Author profile - Erpan Faryadi
Erpan Faryadi is currently the Project Manager for the Advocacy and Research Circle of Borneo (Link-AR Borneo), a community organization engaged in advocacy, campaigning, education, and research on the themes of democracy, human rights, natural resources, climate change, and people's sovereignty in West Kalimantan, Indonesia.
About Link-AR Borneo
Link-AR Borneo (Borneo Advocacy and Research Circle) is a non-governmental organization that was established on April 2, 2009. It was established to carry out advocacy to address the massive problem of control over land, forests, and the natural resources above and contained therein by extractive industry. This is caused by political economy interests that prioritize the need for raw materials to supply the world's giant industries. This condition is inseparable from the earth of Borneo which contains abundant natural resources.
Based on this, Link-AR Borneo was established to carry out evidence-based advocacy. This advocacy is a manifestation of Link-AR Borneo's alignment with community interests and sustainable ecological justice. Since its establishment, Link-AR Borneo has been active in making various efforts in upholding and defending human rights, encouraging the improvement of just, sustainable forest and land management, as well as encouraging community independence in forest and land management.
Now is a good time to assess the Indonesian government's policies and responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact these policies have on the people, including their impact on the fulfillment and respect of human rights.
Since the beginning of 2020 (January to March 2020), the Indonesian government and government officials have never seriously responded to the presence of COVID-19. They even seem to underestimate and do not believe that COVID-19 exists. The Vice President of the Republic of Indonesia in early 2020, stated that with the prayer of the religious leaders, COVID-19 will not befall Indonesia. Even the President of the Republic of Indonesia in March 2020 misled the people by stating, "The people of Indonesia will be able to contain COVID-19 by drinking herbal medicine." (See CNN Indonesia, 16 March 2020, “Media Asing Soroti Jokowi Minum Jamu Untuk Tangkal Corona”). These unscientific responses are the basis for the Indonesian government's policies in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Steps by the Indonesian Government in Handling COVID-19
Since the WHO announcement in March 2020 on COVID-19 as the global pandemic, the government should have started to take systematic steps to prevent transmission in Indonesia, by inviting health experts, especially infectious disease experts (epidemiologists). However, although the main problem is health problems, the views of health experts are rarely listened to by the government. Sometimes it is even underestimated and there are also many cases where the views of health experts are against the government. However, since April 2020, the Indonesian Government employed the Indonesian National Armed Forces (TNI) and the police to lock people in their homes, restrict worship, restrict people's movement and prohibit protests and demonstrations, which invite potential violations of human rights, particularly civil and political rights.
After the determination of the corona as a global pandemic, the Indonesian government took control measures, but without a 'national command'. Public health experts consider Jokowi's steps to be "slow" and not enough to calm the public. (See BBC News Indonesia, 16 March 2020, “Virus corona: Jokowi umumkan langkah pengendalian Covid-19, tapi tanpa komando nasional.”)
The government is also fond of introducing new terms and policies every month in handling the COVID-19 pandemic, without any significant meaning for preventing the transmission of COVID-19 in Indonesia. This shows the panic and lack of systematic policy direction from the government at all levels in tackling this deadly disease.
Government officials such as Minister of Social Affairs Juliari Batubara also corrupted social assistance (bansos) in the form of basic food packages for the poor in the context of handling COVID-19 in December 2020. This is an act of Indonesian government official who is very embarrassing in the midst of the difficulties the Indonesian people are struggling from COVID-19 pressure.
The situation with the increasing number of COVID-19 patients and the increasing number of deaths due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has made it increasingly difficult for the Indonesian government to handle it. Whereas the government should guarantee the people's right to health, which is a human rights, including ensuring personal protective equipment for health workers who work on the front lines against COVID-19. Facing the ferocity of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Indonesian government seems helpless as it reports every day the numbers of patients and deaths due to COVID-19 have been increasing since mid-June 2021.
The Impact of COVID-19 on the Indonesian People
Since April 2020, the Indonesian government has issued a large-scale social restriction (PSBB) policy aimed at breaking the chain of transmission of COVID-19. The PSBB policy has not achieved its goal at all, namely reducing the spread of COVID-19 and reducing deaths due to COVID-19, in line with the two general goals of handling COVID-19 issued by the WHO. In July 2021, the Corona Virus Disease-2019 or COVID-19 pandemic is getting crazier in Indonesia due to the government's indecisiveness in choosing between people's health versus economic growth.
