INDONESIA: Police move to try activists

Issue 

BY MAX LANE

Despite protests by human rights groups and large sections of the legal profession, Indonesia's police are continuing their prosecution of more than 30 people for their political activities.

In the northern province of Aceh, where the military is locked in fierce struggle with supporters of a referendum on independence, pre-trial hearings have begun in the case of Kautsar, the chairperson of the Acehnese People's Democratic Resistance Front.

Kautsar was arrested on July 11 during a police "sweep" in the provincial capital Banda Aceh, when police found protest leaflets in the car he was travelling in. The leaflets called on the Acehnese people to boycott the payment of taxes as a protest against the national government's repression and exploitation of the province.

The leaflets also called for the closure of ExxonMobil plants in Aceh, because the giant oil company had been financing a military presence.

In custody since his arrest, Kautsar is being charged with "spreading hatred against the legitimate government", a law used during the Dutch colonial period and extensively under Suharto's dictatorship, when critics were frequently imprisoned for up to 15 years.

At pre-trial hearings, the defence brought forward witnesses who testified that the police who detained Kautsar had no arrest warrant and forbade him from contacting a lawyer.

They also confirmed that Kautsar was travelling in the car to see his ill brother in a local hospital and was carrying out no political activity at the time.

Under Indonesian law, an arrest warrant is necessary for any detention, except when the suspect is detained while committing an illegal activity.

While police representatives accepted witnesses' testimonies that there was no illegal act underway and that officers lacked a warrant, the judge ruled that the arrest still stood and ordered Kautsar stand trial.

In Surabaya, in East Java, Purwadi, the chairperson of the provincial branch of the People's Democratic Party (PRD), remains in jail along with eight other activists, including two members of the National Awakening Party of former president Abdurrahman Wahid, both of whom are members of the Bondowso Sub-Provincial Parliament.

The eight were arrested on July 31 while distributing leaflets demanding that Suharto's party, Golkar, be put on trial, that the military withdraw from political activity and that the assets of corrupt Suharto-era cronies be confiscated.

Purwadi was arrested in relation to the same case on August 9. Two days later, the offices of the PRD in Surabaya were raided and computers, other equipment and documents seized by police. The police had no search warrants or other required documents.

On August 15, the Surabaya People's Council, representing more than 20 activist groups, organised a protest delegation demanding their release.

Purwadi and the other eight activists are being charged with "spreading hatred against a legitimate government".

On September 5, the police stated that they had ended their investigation and handed all the charge sheets and documents to the East Java attorney-general's office. However, on September 7, the attorney-general returned the documents to the police asking for more information.

A team of 23 lawyers has been formed, including Surabaya's most prominent human rights lawyer, to prepare the case. They intend to seek a pre-trial hearing to demand the case be dismissed because of illegal arrest. They also want to charge the police with illegal seizure of equipment from the PRD office.

In Bandung, in West Java, the trials of 12 of 19 activists arrested during worker protests in June have begun.

Most of the activists are from the Young Christian Workers, with others affiliated to the PRD and the National Student League for Democracy.

The 12 standing trial have now been released from prison and are facing charges less serious than those being used in Aceh and Surabaya.

However, it is reported that many of the detainees, both students and workers, were beaten during detention and forced to sign confessions.

According to the Asian Human Rights Commission, the prisoners have been treated extremely badly. They went on a hunger strike for eight days, and eventually were given medical attention and ordered to end their fast.

The police have also moved against popular singer Harry Roesli after he sang a song satirising society's commitment to the values of pancasila, the official state ideology. Roesli may also be brought to court.

Pre-trial hearings have also begun in relation to the arrest of seven senior police officers for holding informal discussions as to whether their superiors had broken the law in defying various instructions from President Wahid while he was in offce.

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