Human Rights Defender Profile: Febi Yonesta of Indonesia

Human Rights First is running a series of profiles on human rights defenders we work with in various countries. These profiles help to explain their work, motivations, and challenges.

How did you become an activist?
When I was still a law student, I was active in various student organizations including the ASEAN Law Student Association, Law Student Assembly, Hasanuddin English Debating Society, and Makassar Judicial Monitoring. I found myself more involved in Human Rights Advocacy when I joined The Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH Jakarta) in 2005 through its Legal Aid Workshop. At that time, my mind opened up to the ugly truth of the human rights situation in Indonesia. The poor and the oppressed suffer from unjust policies imposed by the Indonesian government. They are forcibly evicted from their houses without any adequate compensation or even relocation and the poor are left homeless. Companies that enact downsizing policies do not compensate the labor force that remains jobless. Minority groups also suffer continuous discrimination and violence yet, no clear government policies exist to overcome all of these issues. I learned that The Legal Aid Institute has made significant contributions to the human rights and democracy struggle in Indonesia. It is because of this that I’m thrilled and encouraged to follow the legal aid lawyer path in maintaining the human rights struggle.

Do you even see yourself as a human rights defender?
I see myself simply as a lawyer who is very concerned about human right issues and strives to always give my best as a human rights advocate.

How do you perceive the current situation in Indonesia i.e. blasphemy laws, internet freedoms, religious minority groups?
The current situation in Indonesia regarding religious freedom is extremely bad. Religious based intolerance; discrimination and violence have increased into something that is really horrifying and difficult to resolve without any sincere willingness on the part of the government and key figures to take part in resolving it. The biggest problem is, in most incidents, that the government acquiesces in the act of intolerance and discrimination by using the situation to gain a political advantage which only adds more suffering to the religious minorities who are always the victims. Religious based intolerance and discrimination in Indonesia is legitimized by the anti-blasphemy law no. 1/pnps/1965 where different religious teachings, interpretation, as well as expression are prone to criminalization or violence under the law. Some cases have shown that this law has been abusively applied to those who deemed as heretic or deviant from the mainstream religious perspective. Information technology such as the Internet, has actually become the easiest way to disseminate ideas but in the same sense has been utilized to spread religious hatred. The information and electronic transaction law is sometimes used to restrict as well as criminalize ideas and religious expression that contradict the mainstream ideology, and is used as another means to pursue religious hatred incited through the Internet.

What do you want to see happen in Indonesia – outcome based?
As long as the anti-blasphemy law and the problematic provision in the Information and Electronic Transaction law still exist, they can be abused and exploited by the intolerant groups to pressure the government to enact laws against religious minorities in a discriminatory manner. We have once filed a petition against the anti-blasphemy law where the Constitutional court saw the law as problematic therefore recommended that the law be revised to avoid exploitation and abuse. However, up until now there has been no sign from the government to revise the law anytime in the near future. Therefore, I am keeping a close eye on the continued struggle for a legal framework that guarantees religious freedom and will continue to advocate for any legislation, including amendments to said laws which lay ground for religious intolerance and discrimination.

What risks do you see are posed on your everyday life, if any?
Working in the human right field is not easy especially in terms of fulfilling the economic needs of my family. With my education and professional background I should ordinarily be able to earn more than enough to fulfill my family needs. Along with working with the religious freedom issue, the risks are quite apparent, especially when I have to stand face to face with the intolerant groups and receive constant assault, harassment, and threats for defending religious freedom. The temptation to leave my human rights work sometimes crosses my mind but my commitment to keep on working in human right area does not waiver because as long as the poor and the oppressed still exist and suffer from human rights violation and religious minorities are still facing severe acts of intolerance and discrimination then I will continue doing what I am doing in hope of a better future for Indonesia.

What is a normal day in the life of…Febionesta?
Although I am based in Jakarta, I reside in Bogor (a suburban city), which is my hometown. I was born and raised there. Thus during the week, I need to get up early in the morning around 6am to leave for work around 7am. It usually takes one and half hours by train to get my office. I always spend my train ride reading the news, tweeting and checking my emails. However, with my new post as director of LBH Jakarta it has certainly impacted my daily life. I really need to use as much of my spare time to think about management, coordination, and responding to all my emails. Most of the time, I return home around 9pm or even 11pm and I don’t have enough time to play with my kids. I do try to spend any spare time I have left to have quality time with my family. Most of my time now is spent organizing meetings, talking to communities, discussing cases, maintaining advocacy networks, talking to the media, and so on. I also try to relax by playing musical instruments and writing songs (where some of them are written about people’s suffering and human rights issues).


Published on September 19, 2012


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