In Megawati’s era, at least 23 political prisoners snared by the law

Sinar Harapan – June 19, 2003
President Megawati Sukarnoputri and Vice-President hamzah Haz (islamicity)
President Megawati Sukarnoputri and Vice-President hamzah Haz (islamicity)

Jakarta – During the period of the government of Megawati Sukarnoputri and Vice-president Hamzah Haz the use of the term political prisoner remains valid. Records since May 2003 indicate that 23 people have been detained as political prisoners, the vast majority being accused of insulting the head of state. In the lead up to the 2004 elections, the indications are that this repressive approach towards activists who criticize the government will strengthen.

This include those who are under city arrest, in detention, prisoners of correctional institutions and those under house arrest, and most recently two who have just been released. Therefore there are now 21 people who have fallen foul of law and are now political prisoners. They originated from a number of different regions: Palu (8 people), Makassar (3 people), Poso (1 person), Jakarta (5 people), Yogyakarta (3 people) and Pekalongan (1 person).

This was the situation as described to Sinar Harapan on Tuesday by the director of the Indonesian Justice Fellowship (JFI), Shanty Parhusip. JFI is currently providing assistance to and monitoring political prisoners in Indonesia.

These political prisoners came from a number of organisations including the Indonesian National Front for Labour Struggle (Front Nasional Perjuangan Buruh Indonesia, FNPBI), the People’s Education Foundation (Yayasan Pendidikan Rakyat, YPR), the National Student League for Democracy (Liga Mahasiswa Nasional untuk Demokrasi, LMND), the Popular Youth Movement (Gerakan Pemuda Kerakyatan, GPK), the Islamic Student Association-Reform (Himpunan Mahasiswa Islam Majelis Penyelamat Organisasi, HMI-MPO), the Indonesian Buskers Union (Serikat Pengamen Indonesia), the Pekalongan People’s Committee (Komite Rakyat Pekalongan, KRP), the People’s Struggle Committee (Komite Perjuangan Massa Rakyat, KPM), the Democratic Student Network (Jaringan Mahasiswa Demokratik, JMD) and the People’s Democratic Party (Partai Rakyat Demokratik, PRD). The prisoners recorded by JFI do not include criticism of the head of state by other social elements.

They were all caught by Article 134 of Criminal Code on insulting the head of state. In demonstrations proceeding [their arrest], they criticised the government, however the authorities actually accused them of insulting the head of the state. “What we can do now is continue to campaign around the contents of Article 9 of the Declaration of Human Rights”, said Shanty. Article 9 states that no person may be arrested, held or killed arbitrarily.

“But this data does not included [actions] carried out by other elements such as the Islamic Youth Movement (Garakan Pemuda Islam, GPI) and others, because not all groups can be monitored. There are also 15 more people who have been arrested recently in Palembang [South Sumatra]”.

Charged with slander

It was explained that pro-democracy groups who criticise the government of Megawati and Hamzah Haz continues to come under pressure from the government though arrests, detention and though the court process. In fact the government should not need to respond to these criticism by legal means.

According to an ex-political prisoner in the 1965 cases [as many as 1 million communists and left-wing sympathizers were slaughtered and tens of thousands more interned for long periods when former President Suharto and the military sized power in 1965], Roby Sumolang, now that Indonesia has entering the period of reformasi there should be no need to have people brought before the courts just because they have criticised the head of state. “But in fact, to this day there are still political prisoners. They should be released immediately”, Roby said.

In his assessment, the present government has been compromised by actions it has taken to safeguard the status quo. “The ones who have been victimised are those who have criticised the government”, he added.

Muhammad Iqbal from GPI was sentenced to five months jail for insulting the head of state while demonstrating against the price increases to fuel, electricity and telephone charges. Iqbal said that these sentences could kill off the process of democratisation in Indonesia. Meanwhile his lawyer, Taufik Basari, said the decision represented a bad president for the process of democracy in Indonesia. “If every protester and critic [of the government ends up] being taken to court, where then will the process of democracy be taken”, he asked. (emy)

[Translated by James Balowski.]