The view from Cipinang prison
The view from Cipinang prison
By John Roosa
We are inside Jakarta's fortress-like Cipinang prison for a Sunday afternoon potluck lunch. The families and friends of the political prisoners have brought specially prepared home-cooked dishes for the day's celebration. Anom Astika, arrested last year along with the entire leadership of the People's Democratic Party (PRD), has just turned 26, and his sister has recently married.
All of Suharto's jailed foes, from 17 to 70 years old, from all different political tendencies, are gathered for the occasion. The hundred people here have been through painful times recently, but one would not know by looking at them now. There isn't a serious face around, and the laughter is as abundant as the food.
Looking around the hall, at the diverse enemies of the state, we realise that we are in one of the country's most important political centres.
There are five other PRD prisoners apart from Anom, three elderly men arrested back in 1965, one man who joined an Islamic resistance organisation, one youth sentenced to five years for "defaming the president", and several East Timorese who fought with the guerillas.
We are disappointed that Xanana Gusmao, the East Timorese leader captured in 1992, is unable to be here. Without a relative present, he is kept locked in his cell.
The ex-professor of engineering and ex-member of parliament, Sri Bintang, is here. In retaliation for his public criticisms, the regime has had him expelled from the United Development Party (PPP), fired from his job and tied down in court on bogus charges.
Sri Bintang is currently charged with subversion for sending out greeting cards with the slogans "Boycott the elections. Reject the re-election of President Suharto in 1998. Prepare a new government for the post-Suharto period."
The most recent additions to this collection of dissidents are several Megawati supporters of the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI), one of the three legal parties.
They were hauled in for various offences, such as tearing down the banners of Suryadi, the man who deposed Megawati as PDI president by chicanery and violence. Wearing bright red vests, the PDI's colour, with the party's logo of a bull's head on the back, the Megawati group look like they are dressed for the festival in Pamplona.
Wilson bin Nurtiyas, as the informal master of ceremonies, has everyone shaking with laughter at his opening remarks. As the PRD's point on East Timor, Wilson headed Indonesian People's Solidarity Struggle with the Maubere People, known by the acronym SPRIM.
The PRD was the only organisation in Indonesia openly to proclaim an alliance with the struggle for independence in East Timor — one reason the government was so determined to crush the PRD.
The PRD understood that what the government does in East Timor is just a much intensified version of what it does in the rest of the country.
Wilson helped organise a joint action between East Timorese students and SPRIM activists on December 7, 1995, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Indonesia's invasion. About 50 of them jumped over the fence of the Dutch embassy and another 50 jumped the fences of the Russian embassy.
SPRIM and the East Timorese students made a statement denouncing the continued occupation and called on other nations to support the East Timorese in their struggle for self-determination. They voluntarily left the two embassies the next day.
The police arrested them, tortured Wilson and some others, and then put them on a bus to an uncertain destination. The ever resourceful Wilson jumped out of the bus and proved fleeter of foot than the security guards.
Wilson has as much talent for mass organising as for scholarly writing. At 28, he has published an impressive number of articles on Indonesian history and delivered lectures at international labour conferences in India, Hong Kong and Australia.
Prior to his work in SPRIM, he was a labour organiser. His underground work of organising strikes and worker communities honed a crucial skill not taught at the universities: how to evade the police. He learned how to disappear when the police were riled after a strike and to re-emerge when they had moved on to other cases.
Prior to December '95, he never had to resort to crude methods such as footraces with the police.
Most of the mothers of the PRD prisoners are here, including Wilson's. Their good humour and determination are remarkable.
Last year, the state proclaimed the PRD to be public enemy number one and sent the military and police to harass the families of members. Suharto himself appeared on TV to denounce this party of 20-year-olds as the mastermind of the July 27 riots in Jakarta.
The PRD was called the reincarnation of the Indonesian Communist Party, which, in the lexicon of Suharto's New Order state, meant it was a satanic force bent on violence and mayhem. Outdoing itself for absurdity, the regime claimed that the riots were the cover for a PRD coup attempt.
In face of the full wrath of the country's military, the mothers have not been intimidated. Not one has blamed her son for being involved in left politics.
Wilson's mother, who spent hours making a delicious beef curry for the lunch, tells me, "They fight for the poor. There is no shame in that."
She has withstood eight sessions of police questioning and repeated visits of intelligence agents to her house. She has nursed her husband, who is partially paralysed after a stroke last year and whose condition sharply worsened because of the police harassment. Somehow she has eked out a living while both her son and husband have been unable to work.