Throughout July 2021, the Indonesian government implemented an Emergency Enforcement of Community Activity Restrictions (PPKM) for the islands of Java and Bali which took effect from 3 – 20 July 2021. Through the Emergency PPKM for Java and Bali, the government hopes to suppress the surge in cases of COVID-19 and reduce the number of deaths due to this pandemic. Meanwhile, outside Java and Bali, the government runs PPKM Micro (Enforcement of Community Activity Restrictions at the micro level such as regency and sub-districts). All of these government policies have no impact on the reduction of COVID-19. In fact, the number of transmission and death of COVID-19 in Indonesia is increasing.
The Role of Civil Society Organizations in COVID-19 in Indonesia
Civil society organizations (CSO) in Indonesia are active organizations since the era of Reformation or post-authoritarian era. Many civil organizations in Indonesia have played active role in the fields of human rights, climate change, health, law reform, food sovereignty, land rights and reform, peasant and workers issues, and others. Civil society organizations in Indonesia are also attracting many groups and individuals to join their actions and campaigns, including doctors, lawyers, agricultural experts and others which make civil society organizations are more credible and experienced in their fields. In essence, civil society organizations in Indonesia are contributing to the process of democracy in Indonesia after post-authoritarian era (post-1998).
Civil society organizations in Indonesia also pay great attention to the handling of COVID-19, including the Citizens' Coalition to Report Covid-19. The Citizens' Coalition for LaporCovid-19 or LaporCovid-19 was formed by a group of individuals who are concerned about citizens' human rights and public health issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This coalition was formed in early March 2020, when cases of COVID-19 spread and were officially discovered.
LaporCovid-19 has built a citizen reporting platform that is used as a place to share information about incidents related to COVID-19 that have been discovered by residents, but have so far been out of reach of the government.
Using a crowdsourcing approach that involves the participation of citizens to be involved in recording COVID-19 numbers and reporting issues around COVID-19 in the vicinity, becomes a bridge for recording the number of COVID-19 incidents in the country. LaporCovid-19 is a forum to help the government and other citizens to find out the distribution and magnitude of COVID-19 in Indonesia. The data collected on the LaporCovid-19 channel is input for the government to formulate policies and steps to handle COVID-19 based on data in the field.
LaporCovid-19 is composed of the following civil society organizations in Indonesia: YLBHI, Tempo magazine, Efek Rumah Kaca, Transparency International Indonesia, Lokataru, Hakasasi.id, U-Inspire, STH Jentera, NarasiTV, Rujak Center for Urban Studies, Indonesia Corruption Watch. YLBHI is a human rights group that formed since 1970s to monitor consistently the human rights obligations of the Indonesian government; while Tempo Magazine is a part of Tempo group which focuses on human rights, environment, and corruption.
The chaotic handling of COVID-19 was highlighted by the Civil Society Coalition consisting of LaporCovid-19, ICW, YLBHI, LP3ES, and Lokataru. This coalition assesses that the Jokowi government has failed in handling the pandemic that has been experienced by Indonesia since early March 2020.
LaporCovid-19 criticizes: the government cannot prevent the death rate due to the problematic handling of COVID-19. According to LaporCovid-19, the death toll could have been reduced from the start if the government had implemented prevention and control quickly and strongly. See the article "Kasus Meninggal Melonjak & RS Kolaps, Negara Gagal Tangani COVID?", Tirto.id, 6 July 2021, https://tirto.id/ght5. Even though the government has budgeted Rp 695.2 trillion for the COVID-19 handling strategy in 2020. (See Kompas, 20 December 2020, “Kebijakan Pemerintah Menangani Covid-19 Sepanjang Semester II 2020.”)
The number of daily COVID-19 deaths in Indonesia, 27 July 2021 – 4 August 2021.
Vaccinations and death rate of COVID-19
The progress of giving COVID-19 vaccination to the people is also very low in the beginning. Initially the government and the pharmaceutical industry wanted to take advantage of the people through the vaccination program, by stipulating that there would be paid vaccinations. Finally, after a fairly tight tug-of-war, it was decided that there would only be a free or unpaid national vaccination program for all Indonesians.
