Photo by Nuh Rizqi from Pexels.

2021 was another tough year – marked by a devastating Delta wave in Indonesia, and prolonged lockdowns in both Indonesia and Melbourne. Unsurprisingly, Covid-19 continued to dominate the blog and podcast, but our most popular articles and podcast episodes also reflected some of the biggest stories in Indonesia this year. Here are some of the articles and episodes that attracted your attention in 2021. Thanks for your support during another long and difficult year, and we look forward to seeing you again in 2022. Let’s hope the new year is a better one for us all.

Indonesia at Melbourne:

First ‘separatists’, now ‘terrorists’: another way for Indonesia to avoid solving West Papuans’ historical grievances

In April, the government decided to label West Papuan resistance groups as ‘terrorists’. In one of our most-read articles of the year, Ratu Durotun Nafisah wrote that it was a term of stigma aimed at delegitimising the ongoing struggle for independence, and would only further complicate efforts to resolve conflict in the region.

The Indonesian government’s approach to Papua is starting to look like insanity

In another very popular post, Usman Hamid and Ari Pramuditya from Amnesty International Indonesia also responded to the decision, writing that the government seemed unwilling to address the racial abuse, marginalisation, exploitation of resources, and impunity that have existed in Papua for decades.

Activists held a mock funeral for the KPK when the KPK Law was revised in 2019. Photo by Sigid Kurniawan for Antara.

An administrative war at the KPK: employees versus leadership

One of the biggest stories of the year was the ongoing destruction of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), previously one of Indonesia’s most trusted institutions. Sofie Arjon Schütte described the dubious process used to dismiss some of the KPK’s most dedicated employees, and discussed the implications for the future for this one-time icon of the reform era.

BRIN and the bureaucratisation of knowledge in Indonesia

Robertus Robet examined the controversy surrounding the newly established National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) – a centralised body bringing diverse research institutes and ministerial research centres under a single agency. The establishment of BRIN, Robet wrote, was just the latest example of the Indonesian state’s long-running effort to supervise and control the intellectual community.

Academic freedom: another victim of the ITE law?

The sentencing of Aceh-based academic Saiful Mahdi for defamation refocused attention on the problematic Law on Electronic Information and Transactions (the so-called ITE Law). Herlambang P Wiratraman reviewed the case and the declining state of academic freedom in Indonesia. Civil society and media pressure eventually saw Joko Widodo eventually grant Saiful amnesty in early October.

A mural depicting President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo in Tangerang, Banten, was painted over by authorities in August. Photo by Fajrin Raharjo for AFP.

Mural controversies expose the poor health of Indonesian democracy

In another of the most-read pieces of 2021, Maidina Rahmawati and Erasmus AT Napitupulu, from the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR), wrote that the repressive police response to three murals criticising the government’s management of the Covid-19 pandemic had echoes of Soeharto’s authoritarian New Order period, and went against the democratic and human rights protections guaranteed in Indonesian law since 1998.

Mandatory vaccination will not solve Indonesia’s Covid-19 problem

As Indonesia began rolling out its Covid-19 vaccination program in early 2021, Amnesty International Indonesia’s Usman Hamid wrote that the government was focused too much on penalising citizens and not enough on public health measures like contact tracing, social distancing and providing clear and accurate information.

Anxiety, unpreparedness and distrust: Indonesia’s careful response to AUKUS

The surprise unveiling of the AUKUS security partnership stirred anxieties about Indonesia’s strategic role in the Indo-Pacific region. Muhammad Waffaa Kharisma examined the Indonesian response to AUKUS and its implications for trust and stability.

The female face of terrorism in Indonesia

In early 2021, an Indonesian woman opened fire at police at the National Police Headquarters in Jakarta. This incident occurred just days after a husband and wife launched a suicide attack on a church in Makassar, South Sulawesi. Lies Marcoes wrote that examinations of and responses to violent extremism too often neglect gender analysis.

Can Australia’s declining Indonesia literacy survive Covid-19 cuts?

Virtual ‘study abroad’ programs have kept students engaged with Indonesia despite the Covid-19 pandemic. But as Elena Williams wrote, government, universities and business need to provide students with more opportunities to continue building on their language and Indonesian expertise in Australia.


Talking Indonesia:


Dr Sophie Chao – Papua, food and racism

How do racial discrimination and agricultural development interact to affect indigenous communities’ right to food in West Papua? Dr Annisa Beta spoke to Dr Sophie Chao in the most popular episode of Talking Indonesia in 2021.

Photo by Ahmad Tri Hawaari.

Dicky Budiman – the worsening Covid-19 crisis

As Indonesia experienced a worrying surge in Covid-19 cases in late June, Dr Jemma Purdey spoke to Dr Dicky Budiman from Griffith University to try to make sense of the situation.

Dr Ahmad Khoirul Umam – the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK)

Two years after the revision of the Law on the KPK, Dr Dave McRae spoke to anti-corruption expert Dr Ahmad Khoirul Umam about how the controversial revisions affected the KPK’s ability to investigate corruption, and what lies ahead for the once-celebrated institution.

Dr Oki Radadianto Sutopo – Covid-19 and creative workers

The Covid-19 pandemic has seen Yogyakarta’s famed arts scene grind to a halt. Dr Charlotte Setijadi spoke to Dr Oki Radianto Sutopo about how the city’s young artists managed during the pandemic – how have they made ends meet while still channelling their creative passions?

Dr Andreasta Meliala – Covid-19 and the private sector

To help speed up the Covid-19 vaccine rollout and keep the economy ticking over, the government enlisted the help of the private sector to launch and pay for inoculation drives. Dr Charlotte Setijadi spoke to Dr Andreasta Meliala about the role of the private sector, and concerns about vaccine supply, corruption, and low health standards.

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