A visit with Dita Sari

May 27, 1998

On May 7, Australian solidarity activist AKIKO TSURU visited DITA SARI in Tangerang Women's Prison, one hour's drive from Jakarta. Dita, who is president of the Indonesian Centre of Labour Struggle and a leader of the banned People's Democratic Party, is one of only two women political prisoners in Indonesia's jails. She had been transferred from Malang to Tangerang prison just two weeks earlier. This is TSURU's account of her visit.

Dita appeared in a reception room wearing a blue prisoner's uniform. We had never met, but she hugged me warmly with a shining smile. We had only half an hour and were watched by five female guards standing two metres away.

I showed Dita photographs of the April 24 "Free the political prisoners" demonstration outside the Indonesian embassy in Canberra. She was extremely happy to see some familiar faces and told me about her visit to Australia [in 1994] and the solidarity work with ASIET and Resistance.

Dita was very pleased to know that her comrades, inside and outside of Indonesia, have been intensifying their actions against the dictatorship. She said, "I know all my friends are supporting me; that's why I never regret what I did".

"I am thinking a lot about a post-Suharto era. We have to be prepared for that", she added. "It will be another big challenge for us."

Dita's daily life is to wake up early and spend two hours in the morning caring for the prison garden. "I like trimming plants with scissors. I like the 'snip, snip, snip' while thinking about Suharto, ha, ha, ha!"

Dita likes being in Tangerang rather than in Malang. "I am happy to be close to Jakarta because I can get more information here and more friends can visit me. In Malang, I was very isolated and I didn't get on with my guards, who refused to deliver my letter which contained critical comments about Suharto."

"Being in prison, you have to be very patient. You ask one guard something and get rejected, but rather than getting mad instantly, you ask politely in another way."

All of Dita's correspondence with people outside is censored. Everything that is brought to her (books, pictures, letters) is also closely checked by the guards.

Although I was not allowed to take Dita's picture or record her message, her image of confidence and determination stays deep in my heart. As I left the jail, I said: "Thank you, Dita, for giving me a great inspiration. Because of people like you, we can continue our struggles for a just society." Once again she gave me her shining smile with her fist held high.

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