President Jokowi ensures that all COVID-19 vaccinations will be given free of charge. This was decided after he cancelled paid vaccinations for individuals that had previously been planned to be distributed through Kimia Farma, a state-owned company (in Tempo.co, 16 July 2021, “Batalkan Vaksinasi Berbayar, Jokowi Pastikan Seluruh Vaksin Covid-19 Gratis.”)
The chaos of the COVID-19 vaccination program for the people also shows that the government seems to be playing with the lives of people who are stretched by COVID-19. As of August 3, 2021, the people of Indonesia who have received the complete COVID-19 vaccination program (two doses) have reached 21 million people. This figure is only 10 percent of the government's target of 208 million people. (See Sindonews.com, 5 August 2021, “21 Juta Penduduk Indonesia Sudah Divaksin Covid-19 Secara Lengkap.”)
On May 1, 2022, however, the situation is getting better. It is more than 199 million Indonesians have received the first dose of vaccination, or about 96 percent of the target of 208 million people. While the population of Indonesia who have received the second dose of vaccination is around 165 million or about 34 percent of the target. On the other hand, the Indonesian population who died due to COVID-19 was 156,273 people (See https://covid.go.id, May 1, 2022).
In addition, Indonesia is also experiencing problems with testing. Paid Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and antigen tests are certainly a big problem for the poor people of Indonesia. In November 2020, for example, the person has to dig deeply into their pocket for IDR 1,500,000 on average to get paid PCR test results.
If in other countries, testing is free or subsidized, in Indonesia, the government and pharmaceutical companies and private clinics take advantage of the situation by charging the people with very high costs for COVID-19 tests. However, by October 27, 2021, the government determined that the price for PCR test is IDR 275,000 for Java and Bali Islands and IDR 300,000 for islands out of Java and Bali Islands.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which at first was only a health problem, has become an economic problem and a social crisis. In some countries such as Malaysia or Brazil, the people have even forced the government to resign due to incompetence in handling COVID-19 in their countries.
For countries with poor health systems and weak economic capacity, such as Indonesia, for example, the COVID-19 pandemic has had dire economic and health impacts. The handling of COVID-19 in Indonesia has also led to human rights violations by government officials when they forced and intimidated the people to comply with health protocols in order to deal with COVID-19. The government even forced the people to get vaccinated.
Indonesia's economy during the COVID-19 period immediately began to fall. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth experienced a very sharp decline from 5.02 percent in 2019 to minus 2.07 percent in 2020 (Central Agency of Statistics, 2021). As a result, predictably, poverty is getting higher, employment opportunities are disappearing, layoffs are happening everywhere, so the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is stuck. As a result of the corona pandemic, it is estimated that the Indonesian people who have fallen into the valley of poverty have reached 10.98 percent or 4.86 million people (Ministry of Finance, 2020: 33).
What the Government will do to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021 is still vague, confusing, and makes people's lives more difficult. What has been seen is the increase in the amount of foreign debt that has been carried out to overcome COVID-19, especially for economic recovery and vaccination programs.
The month of July 2021 will always be remembered by the people of Indonesia as the most terrible month due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The hospitals are collapsed. Oxygen tube is depleted, causing the rapid death of COVID-19 patients. Medicines and oxygen tubes are expensive and hard to come by, because the price is being played by the pharmaceutical industry, which is profiting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The government is busy blaming the people for not obeying health protocols, while confining people at home with rules that change every week but relatively not providing any assistance to the poor, except for 10 kilograms of rice. Social assistance for basic necessities for the poor in the context of handling COVID-19 was corrupted by the Minister of Social Affairs Juliari Batubara which already was being sentenced for 12 years by the court.
The number of COVID-19 patients who died during July 2021 compared to June 2021, increased by 348 percent or around 27,409 cases (See Kompas, 5 August 2021, “Up 348 percent in July, Covid-19 Patient Deaths Expected to Decrease in August.") Nationally, the Indonesian population who have died due to COVID-19 as of May 1 2022 is 156,273 people (Republic of Indonesia's COVID-19 Task Force), most of which were happened in 2021.
