By Jana D.K.
JAKARTA — Some 1000 prominent human rights activists, intellectuals and politicians have signed a statement expressing their opposition to the detention of 22 students arrested in a wave of mass demonstrations which broke out in mid-October.
The petition calls the arrests anti-democratic and a violation of the students' rights. The signatories are from the more than a dozen cities across Indonesia.
The statement noted that arresting and forcibly dispersing people who stage protests are against democracy and human rights. The acting chairperson of the Pijar Foundation (a Jakarta non-government organisation), Rachland Nashidik, who coordinated the petition, referred to the students as "prisoners of conscience".
Authorities arrested one of the 22 students, foundation chairperson Nuku Solieman, on November 26, after he allegedly distributed a sticker accusing President Soeharto of masterminding events such as the killing of villagers by the military last year, the 1991 Dili massacre and the Tanjung Priok shootings in 1984.
The other 21 students were arrested on December 14 when they staged a demonstration outside the parliament at which they demanded that Soeharto be called to account at an emergency assembly of the People's Consultative Assembly and then resign. The students were protesting against the now defunct state lottery, SDSB.
These were some of the largest and most militant demonstrations to have occurred under the New Order regime. In November, several thousand people marched through Jakarta to the Presidential Palace, breaking down the gates and unfurling a banner which read "Dismiss Soeharto". This was the first demonstration for over 20 years to occur outside the palace.
All 22 students have been charged with insulting the head of state, under a law adopted from Dutch colonial regulations which was used by the Dutch to jail members of the independence movement. Nuku's trial began in mid-January with a large number of demonstrators and supporters collecting outside the court.
The list of signatories reads like a who's who of the Indonesian opposition movement, ranging from more conservative figures such as Ali Sadikin, Hoegeng Slamet, Imam Santosa, Mrs. D. Wallandouw, Suyito Sukirno and Chris Siner Key Timu from the Petition of 50, to leading intellectuals such as Catholic priest Y.B. Mangunwijaya and Muslim scholar Abdurrahman Wahid, a member of the Democratic Forum and chairperson of Natadul Ulama, the largest organisation in Indonesia.
Other signatories included opposition figures Deliar Noer, A. Madjid and H.R. Ddharsono, vocal intellectuals Arief Budiman, Ariel Heryanto, Bakdi Sumanto, Mohtar Mas'oed and Tadjuddin Effendi, economists Rizal Ramli, Aswab Mahasin, Rocky Gerung and Adi Sasono, and human rights activists Adnan Buyung Nasution, Mulyana W. Kusumah, Luhut Pangribuan and Hendari from the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute. Other figures such as Abdul Hakim Garuda Nusantara, Marsillam Simanjuntak, H.J.C. Princen, Frans Hendra Winarta, Nursyahbani Katjasungkana, Deddy Triawan, Indro Tjahjono, Indera Nababan, and Zaim Saidi also signed the petition. Outspoken legislator Bintang Pamungkas and radical painter Semsar Siahaan also put their names to the statement.
Mulyana Kusumah, one of the signatories, told Green Left that the struggle for democracy is both legal and constitutional, and the "traditional" methods being used by the regime are completely inappropriate.
"The petition reflects, in my opinion, a growing solidarity between NGOs, human rights activists, and students — a demonstration of the movement's commitment to democratic change. The petition is a warning to the government and those in power, that the democratic movement is determined, strong, and cannot be dismissed simply as just students", he said.
He went on to stress that repression will not stop the resistance which is growing and developing at all levels of Indonesian society.