Worker activist arrested in Indonesia


Worker activist arrested in Indonesia

JAKARTA — On August 13, the chairperson of the Indonesian Prosperous Worker Union (SBSI), Dr Muchtar Pakpahan was arrested by 18 Medan police at his home in East Jakarta. Pakpahan is being held at the Medan local police station and will soon be tried by the Medan state court.

The arrest warrant states that Pakpahan is suspected of provoking people to take action in contravention of Article 160 and 510 of the Indonesian Penal Code. Pakpahan has previously been investigated by the authorities as a witness following the 20,000-strong workers' demonstrations in Medan on April 14 and 15.

The accusations against Pakpahan cannot be proven. During the incidents in Medan, he was in Semarang, East Java. This arrest is an act of terror and creates a dangerous precedent for labour activists; it is a part of a project to destroy the workers' movement and its independent organisations, particularly the SBSI.

This case has to be understood in the context of the Suharto government's rejection of the formation of all workers' organisations outside the government-controlled All Indonesian Worker Trade Union (SPSI)

The detention of Pakpahan contravenes the regulations and procedures of the Indonesian penal code, in particular, the rights of suspects. He has not been allowed to see his family, wife or friends and his lawyers have not been allowed to meet or speak with him. As well, he has not been allowed to write or receive information from outside, including newspapers, magazines and other reading material.

On June 15, a number of labour activists, were arrested and indicted with the same charges. At the moment they are being held in the Medan court jail. The total number of workers imprisoned is now 48.

The Medan demonstrations were motivated by workers' desire to press the government to: raise the regional minimum wage level from 3,100 Rupiah (US$1.55) to 7,000 Rupiah (US$3.50) per day; give workers the freedom to organise; withdraw the Labour ministry's regulation number 01/1994 which bans the formation of trade unions at the factory level; investigate the death of a worker employed at P.T. Industri Karet Deli; and protest the arbitrary dismissal of 399 workers at P.T. Korek Api Deli.

The demonstration and demands were prompted by the poor working conditions which the SPSI and the Department of Labour fail to address.

The level of state violence and brutality against the workers is an attempt to criminalise labour strikes and demonstrations to: to provide a basis for the military to intervene in labour relations; to arrest and jail worker activists; and to put an end to the present wave of labour strikes which can no longer be suppressed by ideological and violent methods.

The Indonesian Legal Aid Institute has called on supporters around the world to put pressure on the Indonesian National Police Chief to release Pakpahan and drop all of the charges and the head of the South Sumatra High Court to withdraw the charges against labour activists involved in the Medan incident. It also wants the Suharto government to reform its labour policies and in particular to: end to the use of violence and military intervention in labour disputes; allow workers to establish independent trade unions; and carry out wage reforms.

Letters of protest should be sent to: President of Indonesia, General (Retired) Suharto, c/o Menteri Luar Negeri Ali Alatas, Jalan Taman Pejambon 6, Jakarta, Indonesia. Fax: 00 11 62 21 367781.

Please send copies of all protest letters to: The Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation, Jalan Diponegoro 74 Jakarta 10320 Fax: 00 11 62 21 330140.

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