In the field of human rights, the government handling of COVID-19 in Indonesia has also drawn criticism. In the 2021 human rights report published by the United States Department of State on Indonesia (Indonesia 2021 Human Rights Report), the Indonesian government is considered to have violated human rights during the COVID-19 period by requiring PeduliLindungi services to its citizens. The PeduliLindung application is considered to violate the privacy of people's movements and steal personal data of citizens without permission (see Kompas.com, 19 April 2022, "Need for a New World Order.")
This human rights report was prepared based on input from various non-governmental organizations in Indonesia as well as from other sources regarding the human rights situation in Indonesia during the COVID-19 period. Because of this, the human rights report compiled by the United States Department of State cannot simply be ignored, even though its contents have been strongly refuted by Indonesian officials.
If you look at this human rights report, the situation of fulfilling and respecting human rights in Indonesia during the COVID-19 period is very poor. Especially related to freedom of opinion and organization, freedom of movement, personal freedom, militarization of civil society life, and repression of freedom of expression. All the repression carried out by the Indonesian government was aimed to prevent deaths from COVID-19. In reality, the victims of COVID-19 in Indonesia have reached 156,273 deaths, as of May 1, 2022. So that the pressure and repression by the Indonesian Government during COVID-19 period that violates human rights cannot be justified in a democratic country that prioritizes respect for human rights.
BBC News Indonesia, 16 March 2020, “Virus corona: Jokowi umumkan langkah pengendalian Covid-19, tapi tanpa komando nasional.”
BBC News Indonesia, 23 August 2021, “Juliari Batubara divonis 12 tahun penjara.”
Central Agency of Statistics, Republic of Indonesia, 2021.
COVID-19 Task Force of Indonesia, See https://covid.go.id, May 1, 2022.
CNN Indonesia, 16 March 2020, “Media Asing Soroti Jokowi Minum Jamu Untuk Tangkal Corona.”
Kementerian Keuangan (Ministry of Finance) Republik Indonesia, Kerangka Ekonomi Makro dan Pokok-pokok Kebijakan Fiskal Tahun 2021: Percepatan Pemulihan Ekonomi dan Penguatan Reformasi. Jakarta: Kementerian Keuangan, 2020.
Kompas daily newspaper, 16 April 2020, “Upaya-upaya TNI dalam Penanganan Pandemi COVID-19.”
Kompas daily newspaper, 20 December 2020, “Kebijakan Pemerintah Menangani Covid-19 Sepanjang Semester II 2020.”
Kompas daily newspaper, 5 August 2021, “Up 348 percent in July, Covid-19 Patient Deaths Expected to Decrease in August."
Kompas daily newspaper, 19 April 2022, "Need for a New World Order."https://laporcovid19.org/tentang-kami
Liputan6.com, 19 May 2022, “Perbandingan Harga Tes PCR, Antigen hingga Masker Dulu dan Sekarang, Bak Bumi dan Langit.”
Sindonews.com, 5 August 2021, “21 Juta Penduduk Indonesia Sudah Divaksin Covid-19 Secara Lengkap.”
Tempo daily newspaper, 16 July 2021, “Batalkan Vaksinasi Berbayar, Jokowi Pastikan Seluruh Vaksin Covid-19 Gratis.”
Tempo daily newspaper, 28 July 2021, “Breaking News: Korupsi Bansos Covid, Juliari Batubara Dituntut 11 Tahun Penjara.”
Tirto, 6 July 2021, "Kasus Meninggal Melonjak & RS Kolaps, Negara Gagal Tangani COVID?" https://tirto.id/ght5
United States, Department of State, Indonesia 2021 Human Rights Report.
 See Kompas daily newspaper, “Upaya-upaya TNI dalam Penanganan Pandemi COVID-19,” 16 April 2020.
 See Tempo daily newspaper, “Breaking News: Korupsi Bansos Covid, Juliari Batubara Dituntut 11 Tahun Penjara,” 28 Juli 2021.
 See Liputan6.com, “Perbandingan Harga Tes PCR, Antigen hingga Masker Dulu dan Sekarang, Bak Bumi dan Langit,” 19 Mei 2022.
 See BBC News Indonesia, “Juliari Batubara divonis 12 tahun penjara,” 23 Agustus 2021.
Illustrators: Zheng Ting-Zhi