Once she stated to journalists: "No, I will not allow anybody, any power, to rob the life that God entrusted to my womb. My blood and my soul are in my son's flesh and life. If any authority, especially of a despot, is going to rob my son's life, I will stand in front of him and defy him."
Wilson responded from prison by saying: "She's a very gentle person ... I've never heard such a strong statement coming out of her mouth before. How is it possible for my gentle mother to intimidate the military, which is supported by capital, the law and the bureaucracy?"
The charge of masterminding the July 27 riots was dropped by the prosecution when it came time to try the 14 PRD defendants.
After making such a hue and cry about the PRD attempting to stage a coup and spreading communism, the regime did not come up with a shred of evidence to back the charges. Ultimately, the PRD was charged with "contradicting the state ideology" — in other words, with ambiguously defined thought crimes.
Sitting nearby is the father of Budiman Sujatmiko, the PRD's president. He tells us that he distributed a statement of Budiman's at his place of work, Goodyear Tire, that refuted the military's allegations that the PRD was a communist force behind the riots. Goodyear management informed him that the company might get into some trouble if he didn't keep quiet. He decided to take an early retirement.
What continues to aggrieve both him and his wife is that General Syarwan Hamid, the military's "social and political affairs minister", has neither retracted nor apologised for his public remarks about them last year.
At the start of the crackdown, when the lies were flying thick and fast, Hamid claimed that they were communists. The press quickly discovered that Budiman's parents never had any connection to the banned Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), yet Hamid has refused to apologise. Being a general means never having to say you're sorry.
Budiman is being kept with four other PRD members in Salemba prison, across town. We visited them a couple days earlier. Budiman was, as I recalled from our first meeting several years ago, an excellent conversationalist and quick to laughter.
He didn't betray a trace of worry over the fact that he had just been sentenced to 13 years in jail. By the tone of the conversation, one would have thought we were in a pleasant cafe, not sitting on the concrete floor of a drab prison hall.
Budiman has been in prison for 10 months. Since he is a voracious reader, the isolation of prison life has not been as hard on him as on some of the others. He still looks healthy, thanks to the food the PRD relatives and friends bring.
We hand him the medicine we brought and ask what else he needs. "Could you bring me tapes of Inti-Illimani and Victor Jara? Also, please bring some literature on the Workers' Party in Brazil. We are very curious about it."
Budiman was arrested along with 33 other PRD members in August. How the police decided to release some and keep 11 others for trial is as mysterious as the rest of the regime's actions.
The three PRD members in Surabaya who had been arrested on the charge of disturbing the public a month before, for organising a 10,000-strong workers' demonstration, had their charges switched to subversion. Switching the charge after the arrest is illegal in Indonesia, but that hardly mattered to the pusillanimous judges.
The regime began the trials on December 12, two days after Human Rights Day. At first, the PRD patiently mounted a carefully constructed defence, though they could scarcely determine the precise charge from the prosecutors' incoherent, 300-page charge sheet.
It was a mishmash of quasi-legal jargon that boiled down to one basic idea: the PRD doesn't like the Suharto regime. The code phrase for this is "deviating from the state ideology of Pancasila". For good measure, the prosecutors added the charge of "spreading hatred", a catch-all invented by the Dutch colonial state for use against the nationalist movement.
The defendants wished to prove that their statements and actions were not against the "state ideology of Pancasila". The five points of Pancasila, in themselves, are unobjectionable — democracy, social justice, etc. — and it was not a problem to show the PRD's adherence to them.
Once it was clear that the judges would not conduct the trials properly and were determined to make up arbitrary rules to stifle their defence, the PRD began boycotting the court sessions. The prosecution perfunctorily continued the case for weeks while the table for the defendants and their lawyers stood empty.
In the final session, in late April, the PRD returned to court, only to dismiss their lawyers and announce their refusal to recognise the court.
Arriving in court with fists held high, wearing red T-shirts and bandannas emblazoned with the slogans "Boycott the elections" and "Democracy is dead", the activists addressed the public and declared their indifference to the proceedings. Budiman read out a three-hour-long critique of the New Order regime to hearty applause.
In their verdicts, the judges confirmed the prosecution's claim that organising workers and students, demanding higher wages, holding demonstrations and calling for a genuine multiparty democracy are punishable under the Law of Subversion.
Indeed, the PRD committed a crime when, in its manifesto, it "did not admit the success of the development conducted by the New Order government". Failing to compliment the government is a crime in Indonesia.
The first sentence of the PRD manifesto read: "There is no democracy in Indonesia". As Anom and Wilson told the court, the judges' criminalisation of political opinion only proved the truth of the manifesto's first sentence.
