in 1996 by then-president Suharto, but still remains enforced today.

The requirement was introduced by the Suharto regime after the 1965 abortive coup, which Jakarta blamed on the Indonesian Communist Party that had strong links with the Chinese Communist Party.

Today, more than three decades that coup and seven years after Suharto reversed the requirement, authorities at the immigration and other government offices still require Chinese-Indonesians to present citizenship certificates when applying for documents such as passports.

They say they continue to do this because there are no implementation guidelines that enforce the revocation of the decree on citizenship documents for Chinese-Indonesians.

President Megawati Sukarnoputri, who declared the Lunar New Year day on February 1 a national holiday, has asked Justice and Human Rights Minister Yusril Ihza Mahendra to issue another decree abolishing the citizenship certificate requirements for Chinese-Indonesians.

But he said it would be "difficult and impossible" to do this in one go, not least because of security reasons.

He said a new citizenship bill must first be passed to remove legal uncertainty - but this bill, about to be deliberated upon by the House of Representatives, is of little comfort: it still contains articles requiring Indonesians of Chinese ethnicity to obtain the controversial document.

"The current draft of the citizenship bill is double-faced," said Eddie Lembong, chairman of the Chinese-Indonesian Association (INTI). "We're struggling to eradicate this state-mandated form of discrimination against Chinese-Indonesians."

Lyang Ling, 23, who got her citizenship papers when she was barely eight years old, said, "We can't understand why we must have the papers when in fact our grandparents and parents are Indonesians."

"Requiring Chinese-Indonesians, even newborns, to get it creates only troubles," said Lembong, reflecting resentment by many at having in effect to "prove" that they are as Indonesian as the next person.

State universities still require the citizenship document from Chinese-Indonesian applicants. Indigenous Indonesians only submit their birth certificates. Even private banks oblige Chinese-Indonesians to produce their citizenship papers when applying for loans.

Chinese-Indonesian expert Andrie Wongso said that the problem lies in a lack of technical instructions from high-ranking officials on how their subordinates should implement new decrees like the scrapping of the citizenship papers.

Others say the vagueness around the revocation of the need for these papers encourages corruption and extortion that many Chinese-Indonesians have to live with. "Extortion is rampant in the government," said Gondomono, who is also deputy president for academic affairs of the Jakarta-based Darma Persada University.

Obtaining a citizenship certificate costs millions of rupiah, depending on the wealth of the claimants and requires significant effort and time.

Last year, renowned badminton player Hendrawan had a hard time getting a citizenship document even though he had represented Indonesia at many international events, including helping the country win last year's Thomas Cup world men's team championship. Hendrawan finally got the document, but only after Megawati intervened.

There are at least 12 bureaucratic institutions involved in the process of issuing the citizenship papers, according to data from the non-governmental group Solidaritas Nusa Bangsa.

In reality, critics say there is no need to wait for a new citizenship bill since the ruling revoking the citizenship document requirement for Chinese-Indonesians still holds.

For some, Mahendra's reluctance to follow Megawati's instructions is politically motivated. Mahendra, who chairs the Crescent Star Party, plans to run in the 2004 direct presidential polls.

"It was already the president of Indonesia who asked for the elimination of the [citizenship papers] requirement. But how can a minister like Mahendra defy the president?" Lembong asked.

Ironically, Mahendra was born in Belitung, South Sumatra, where there are many Chinese-Indonesians, and can speak Hakka, a south Chinese language.

"If we want to get legal documents from the government, we must provide additional certification and pay higher fees," said Guo Hui Xia, 26.

She says she still fears for her life when taking a public bus because of the gruesome series of violent attacks and rapes of ethnic Chinese women in 1998. "If I have to take a public bus, I have to think many times," she said.

Those riots remain a painful episode for Chinese-Indonesians, often perceived to control a disproportionate amount of the economy despite the fact that many of them are struggling to make ends meet like other Indonesians.

Today, "there are 62 discriminative rulings against the Chinese ethnic community still valid in Indonesia", said Ester Jusuf, chairperson of the non-government group Solidaritas Nusa Bangsa.

Other discriminatory laws against Indonesians of ethnic-Chinese origin include a decree by the Ministry of Religious Affairs, which does not include Confucianism or Konghucu among the country's recognized beliefs.

Marriages between Konghucu believers are regarded as illegal and their children illegitimate unless the wedding ceremony is conducted by a Buddhist priest and witnessed by an official at the Religious Affairs Ministry, or they convert to one of the five religions recognized by the government - Islam, Catholicism, Christianity, Protestantism, Hinduism or Buddhism.

"We're tired of being discriminated against. What we only want from the government and society is to treat us fairly. But we know that this is a thousand-mile journey," Lembong said.

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