Prodita Sabarini is the Editor of The Conversation Indonesia. Prior to receiving a Masters of Human Rights Law and Policy from UNSW in 2012, Prodita worked for 7 years as a reporter for the Jakarta-based English daily The Jakarta Post. She was the Elizabeth Neuffer Fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Center for International Studies in 2013-2014, before returning to Indonesia to join The Conversation as Jakarta editor in 2014.
Tell us about your career in Indonesia before coming to Australia, and what led you to study a Masters of Human Rights Law & Policy at UNSW?
I decided to study International Human Rights Law and Policy after finishing my undergraduate Degree in Communication Science at Universitas Padjadjaran Bandung, and becoming a journalist. In my work I encountered people who were marginalised and people whose rights were being violated. I wanted to have a more thorough understanding about the problems of human rights violations across the world and the strategies that are available to promote and protect human rights.
How has your time at UNSW, both as a student and an intern at the Diplomacy Training Program (DTP), shaped your career?
Studying at UNSW helped me to understand the history behind international human rights conventions and the philosophy of law, and how laws and norms formed and developed. It also made me able to push myself and juggle a quite intense study period, and gave me confidence in tackling other challenging work and projects following my time studying at UNSW. My time at the DTP gave me an understanding of the importance of creating a strong network across the region and how building these connections can help human rights activists to learn from each other and support each other.
Tell us about your career path since completing your Masters at UNSW in 2012.
I returned to The Jakarta Post where I produced in-depth reports on the political situation in Papua, and religious intolerance and violence in Indonesia, particularly attacks against Shiite minority.
In 2013, I won the Elizabeth Neuffer Fellowship from the International Women’s Media Foundation. As a fellow, I was an associate researcher at the Center for International Studies at MIT in the USA, as well as an intern for the Boston Globe and the New York Times. Returning to Indonesia in 2014, I joined The Conversation as their Jakarta editor. I led the English language coverage of The Conversation in Indonesia, commissioning Indonesian academics and beyond to write high-quality analysis about Indonesia and new research.
In September you launched The Conversation Indonesia. As Editor of this publication, tell us a little about it and what you hope will be achieved.
The Conversation is an innovation in journalism. It’s a not-for-profit online media published under Creative Commons license presenting high-quality evidence-based analysis from academics and researchers that are free to read and republish.
We aim to inject public discourse with facts and evidence to improve the quality of public debate and to strengthen democracy. We do that by unlocking knowledge from universities and research institutions through collaborations between professional editors and academics and researchers. Our editors curate important analysis from academics about urgent and pressing issues that our society faces, with the goal of finding solutions.
The Conversation Indonesia publishes analysis in Indonesian and English. We hope to provide a valuable resource for the Indonesian public - from policy makers to students and home makers - and to also introduce research and perspectives from Indonesia to a global audience.
What do you see as the biggest human rights challenge facing Indonesia at the moment?
I think the biggest human rights challenge is the weak rule of law and the entrenched culture of impunity. Additionally, Indonesia has laws and regulations that limit certain rights. For example, we have a blasphemy law that not only limits freedom of speech but also is explicitly discriminatory towards religious minorities. In Papua, where military and police violence have been used to suppress a separatist movement, freedom of the press is curtailed with foreign press having to pass a long bureaucratic process to be allowed to report from Papua. Indonesia also has yet to provide adequate legal protection for marginalised groups such as the LGBT community, women, and people with disabilities.
I also believe the legacy of impunity from the 1965 massacre contributes to a weak rule of law. If Indonesia has yet to acknowledge that one of the biggest massacres in the 20th century had occurred in Indonesia and admit that it was wrong, the nation continues to live with a narrative that doesn’t punish violence and wrongdoings and even legitimises it.
But for that to change, there must be public awareness and public participation to demand the government to have a national dialogue on past human rights abuses. I think while Indonesian politics is still being dominated by political elites, including the military, with the hep of digital technology the Indonesian public now have more space to voice their concerns and hopes for the future of the country.
What was your favourite part of working and studying in Australia? What do you miss the most?
I love the blue sky, the beaches, and the wild life of Australia. I never forget walking by a park in Sydney during sunset and seeing dozens of cockatoos perching on electric wires. I even liked the sound of Ibises.
I miss being able to walk everywhere in nice weather (Jakarta where I live now is hot and humid that you can’t help but sweat if you walk for 10 minutes, not to mention having to inhale pollution from fumes). I also miss seeing the sun still up during summer nights.
I also miss the close friends that I made during my time studying in Australia. Those connections stay with me to today.
Who has been the biggest inspiration in your life?
There are many people I’ve encountered in my life that have been great inspirations.
My parents for prioritising education for their children and instilling a sense of humility in me.
Human rights lawyer and activist Nursyahbani Katjasungkana and other women’s rights activists in Indonesia. I have seen them face intimidation from intelligence officers with courage and grace and I am learning from them how to be find courage.
Molecular biologist, Sangkot Marzuki, president of the Indonesia Science Academy and one of the co-founders of The Conversation Indonesia Foundation. He supports and elevates young scientists around him to reach their best potential.
What is one thing that visitors to Jakarta shouldn’t leave without trying?
Try crossing a busy street. You will be amazed by how the traffic will stop with a good raise of a hand.