From 1996: Free East Timor! Free Indonesian political prisoners!

Wednesday, August 21, 1996

By Max Lane

The dictatorship of President Suharto has occupied East Timor for twenty years and has been responsible for the death of at least 200,000 people.

In December 1995, in defiance of the military-backed dictatorship, almost 50 students and young workers, together with 50 East Timorese, climbed over the fences of the Dutch and Russian embassies in Jakarta to demonstrate against the occupation of East Timor. The young Indonesian activists knew that when they left the embassies they would have to deal with the dictatorship’s security apparatus. There was more than just a chance that they would face jail and torture once they left the Embassies.

All of the Indonesian youth were members of the militant People’s Democratic Party (PRD); they included its president, Budiman Sujatmiko. Three days later they were forced out of the embassies and were jailed. Pressure from the embassies, especially the Dutch, got them out after two days. The next morning Budiman Sujatmiko, together with Indonesia’s most outstanding and courageous woman leader, Dita Sari (26), were leading 15,000 factory workers from the city of Solo in a peaceful demonstration for wage improvements, when the protest was attacked by military forces; many workers were injured and arrested.

Under threat of death

Now Budiman, Dita Sari and 16 other members of the PRD, as well as Muchtar Pakpahan, the leader of SBSI, one of the two independent trade unions, are under threat of death.

The Suharto dictatorship, taking advantage of the July 27 riots which it provoked by a murderous attack on the headquarters of the People’s Democratic Party (PDI), has accused the PRD of being behind the riots. The dictatorship has launched a massive propaganda campaign calling the PRD communist. This accusation is primarily intended to terrorise the population, who all know that Suharto organised the slaughter of at least 1 million members and supporters of the Indonesian Communist Party in 1965, along with many others opposed to military rule.

General Syarwal Hamid, head of political affairs for the armed forces, has ordered the arrest of all PRD personnel. The dictatorship’s well-financed battalions of street gangs have been ordered to scour the country for PRD members and leaders.

So far only 14 members have been captured. Dita Sari, Coen Hussein Pontoh and Mohammed Saleh had been arrested on July 8, at the 20,000-strong peaceful demonstration of Surabaya workers. Student activists Lisa Februanti, Syamsul Bachri, Sukarni Budi Kasih, Didit Sutopo, Budi Pratomo, Zainal Abidin and Trio Johanes Marpaung were captured on August 2. Budiman Sujatmiko, Petrus H. Hariyanto, PRD general secretary, J. Kurniawan, head of the PRD Organisational Development Department, I. Pranowo (Bowo), secretary of PPBI (Indonesian Centre for Labour Struggle), Garda Sembiring, chairperson of the Jabotabek branch of SMID (Student Solidarity for Indonesian Democracy), Suroso, secretary of the Jabotabek branch of SMID , Victor da Costa and Beny, from Jabotabek branch of SMID were captured on the night of August 11.

Hamid and other military spokespeople have announced that the PRD leaders are likely to be tried under the 1962 anti-subversion law, which carries the maximum penalty of death. The regime has a proven record of executing political opponents whom it considers communist.

Torture reports

PRD leaders in Indonesia fear for the safety of the prisoners. All PRD leaders and members are being held in isolation. On August 16, Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor (ASIET) received reports from reliable sources in Jakarta that the PRD leaders were subjected to electric shock and other torture to force confessions. There is also concern for Hendrik Sirait, a member of the Pijar student activist network, who was detained in early August. His arrest has not been acknowledged, and his whereabouts are still unknown.

Budiman’s parents have sought assistance from the Legal Aid Institute to see Budiman, but so far to no avail.

PRD fights back

PRD leaders have reported to ASIET by letter that their organisation remains 90% intact, and they are reorganising to operate temporarily underground. They have appealed for support and assistance from democratic people in Australia and solidarity for their imprisoned leaders and members, as well as for Muchtar Pakpahan.

PRD leaders have been giving “guerilla interviews” to the media. They arrange quick meetings with journalists at roadside coffee stalls and then disappear again. In one such interview, Andi Arif, the president of SMID, rejected any involvement by PRD in the July 27 riots, stating that the PRD supported the strategy of organised and directed mass mobilisation, not rioting.

He said that while most of the rioting was the spontaneous response of the masses, the burning of buildings was carried out by professionals. “Somebody else wanted to make use of these events”, he was quoted as saying inTiras news weekly on August 9.

Interviews with Budiman before his arrest were published in other weeklies.

The PRD has continued to send statements overseas from the underground. The PRD overseas representative, Nico Warouw, has then broadcast them back into Indonesia via fax and email to pro-democratic organisations and the media.

On August 12, PRD leader Astika Anom issued a statement from the underground on the August 11 arrest of Budiman and his fellow activists. Anom announced:

“The arrest of these PRD leaders does not mean that the struggle for democracy in Indonesia is lost. We are certain that the enthusiasm and courage of the people have not faded. Propaganda and terror by the regime continue. Even President Suharto himself has spoken: ‘Society must guard against groups which act in the name of the people and democracy, because they will fracture national unity’. Once more, the people must be certain that all the regime’s propaganda and terror only mask the regime’s fear of people’s power. The regime is in a state of panic and confusion. Ministers are taking different views.”

Anom ended his statement with the following call:

“In this atmosphere, PRD calls on all of its cadre, its mass organisations, all of the Indonesian people: do not forsake those who have sacrificed themselves for the sovereignty of the people — do not submit to fear and tyranny.

“Tighten our ranks, consolidate, produce leaflets, discuss, act on the national leadership’s and organisation’s instructions, ever more guard discipline, guard unity, help and protect one another, provide moral and organisational support and most importantly: Be with the people — trust the people — struggle with the people. There is no place which is truly safe, there is no place of calm, there is no belief as sincere as that given by the people.”

From GLW issue 243, 1996 (prior to change in editorial control, 2007.)

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