Fearful Suharto lashes out

August 14, 1996


Fearful Suharto lashes out

By Max Lane

"At the present time, I think there's a strong interest in seeing an orderly transition of power there [Indonesia] that will recognise the pluralism that should exist in a country of that magnitude and importance. So we will be encouraging a transition there that expresses the popular will", US Secretary of State Warren Christopher told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on August 1.

"If we as intellectuals do not say anything and just follow the hysteria against communists, then we are not intellectuals", said Adi Sasono, secretary general of ICMI, the Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals Association, headed by minister for science and research Jusuf Habibie. "We have to avoid accusing people and to hold on to the basic legal notions."

"The government will not arrest Megawati Sukarnoputri because she is too popular and they have already fixed on a scapegoat for the riots. They have accused the innocent young people", declared Goenawan Mohamad, long-term anticommunist campaigner and former publisher of Tempo.

These statements point to a significant weakening of support for the dictatorship of President Suharto from three of his long-term backers: the United States, the technocratic and intellectual elite working for the government and the network of liberals who supported Suharto when he came to power in 1965.

The ICMI statement was issued on August 8, one day after President Suharto accused the People's Democratic Party (PRD) of acting in a way tantamount to insurrection on July 27, when street rioting followed a military attack on the Jakarta headquarters of the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI).

Suharto's statement backed the armed forces headquarters' unremitting attack on the PRD as a communist organisation. ICMI's statement, delivered to Suharto by Habibie himself, although worded very vaguely, clearly contradicted the hardline position of Suharto and the army.

On August 7, lawyers for Megawati Sukarnoputri, head of the PDI, asked a Jakarta court to instruct police to investigate the role of her Suharto-backed rival, Suryadi, in the attacks on the PDI headquarters. As well as indicating that Megawati and the PDI do not intend to surrender to Suharto's efforts to remove her, this legal offensive by Megawati also directly contradicts the dictatorship's claim that the PRD was responsible for the riots.

While more and more concerns, or at least doubts, have been expressed about the dictatorship's scapegoating of the PRD, Suharto's statement signals that he intends to escalate repression. PRD members are being hunted down, but so far with little success.

On August 2, three students from Surabaya were arrested at their homes. Lisa Febrianti, Trio Yohanus Mulyato and Zainal Abidin are all student activists. According to Amnesty International, it is not known where the three are being detained, but on August 7 the head of information for the armed forces in East Java admitted that the three were in military custody and were being investigated for alleged connections to the PRD.

Three more activists — I Sunarman Purwosaputro, Patriatno and Titin — are also believed to be in military custody. A statement by the military on August 7 said that they had been arrested but gave no details of their whereabouts or why they are being held. The military alleges that the three are members of the PRD.

Five other activists are in police custody. Two, Agus Sukarmanto and Syamsul Bachri, are being held under the Anti-Subversion Law, which carries the death penalty. They were arrested in the city of Solo in Central Java on August 2 and later taken to Jakarta.

The mother of a student activist was arrested when police failed to find Ganda Sembiring at home. Amnesty International reports that Mrs B. Veronica Sembiring was arrested on August 2 in Bogor, where she is believed to be still in police custody.

According to news agency reports, police tortured five students accused of being associated with the PRD. According to Yogyakarta Legal Aid Foundation representative Budi Santoso, the five were detained on August 2 and released the next day after being forced to sign a statement that they were part of the People's Democratic Party (PRD).

"When they got out of the police station, they were missing teeth, had cuts and bruises on their faces and bloodstains on their clothes", Santoso said, adding that "none of them are part of the PRD". Santoso said that the five, all college students, were at a student demonstration at Gajah Mada University in Yogyakarta when police detained them.

Santoso told Jakarta jouranlists that four of the students were members of the Muslim Student League, which is not connected to the PRD, "but one of them was just a bystander and doesn't belong to any organisation".

Other non-members of PRD have been arrested. Hendrik Didson Sirait, a member of the student activist organisation Pijar, was arrested by the Army Strategic Reserve Command on August 1, during a peaceful demonstration outside the Jakarta District Court. There has been no information about Hendrik since his arrest despite attempts to trace him by other Pijar members and lawyers.