Campaign launched to free Indonesian activists

Wednesday, July 24, 1996

By Rebecca Meckelburg

On July 8, the Indonesian military violently dispersed two assemblies of 10,000 workers each in Surabaya, Indonesia's second biggest city. Scores of workers were injured and almost 30 detained overnight. The workers were on strike to demand improvements in their $3 a day jobs and the withdrawal of the military from political and labour affairs.

The strike was organised by the People's Democratic Party (PRD) and the Indonesian Centre for labour Struggles (PPBI). PPBI president and PRD leader Dita Sari (24) and National Peasants Union and PRD leader Coen Husein Ponto (26)remain in jail almost two weeks after they were detained. Neither Dita Sari nor Ponto have been allowed visits by family or supporters. The Surabaya Legal Aid Institute is acting as their lawyers.

Dita Sari has undergone overnight detention several times following protest actions by PPBI or PRD. She was detained on January 10, 1995, during a strike of 1500 process workers in Jakarta; during the historic May 1 workers demonstration in Jakarta; on July 18, 1995, at the 12000-strong strike of garment workers at the Great River Industries factory near Jakarta; and on December 11 and 14, 1995, at the strike of 14,000 garment workers in Solo city. She was arrested on June 19, 1996, during a sit-in protest by 5000 process workers in the foyer of the national parliament.

Senior military officials, both in the Surabaya military command and in armed forces headquarters, have threatened to put Dita Sari and her colleague on trial under either the 1963 anti-subversion law or a law against "public disturbances". Possible sentences range from six to 20 years.

Military officials have also threatened to disband PRD or PPBI "if it is proven that they organised the strike". The July 8 strike of 20,000 was openly organised by PRD and PPBI, as were all the demonstrations at which Dita Sari had previously been detained.

PRD has also been a part of the recent demonstrations in support of Megawati Sukarnoputri, whom the Suharto dictatorship is trying to remove from the leadership of the Indonesian Democratic Party, a more moderate opposition party.

PRD also organised the joint Indonesian-East Timorese protest occupations of the Dutch and Russian embassies last December 7 to announce that there was support in Indonesian society for the East Timorese people's demand that Indonesia withdraw its military from East Timor and allow a referendum on self-determination. PRD has an affiliated campaigning organisation, Indonesian People in Solidarity with the Maubere People's Struggle (SPRIM).

Campaign in Australia

"Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor [ASIET] is launching an Australia-wide campaign to demand the release of Dita Sari and Coen Husein Ponto immediately", Max Lane, ASIET national coordinator, said in a statement released to the media on July 17. "They have done nothing except organise a peaceful demonstration which was violently attacked by the Indonesian military."

According to the ASIET statement, the first protest action of the campaign will be a picket outside the Indonesian consulate in Perth on July 19; PPBI and Dita Sari are well known in the Perth trade union and student movement. This will be followed by other protests and a petition to the Australian government calling on it to pressure Jakarta to release Dita Sari and Husein Ponto.

"We are also urging all supporters of the Indonesian democratic movement and the East Timorese movement to send protest faxes to President Suharto on fax 62 21 345 2685 or Foreign Minister Ali Alatas on 62 21 360 517", Lane said. For information about your local campaign centre, contact ASIET National Office, PO Box 458, Broadway NSW 2007 or ring (02) 690 1032.