Ikhsan Abdul Hakim – The actions by North Sumatra University (USU) Rector Runtung Sitepu in closing down the student press publication Suara USU (Voice of USU) has been criticised by many parties.
On Thursday March 28, an alliance of protesters called the Literacy Defense Coalition (Koalisi Bela Literasi, KOBEL) condemned the closure during the 579th Kamisan (Thursday action) in front of the State Palace in Central Jakarta.
Nadya Melati, one of the participants at the action said that the USU rectorate’s actions are not in line with academic behaviour and believes that it perpetuates the spread of hatred against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) minorities.
“Academic [institutions] should think [first]. It’s hard to believe that just because of a short story they immediately close down the student press. LGBT people are just ordinary people like us. Why must we hate them? Academia should defend minorities, not instead spread hatred and be against criticism”, she said when contacted via WhatsApp.
The Greater Jakarta Student Press Forum (FPMJ), one of the groups that took part in initiating the formation of KOBEL, slammed the rector’s decision to sack the Suara USU editorial board.
In a press release received by Ekspresi, KOBEL said that Sitepu’s actions were arbitrary and do not reflect the spirit of academia. In addition to this, KOBEL also slammed the USU rectorate for being homophobic and discriminating against LGBT people.
The group also urged the rector not to intervene in the journalistic activities of the student press and demanded that Sitepu resign from his position as rector because he does not have an intellectual or humanitarian attitude.
The sacking of 18 members of the Suara USU editorial board followed the publication of a short story titled When Everyone Refuses My Presence Near Her (Ketika Semua Menolak Kehadiran Diriku di Dekatnya).
The short story, which tells the story of a lesbian, was published by Suara USU on Tuesday March 12. Sitepu believed that the short story contained pornography and conflicted with the values of the USU.
On Monday March 25, Sitepu summoned the Suara USU editorial board to a meeting where he took issue over the short story which he claimed promoted LGHT and contained pornography. The Suara USU editorial board however countered that the short story did not contain pornography.
Because of their stand, Sitepu decided to sack the entire editorial board through a document designated SK Rektor No. 1319/UNS.1.R/SK/KMS/2019.
Suara USU itself has issued a press release in response to the arbitrary sacking demanding that Sitepu revoke the decision saying that Sitepu is restricting the freedom of expression of the student press.
Suara USU also denied that the short story was campaigning for LGBT saying that the context of the short story was “a story about how minority groups are discriminated against”.
The USU rectorate’s actions add to a long list of universities in Indonesia which consider LGBT to be a crime.
The Support Group and Resource Center on Sexuality Studies (SGRC) recorded that between 2015 and 2019 there were at least 13 Indonesian universities which discriminated against LGBT people. The Minister for Research, Technology and Higher Education, Mohammad Nasir, has even said he wants to ban all LGBT activities on campus.
[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was “Aksi Kamisan Kecam Pembubaran Struktur Suara USU”.]