University lectures defend students over satirical criticism of VP Ma'ruf Amin

CNN Indonesia – November 11, 2021
Screenshot of satirical Unmul BEM Instagram posting – November 2, 2021 (Pikiran-Rakyat)

Jakarta – The Mulawarman University (Unmul) coalition of lecturers has defended the Student Executive Council (BEM) at their campus after they launched a satirical criticism of a visit by Vice President Ma'ruf Amin to Samarinda in East Kalimantan (Kaltim) on Tuesday November 2.

The BEM Unmul's criticism was uploaded on the Instagram account @bemkmunmul where they wrote, "Kaltim is in morning – the Freedom Palace Statue has arrived in Samarinda", accompanied by a photograph of Amin. The satirical critic ended with the president of the Unmul BEM student community, Abdul Muhammad Rachim, being accused of defamation by campus authorities.

In addition to this, the campus authorities also urged BEM Unmul to remove the posting. According to the coalition of lecturers, the pressure being brought to bear on the BEM Unmul is the same as silencing academic freedom of speech.

At least 12 Unmul lecturers from several different faculties reacted against Rachim being questioned by the police and the rectorate's moves towards the student's posting.

In a position statement made at a virtual press conference, Unmul faculty of law lecturer Herdiansyah Hamzah said that the rectorate's position as an institution is far from the principles of academic freedom as protected by the 1945 Constitution, specifically Article 28E Paragraph (3). The protection of academic freedom is also regulated under Law Number 12/2012 on Higher Education.

"The campus bureaucracy should be responsible for ensuring that academic freedom is properly maintained in all academic activities, not the reverse", said Hamzah on Wednesday November 10.

"As part of the Unmul community, we convey this criticism as a form of our love for Unmul", he added.

In addition to this, they also said that the police's response in summoning Rachim is a form of restricting freedom of expression for academic activities. The lecturers also criticised the campus rectorate for asking that the posting be removed.

"The campus [authorities] are fumbling around in respecting differences of opinion, as if they want to become the sole interpreter of the incident", said Hamzah.

Hamzah explained that the social media posting conveyed by the Unmul BEM was a metaphorical criticism which should not be responded to excessively. He said he regrets the polemic which has developed which has in fact been dominated by the use of the metaphor of Amin as a Palace statue.

Yet, he said, there is something which is more substantive then discussing the use of the Unmul BEM's metaphor. Hamzah explained that a metaphor is a high level language style which reflects the intellectual level of a person. Because of this, they believe that the decision to silence metaphorical language styles means an effort to kill off intelligence and intellectuality.

"Silencing and trying to kill off metaphorical language styles means trying to kill off intelligence and the intellectuality of the metaphor's creator", said Hamzah.

Furthermore, Hamzah said they support the metaphorical criticism used by the Unmul BEM to depict the performance of Vice President Ma'ruf Amin. He agreed with the criticism because Amin is mostly seen as being silent and failing to take a position on public dissatisfaction with the government's performance.

Yet, he said, like the president, the vice president is also elected directly by the ordinary people so they have the same responsibility to bring prosperity to society.

"So absolutely, the sarcastic tone of the metaphorical sentence 'Freedom Palace Statue' is a criticism of a vice president who is seen has having failed to carry out his function, not against him personally", said Hamzah.

Meanwhile in response to the Unmul BEM's posting and the rectorate and police's response to it, Vice Presidential Spokesperson Masduki Baidlowi said, "The Vice President was conducting a working visit there. If there are people who agree or disagree with this it's not something that the Vice President must respond to".

Baidlowi asserted that Amin should not have to be in a position to respond to the measures taken by the local police and the Unmul rectorate in relation to the Unmul BEM's posting. (thr, rzr/kid)

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Koalisi Dosen Kritik Rektorat Unmul, Bela BEM soal Kritik Ma'ruf Amin".]