Democracy activists organising underground in Indonesia

December 11, 1996

Despite the danger of arrest and torture, and the imprisonment of at least 24 of its members, the People's Democratic Party (PRD) is still organising. EDMUND THAMPSON and JILL HICKSON spoke with MARCEL — a National Committee member and chairperson of education for SMID (Students in Solidarity for Democracy in Indonesia) — about the work of the party in the current situation.

Question: What was the situation after the July 27 riots in Jakarta?

Those PRD members who were not arrested experienced many difficulties, especially as we had to split up. Many people were scared because the authorities were hunting us down.

In Jakarta we went to friends to hide. From there we carried out a process of consolidation. We would ring SMID members by phone, asking them if they still wanted to remain active. If they did, we would visit them and meet them in small groups. Now we have formed a new organisation and are trying to build up the struggle again.

We found that some PRD members are now too scared to be active; they are on the wanted list. But other people who were on the periphery now want to join the party.

We were also active among the workers. Many of them have been called in by the police and the military; some have been abducted. The authorities have been trying to break our networks. Many have been tortured.

Question: How difficult has it been to protect members of the PRD?

Most comrades understood how important it is to protect others. Some new members didn't know what to do and some names were given to the military. This led to people's being raided by the military intelligence agents and others being arrested.

Some who were interrogated and arrested and are likely to be followed have been kept apart from the rest of the members and organisation to protect others. They understand why this is necessary but some are very keen to become directly active again, and if they have an acute awareness of security, they are allowed to participate.

Question: What support for PRD has there been from other pro-democracy groups?

Since the propaganda barrage from the regime, almost all other groups and people consider us like a political disease. Very few are now prepared to protect us. Since the arrest of Budiman Sujatmiko at Pastor Sandyawan's brother's house, most Catholics are too frightened to help. Also people from the big NGOs are scared to meet with us.

But some individuals have been very supportive and happy to meet us; those are people who worked closely with us in the past. Some have helped us by hiding us.

Question: What is the situation with workers now?

There have been some big strikes in Tangerang, in Bogor and in East Java. As well the urban poor who support the PDI have been mobilising around the court cases of arrested PDI members. Their demands have been for the release of PDI members but nothing beyond that. Those actions are not used to raise awareness or for raising political demands. All are loyal members who follow Megawati's lead.

Question: What is the immediate perspective?

Some pro-democracy groups believe the movement has receded, but we feel the opposite. The opportunities for the movement are far greater today. So our perspective is to raise the level of struggle and give it a political focus — on the corruption of the regime and its use of military repression to control the population.

Even though we are organising from the underground, the opportunity exists for us to build a more organised and solid resistance movement. We think we can achieve real, concrete political aims. After July 27, thousands of Indonesians are willing to be organised and are more open to meeting with us. Right now we are concentration on cadre training, to develop confidence among our members, improve political education and build a stronger organisation.

We think that now is the time to work together and stress that the pro-democracy movement should build a joint platform, and abandon their paranoia about the PRD caused by the regime.

The parliamentary means of struggle are now closed. The PRD is increasingly popular. Before July we were unknown by the people of Indonesia; now everyone knows of us, right to the remotest comers of Sumatra and Kalimantan. For this we have the July events to thank. It was a test for us and we feel very positive about the future.