The defendants greeted their sentences, ranging from 1.5 to 13 years, with a defiance that shocked the judges and exhilarated the hundreds of people in the audience. None of the activists had knuckled under during their torturous interrogations, none had recanted, and none had shown any hint of the remorse expected by the judges.
On the way out of the courthouse, Budiman managed to elude his guards, jump on top the waiting police van and deliver a rousing speech, fist in the air.
Because of the PRD's example, the raised fist has now become a popular gesture of defiance throughout the country. Small children in slums playfully raise their fists in imitation of what they have seen.
In the visitors' hall here in Cipinang, one sees the other side of the PRD. Pleasantly conversing with relatives and friends, they are sitting on the reed mats which cover the concrete floor.
A gaggle of intelligence agents stand opposite and watch. The prisoners say that a camera is hidden behind a second floor window of the facing building, but it hardly perturbs them. They joke about being in the movies, and the party continues.
There is little talk of the elections, held just 10 days earlier. Many of the prisoners here are the victims of Suharto's pre-election preparations. The PRD, Sri Bintang and the Megawati supporters were targeted as troublemakers.
Everything follows from July 27. Suharto, fearful of Megawati's rising popularity and worried that her PDI would win far more than its allotted 15%, engineered her removal as party president through a fake party conference in June 1996.
Megawati's followers resisted by occupying all the party offices and holding hugely attended open-mike forums at their headquarters in central Jakarta.
In the early morning of July 27, soldiers and hired thugs attacked the PDI headquarters. Knifing and bludgeoning anyone in and around the building, they killed an estimated 50 people and injured scores more.
As rumours spread, crowds gathered in the streets around the headquarters. Soldiers, deployed on every adjacent street, blocked their access. The stately Menteng neighbourhood, with its old colonial architecture and tree-lined avenues, looked like a battlefield.
Later, in the afternoon, with the crowds becoming larger and larger, the soldiers went on the offensive and chased the people through the streets, beating and arresting anyone they managed to grab. In the mayhem, dozens of buildings were set ablaze.
The citywide riots were due to the military's assault on the crowds. But Suharto needed a scapegoat: the PRD.
For two years, the regime had been itching to attack the PRD. It was not a massive organisation, but in the depoliticised environment of Indonesia it was one of the most militant and tightly organised forces within the diffuse pro-democracy movement.
Prior to last July, the PRD had been the backbone of the volunteers for the Independent Election Monitoring Group (KIPP), formed to monitor the elections. Not being one of the three parties permitted to contest the elections, the party also joined a coalition of 30 groups that declared its support for Megawati.
The PRD activists were doing everything at once: organising workers, students and artists, working on the elections, taking up part-time jobs to earn money — all the while dodging the intelligence agencies.
No wonder that they were perpetually wired on caffeine and nicotine. Now in prison, they look much healthier than the last time I saw them, two years ago.
Returning with seconds on noodles, I sit on the floor with Romo Sandyawan, a young Catholic priest who bravely sheltered some of the PRD leaders after July 27. He is now a visitor to Cipinang but may well become a resident soon. Charged with harbouring fugitives, he faces a trial in nine months.
He tells me about his work with scavenger communities and street children in Jakarta. He works in the parishes of the poor, as Aristide calls them. He runs daytime schools for the children, two of whom he brought with him today, and evening classes for the adults.
The sunglasses he wears even here in the shade of the visitors' hall are a necessity. His right eye needs an operation, but he is forbidden, because of the case against him, to leave the country to receive proper medical care.
Romo Sandy, as he is called, put up a group of three PRD leaders at his brother's house in a poor neighbourhood. Technically, it was legal to harbour them since an official arrest warrant had not been issued — again, an insignificant technicality for a lawless regime.
In that neighbourhood, the PRD fugitives probably could have remained indefinitely without being betrayed. When they were captured two weeks later,it was because their courier had been caught and forced, with a gun to his head, to reveal their location.
Romo Sandy was vilified in the press, his office was raided, and he was interrogated at length. His brother was also interrogated and detained for two weeks. Romo Sandy remained unruffled throughout the furore. He is confident in the moral correctness of his acts.
The events of July 27 had thoroughly delegitimised the elections and left no-one worthy of support. The PRD's slogan changed to "Boycott the elections".
Popular enthusiasm for KIPP waned as volunteers became scared of having anything to do with politics or saw little point in monitoring obviously fraudulent elections. The KIPP leaders had either to call off the monitoring as a protest or continue as an independent, impartial body. They chose the latter course and persisted with their work at a much lower profile.
