Government’s version of amnesty for GAM prisoners unjust

Aceh Kita – August 3, 2005
Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Foundation chairperson Johnson Panjaitan (Radar Riau)
Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Foundation chairperson Johnson Panjaitan (Radar Riau)

AK-25, Jakarta – The Indonesian government has declared it will grant amnesty to members of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and activists accused of subversive acts against the state. Amnesty will not only be granted to those who have been found guilty by the courts but also to those in detention who have yet to face trial.

The government plans to issue a policy decision on August 31 or after the government and GAM have signed a Memorandum of Understanding on August 15.

The government has already explained that those who will be granted amnesty are political prisoners who have been convicted and those awaiting trial who have been charged under the anti-subversion law. Prisoners charged under the criminal code meanwhile, will not be given special treatment, bearing in mind that the Helsinki peace agreement only gives special treatment to GAM members who are characterised as having committing acts of subversion.

According to the chairperson of the Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Foundation (PBHI), Johnson Panjaitan however, of the 2,612 prisoners in Aceh not all of them were charged under the anti-subversion laws and convicted by the courts. In realty says Panjaitan, when they were arrested a number of prisoners were charged with subversion but during the legal process which followed this changed and they were charged with ordinary criminal acts.

“It’s not fair. Because in the beginning these activists were accused of being members of GAM because it was known that [they had] carried out political activities. We as their lawyers know this is so”, said Panjaitan at a press conference at the PBHI offices in Jakarta on Wednesday August 3.

Panjaitan is therefore urging the government to reopen the arrest and trial documents before the policy on granting amnesty is implemented. Panjaitan is calling on the government to open, in a transparent manner, the report dossiers, the interrogation reports, charge sheets and case dossiers. “These are the measures which would be fair when the government applies amnesty to political prisoners who have been convicted and are awaiting trial”, he said.

Separately, a human rights activist from Indonesian Human Rights Watch (Imparsial), Otto Syamsuddin Ishak, added that injustice will befall political prisoners who have been convicted and are awaiting trial and charged under criminal law. According to Ishak, the fact is that the government’s move to prohibit its citizens from conducting political activity as a manifestation of the freedom of expression, thought and opinion, represents a violation of basic human rights.

Crimes like this said Ishak, are crimes against the individual, were the state is the perpetrator of the crime. In cases such as this therefore, the government must unconditionally release them and make an official apology for arresting them.

However continued Ishak, the government will have difficulties in applying the policy. The reason being that the government feels it has done the Acehnese people a good turn and only has a problem with GAM. “In reality many Acehnese people have been accused of being GAM [members] because of their [political] activities”, he said.

The government plans to provide amnesty to GAM members on August 31. All GAM prisoners, who are currently in detention in various correctional institutions in Java, will be repatriated after being granted amnesty. The government is still considering how many of them will be granted amnesty. [dzie]

[Translated by James Balowski.]