There have been a few moments in recent Indonesian history that embarrassingly revealed to the world how little many Indonesians knew about the history of Nazi Germany, to the point that some even openly expressed their infatuation with the genocidal authoritarian regime.
One was the opening of a Nazi-themed cafe in the city of Bandung (now closed, fortunately) and the other was the Nazi-themed music video that celebrity musician Ahmad Dhani made in 2014 in support of presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto (you can see part of it at the start of the below video).
Recently, Ahmad Dhani was sentenced to 18 months in jail for spreading hate speech (not Nazi-related) and his jailing has become an issue for supporters of Prabowo, who is challenging President Joko Widodo again in April’s election after losing to him in 2014. Prabowo’s supporters have claimed that Dhani is the victim of politicized criminalization by the government with one going so far as to claim that Dhani’s current jail is worse than an actual Nazi concentration camp.
That would be Deputy Speaker of the House Fadli Zon, who is also a senior member of Prabowo’s Gerindra party (and a proud supporter of Russian leader Vladimir Putin). Fadli has been a harsh critic of Dhani’s conviction and — after visiting Dhani at the Surabaya Class 1 Prison in which he is currently serving his sentence — declared that former Indonesian Idol judge was living in conditions worse than a specific Nazi concentration camp that he claims to have visited.
“I don’t think this [prison] is humane. I have been to the Nazi’s Auschwitz concentration camp and it at least had beds. As it is, I think the conditions there are still better,” Fadli said on Wednesday as quoted by CNN Indonesia.
Fadli justified that statement by noting that the cells at the Surabaya prison were over 500% overcapacity.
“[A prison] that should be only for 550 people is filled by 2,779 people, which is unbelievable,” Fadli said.
There is no doubt that Fadli is correct to say that the overcrowding situation in Ahmad Dhani’s prison (as well as most other Indonesian prisons) is inhumane. Photos from other prisons have shown inmates sleeping in improvised hammocks, hung from cell bars, because there was no other room to sleep even on the floor. It’s a wide-ranging humanitarian crisis that the Indonesian legal system desperately needs to address. Fadli acknowledged this and noted that the huge number of people incarcerated for minor drug charges was a big part of the problem.
But, even considering all that, for Fadli to compare an Indonesian detention center to a Nazi concentration camp like Auschwitz, where historians say around 1.1 million people were systematically murdered, is still an absolute moral outrage that betrays a fundamental lack of historical knowledge and sensitivity.
At any rate, the prison’s warden, Andi Surya, acknowledged that Dhani was staying in a 2×4 meter cell, designed for a maximum capacity of five prisoners which currently houses 10. Andi said that it was a consequence of a lack of space and an overflow of prisoners.
Dhani may be the first Indonesian to be sentenced for two violations of the controversial Information and Electronic Transactions Act (UU ITE) — which criminalizes the dissemination of hate speech, defamation and more online — in quick succession.
He was sentenced to 18 months in prison for spreading hate speech under UU ITE in the South Jakarta District Court in late January before being transferred to the East Java capital of Surabaya this month so he can undergo yet another UU ITE hate speech trial involving an incident last year in which he allegedly called members of the Banser youth wing of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia and the world’s largest Muslim organization, “idiots” for trying to protest him.