Already struggling with organising and inspiring its volunteers, KIPP wasn't well served by its president, who spent the campaign period in the United States on personal business of no urgency. Having done nothing for the organisation, he returned only to argue against KIPP's strategy and disrupt its work with a threat to resign.
Such is the older elite's leadership quality that prompted the PRD to establish their own organisation in the first place.
I ask Anom, who has already been regaled with the Indonesian version of "Happy Birthday", about PRD's next steps.
"Our demand now is that the election results should not be recognised and the parliament should not elect Suharto president next year."
Like the earlier demand of boycotting the election, this is more a statement of principle than a demand the PRD expects to be fulfilled. The PPP and the PDI (now under Suryadi), will of course ratify the election results, as they have in every election. And the parliament of these yes-men will vote for Suharto, the only candidate, next year.
The PRD's demands are meant to provoke the public into recognising the illegitimacy of this political system. The PRD prisoners are now using their public platform to show the politicians as so many ducks, following single file behind the leader.
The PRD manifesto was a landmark for the Indonesian left. No opposition organisation in the entire post-1965 period has advanced such a clearly formulated and radical critique of Suharto's New Order regime.
The few opposition groups that have existed have either been too superficial in their analysis (focusing only on Suharto, for instance) or too compromised with the regime's own principles.
The PRD stated its main demands to be: 1) the repeal of the "Five Political Laws of 1985" which guide the whole rigged election process; 2) the end of the military's "dual-function", allowing the military to dominate civilian affairs inside the country; 3) the removal of all restrictions on the freedom to form political parties and unions; 4) the end of press censorship and book banning; 5) a referendum on independence in East Timor.
The composition of the party is also unprecedented: it has many women activists — organising factory workers in Indonesia primarily means organising women. Dita Sari, the head of the PRD's affiliated trade union, is being held in a prison in Surabaya on a five-year sentence.
Thirteen of the 14 PRD prisoners are men, but that doesn't reflect the ratio in the organisation as a whole; it probably reflects more the incorrect assumption by the state that the men are more dangerous than the women.
The party has also attracted people from all religious backgrounds — Catholics, Muslims, Balinese Hindus. Though most of the people in the party are neither advocates nor detractors of religion, some of them are practising believers.
Anom explains that the PRD is still active in underground work. Many key organisers were never found by the intelligence agencies. One of the party's most beloved members, the one-eyed poet Wiji Thukal, is still at large. The military intelligence officers blinded one of his eyes two years ago during a torture session.
As a worker, a kind of folk hero in poor communities, he attracts a particular kind of hatred from the military. If they catch him this time, everyone assumes that he will be killed.
Living in lightly policed worker communities, frequently shifting residence, the PRD underground remain involved in organising actions behind the scenes. Anom says, "They take actions and we do the talking".
Blaming it for the sensational July 27 riots and ranting about the revival of communism, the regime could not have done more to put the PRD in media headlines. The PRD activists were never mentioned in the press before July 27 but afterwards they received daily coverage. Now the acronym PRD is a household term.
The more the public read about the PRD and its program, the more they came to respect it. The PRD activists were clearly not the sinister villains portrayed by the government. Nearly everyone admires them by now as fighters for the poor.
Even some of the guards at the prison and the courthouse respect them and consider the government's case shameful. As one guard said, "We read the papers too, you know".
July 27 and the crackdown on the PRD were miniatures of Suharto's method in 1965. In 1965, Suharto accused the PKI, which was peripheral to all the conspiracies inside the military, of being the mastermind of the September 30 kidnapping and subsequent killing of the generals. He then directed countrywide massacres of PKI members, sympathisers, relatives of members over the following six months.
If the suppression of the PKI marked the beginning of Suharto's New Order, the suppression of the PRD promises to mark the beginning of its end. The PRD is wholly composed of youth born after 1965. All they have known is the New Order.
The sight of a regime destroying its own offspring has disturbed even middle-class people, who are increasingly chafing under the corruption and brutality of the military-controlled bureaucracy. Many have found it repugnant to watch General Suharto, determined to ruin the lives of the idealistic youth while his own grandchildren squander their ill-gotten fortunes at discos and are routinely implicated in drug rackets.
The PRD has already produced a major upheaval in the political scene. There is a new sense of militancy and a new standard of critical thinking. In an old phrase of the Indonesian nationalists, the people are in motion, and even this regime, with its 17 intelligence agencies and permanent martial law, has no idea where they are going.