Jakarta: Two high profile Australian scholars have been denied entry to Indonesia amid a crackdown by local authorities on foreigners doing academic research.
Australia-based Indonesia experts Dr Ross Tapsell from the Australian National University and Dr David McRae from Melbourne University, have both been stopped at the border in the past three months and sent home.
Dr Ross Tapsell, an Indonesia expert at the Australian National University
The men both travelled to the country for individual research purposes but used tourism visas, rather than a specific research visa, which is required for academic research – clearly a breach of the rules.
But according to academic sources, it has been quite common for researchers from all over the world to enter Indonesia on tourist visas because the process to gain an academic visa can take six months and is onerous.
An Indonesian Immigration department spokesman confirmed that several other academics had also been denied entry for research projects in recent months in what amounts to an apparent crackdown.
The spokesman would not say how many other academics had been knocked back, or which countries they had come from.
Tapsell is the author of several books on Indonesian politics and society, including the recent Media Power in Indonesia, while McRae has edited and contributed to several books on these topics too. Neither responded to requests for comment on Tuesday, while several other high profile Australian-based Indonesia experts also declined to comment.
The Indonesian Ministry of Research, Technology and Higher Education, has been vetting visa applications for academics for about 10 years. Last year, the Ministry announced it was tightening the rules for academics wishing to come to Indonesia to do research. They declined to comment on the story.
Before the ministry took over, however, the respected Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) considered academic applications.
Professor Dewi Fortuna Anwar, one of the country's leading political scientists, said the country needed to re-examine its rules for foreign academics, saying the current visa requirements were too onerous, and could be "detrimental to the advancement of knowledge in Indonesia".
University of Melbourne academic Dr Dave Mcrae.
"When it was LIPI who were responsible for coordinating research we were able to judge on substance whether the research had merit, whether local researchers would benefit.
"Once it went to the ministry, those who attended the meeting [to decide on visas] were more … concerned with sticking to the letter of the law," she said.
"At a time when we want to develop international networks, to improve the quality of local institutions, which need greater international cooperation, at the same time there are all these barriers being put in place that aren't researcher-friendly."
A law before the Indonesian parliament, called the "Science and Technology bill", would make it even more difficult for academics wanting to study in Indonesia. Dewi said it would require foreign academics to have a local counterpart "to be responsible for the foreign researcher, even if they commit a crime.
"That’s clearly a deterrent," she said.
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