Profile of a revolutionary

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Profile of a revolutionary

By Sam King in Indonesia

Name: Budiman Sujatmiko
Born: 14 March 1970
Residence: Cipinang prison, Jakarta
Occupation: revolutionary

Budiman was a student in the economics faculty at the University of Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta. Here in the early 1990s he and other political activists began organising radical discussion groups to talk about the situation in Indonesia and how to bring about change.

From these discussions developed organisations for struggle. The most important of these was the People's Democratic Union, of which Budiman was a central leader.

In 1996 the People's Democratic Union became the People's Democratic Party (PRD), with Budiman as chairperson. The PRD was formed out of discussions about the need for a party which could fight effectively for a political alternative to President Suharto's New Order regime.

The PRD was launched on July 22, 1996. Budiman was captured by the military authorities and imprisoned on August 11. His arrest was part of the government's general crackdown against the PRD to stop its political activity. The regime justified the crackdown by labelling PRD activists "communists".

Budiman (like the other PRD leaders) was charged under the anti-subversion laws, which carry a maximum penalty of death. Despite this, Budiman and his PRD comrades refused to be intimidated.

They used their trials to popularise the ideas of the PRD. Budiman gave a three-hour speech in Suharto's court, reading the entire manifesto of the PRD.

At the time of his sentencing and as the military dragged him into a van, Budiman could be seen inspiring the watching crowd with slogans for justice and democracy. When they tried to lock him up, Budiman jumped on the roof and addressed the crowd again before being seized. Budiman was given 13 years' jail for organising a democracy movement.

In April, he and other PRD political prisoners staged a hunger strike to call for a free and fair election process. They demanded an end to the military's involvement in politics and the release of all political prisoners.

After five days on hunger strike Budiman was admitted to a military hospital in Jakarta. He was emaciated and had difficulty walking to the toilet five metres from his bed.

However, even in this condition Budiman was politically astute. From his hospital bed he provided television crews with a damning criticism of President B.J. Habibie's regime and gave a fiery interview to activists from Australia who were in Indonesia as part of Resistance's exposure tour.

Budiman criticised the current election laws and told Resistance magazine that the regime is "naive" to keep the PRD leaders in jail. This, Budiman explained, is because the PRD leaders can still function effectively from jail.

As an illustration of this, en route from the hospital back to prison Budiman persuaded his captors to allow him to visit both the PRD and Student and People's Committee for Democracy offices. He spent more than an hour at the latter, having meetings and giving speeches.

Budiman explained that PRD members being in jail has given the party more publicity and sympathy than it might have otherwise received. Since the Indonesian regime's crackdown against the pro-democracy movement in 1996, PRD membership has increased more than 10-fold. Budiman's name is now a household word in Indonesia. He is a symbol of resistance to the regime.