JUNE 8:'Like a scene from The Year of Living Dangerously'

June 20, 2001


For one and a half days, from the morning of June 7, the Asia Pacific People's Solidarity Conference, held a holiday resort outside Jakarta, had been proceeding relatively smoothly. Eighty Indonesian democracy activists and more than 30 conference participants from 12 other countries were exchanging views on the impact of neo-liberal globalisation on the peoples of the Asia-Pacific region.

The first day had been devoted to a series of plenaries describing the big picture: the impact of neo-liberal globalisation on the First and Third Worlds. Dita Sari, chairperson of the Indonesian National Front for Labour Struggles (FNPBI), and Budiman Sujatmiko, chairperson of the People's Democratic Party, had addressed the conference, alongside Philippines activists from the anti-debt campaign, Thai activists and a leader of the Labour Party Pakistan. The second day was more oriented to smaller workshops to discuss the impact of these economic policies on the peoples of the world.

Kelik Ismunanto, the director of the Indonesian Centre for Reform and Social Emancipation (INCREASE) which organised the conference, had spent two days dealing with harassment from the local police over their bureaucratic requirements for permits to hold the conference. The local police had pressured the hotel manager into providing accommodation for 18 Intel (secret police) agents to spy on the conference.

Then they forced the hotel manager to give INCREASE a letter withdrawing the use of the conference facilities. When lawyers acting on behalf of the conference organisers challenged this the hotel management backed off.

By the second day, we were becoming more confident that the conflict would amount to nothing more than a war of words between the police and the lawyers.

The police raid

Suddenly, at a little after 3pm on Friday June 8, Dita Sari rushed to my side and said in hushed tones: "The police are coming". A few seconds later, about 50 uniformed police with rifles and tear gas canisters, plus a number in plain clothes, burst into the conference room. They blocked off the exits and switched off the power. More armed police were outside.

The conference organisers told us to sit calmly, and boosted our morale with songs and poetry from the movement to oust the dictator Suharto. At the same time, the conference organisers set about trying to negotiate with the police commanders and find out if the police had the proper warrants. They also called on us to write down the names and badge numbers of the police officers nearest each of us. I noticed that a couple of "journalists", who were acting very chummy with the police, were also suddenly in the room and eager to take statements from the foreigners.

The police officers barked a lot of instructions through their loud hailers. In the midst of this chaos, the resort staff suddenly began passing around the delayed coffee and cakes, all the time giving us reassuring smiles!

The police could not produce a warrant to disperse the meeting but claimed that there were missing documents from the conference permit application. The conference organisers offered to remedy this immediately. Then the police switched excuses, claiming that immigration authorities suspected that the foreign participants were breaching their visa conditions. They then tried to force Dr Helen Jarvis (from Australia) and then Paul D'Amato (from the USA) to produce their passports. The conference organisers intervened and stopped them.

The police then threatened to use force and moved in, aggressively sparking a brief scuffle with organising committee members who had ringed the foreigners for our protection.

It soon became clear that the police were not going to give in despite the heroic efforts of the organisers. One of the Australian participants, Max Lane, stood up and addressed the police in English on behalf of the foreign delegates. He requested that they push back a number of suspicious "civilians" who were abusing conference participants and trying to overturn tables and chairs at the back of the hall. This was then translated to the police commanders who were thrown off guard.

Lane insisted that if the foreigners were to vacate the hall, then it had to be done in an orderly manner and the police would have to provide protection from these threatening "civilians". Lane also negotiated for myself, my daughter Zoe and my partner Peter Boyle to be escorted out to a police car instead of being forced onto the open truck which was awaiting the rest of the foreigners.

We were not allowed to return to our bungalows to bring any of our belongings; some of the foreign participants had no chance to get their passports or essential medication.

The trip to the central Jakarta police headquarters was a diversion for the late afternoon rush-hour crowd. A convoy of police cars and trucks filled with white foreigners racing along with sirens screaming though the main streets was a curiosity for them. From my view from the car behind, the truck full of "prisoners" reminded me of a scene from the film The Year of Living Dangerously.


We reached the central police station in record time, overtaken at the last minute by an eager Indonesian TV news crew, and with us came the conference organiser, Kelik Ismunanto and a number of lawyers from the Legal Aid Institute of Jakarta (LBH). We gave a few doorstop interviews and the TV images of us, including my four-year-old daughter Zoe, were beamed around the world.

We were taken to the "crisis centre" of the intelligence section of the police department.

Soon afterwards, my partner, my child and myself were instructed to go to another office. We were under the impression that for humanitarian reasons, we would be the first to be processed and let out. In fact, the police conducted a fishing exercise, mainly trying to find out how Budiman Sujatmiko had come to be at the conference, who organised our participation, etc. The attempted "interview" lasted a good two and half hours.

We were then reunited with the other foreigners, but not without the police forcibly confiscating our passports. Following a group discussion with our Indonesian lawyers, we decided that under no circumstances would we be interviewed without the presence of a lawyer and an embassy official. Embassy officials from several countries turned up a few hours later — some were called out from "happy hour" drinks at one embassy.

The mood inside the "crisis room" was generally calm, but tense. A number of police observers were stationed permanently at the back of the room and they walked in and out throughout the 24 hours of detention.

After hours of negotiation, we agreed to fill in a short questionnaire and hand in our passports. This process took until 1.30am and then those of who had passports to hand in were told we could leave for the night, and return at 10am the next morning for more questions.

However, since the police intended to interrogate Ismunanto and to keep in detention those whose passports were left at the conference site, we decided that apart from myself, Peter, Zoe and a couple of others, the rest of the foreigners would stay as an act of solidarity with Ismunanto and those without passports to hand over.

The next morning the police insisted on conducting individual interviews to "check" that they had correctly translated into Indonesian the replies to the questionnaires. This took most of the day as they had added new questions and invented answers! They were particularly annoyed that we insisted on keeping our lawyers and our own interpreters present.

One of the Australian embassy officials urged us to ignore the lawyers' advice and to "sign anything". If we had done this, we could have incriminated ourselves and been charged with trumped-up immigration offences and deported.

It has since been made clear, including by the Indonesian immigration department head and justice minister Marsilam Simanjuntak, that the short-stay pass we obtained on entering Indonesia allowed us to attend seminars or conferences.

The Australian embassy officials did push for my daughter and me to be released and allowed to return to Australia. But the police tried to delay this, even claiming that this would upset the other detainees. So we all got together and, in front of the TV journalists (who had by then been allowed in to film us), voted with a show of hands to support the early release of Zoe and myself.

At 4.15pm, 25 hours after the raid the two of us walked out of the police HQ together with an Australian embassy official. The other detainees were waving out of the windows. Freedom from the lock-up came with a bitter-sweet feeling at leaving the detainees. At 9.50pm we boarded the plane for Sydney.

[Pip Hinman is the national secretary of Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor (ASIET). See <http://www.asiet.org.au> for the complete news and solidarity coverage.]

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