Indonesian Chinese Seek Basic Rights as Discrimination Prevails

The concern over the discrimination against ethnic Chinese in Indonesia is being raised as the group celebrates the Lunar New Year under limited freedom.
( [email protected] ) Jan 30, 2006 08:25 PM EST

The concern over the discrimination against ethnic Chinese in Indonesia is being raised as the group celebrates the Lunar New Year under limited freedom.

Last Wednesday, some 30 Indonesian Chinese women from the Poor Tionghoa Women Organization met the former president Abdurrahman Gus Dur in Central Jakarta and requested for help on obtaining their citizenship, according to Jakarta Post. They have failed to obtain birth certificates, ID cards, family card and a citizenship certificate (SBKRI) despite their families have lived in the country for decades.

During Gus Dur’s presidency, Indonesian Chinese were allowed to practice their faith and culture in public. His successor, Megawati Soekarnoputri, made the Chinese New Year a national holiday in 2002, Jakarta Post reported.

Report says that Indonesian Chinese have to pay at least Rp 500,000 for the ID card. In case they want to have their religion of Buddhist or Christian printed on the card, they have to pay at least Rp 350,000 also. For many Indonesian Chinese women from the low-income class, the lack of necessary citizenship cards prevented them from receiving government assistance.

The treatment violates Government Regulation No. 29/1999 ratifying the 1965 International Convention on The Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Rebeka Harsono from the Indonesian Anti-discrimination Foundation (LADI) told Jakarta Post.

In the world’s most populous Muslim nation, many Chinese are actually Buddhists or Christians, therefore they inevitably get caught up in anti-Christian sentiment, according to the Associated Press (AP).

The other complex reasons behind the discrimination against Indonesian Chinese dated back to the rule of the dictator Suharto. Not only ethnic Chinese are being considered as "potential communist sympathizers," but have they also been stereotyped as wealthy and successful compared to the native Indonesian with Malay origin, AP reported.

Suharto has once reinforced the law of banning the displays of Chinese culture, religion and language after tens of thousands of ethnic Chinese being killed during the anti-communist purges in the mid-1960s.

As the ban has been lifted in 2000, Indonesian Chinese are able to welcome the New Year following the Chinese tradition just as the rest of Asia nowadays. However, basic rights such as obtaining citizenship and legal recognition of non-Muslim religions among the Indonesian Chinese remain as serious concerns.

According to Agence France Presse (AFP), LADI estimates that 300,000 ethnic Chinese are prevented from obtaining citizenship documents. Teddy Yusuf, head of the Indonesian-Chinese Social Association blamed the Indonesian government of racism.

"Malaysians who have been living in Indonesia for one year who are Muslim and ethnic Malay can obtain an Indonesian identity card, but the Chinese can be here for seven generations and still be rejected," he said to AFP. "We still have discrimination here because of the culture and to change cultural attitudes, that needs time."

Indonesian Chinese made up between 2 percent and 5 percent of the country's 220 million people. Chinese first arrived in large numbers in the 15th century. They have soon become the chief trading class as the country's Dutch colonial rulers treated them better than other inhabitants.