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Under Soeharto, citizens who challenged the government’s militaristic underpinnings or attempted to organize independent political opposition were made the object of aggressive campaigns which included show trials, prolonged imprisonment, public scapegoating, and, at times, physical intimidation and torture. The primary victims were leaders of ethnic and religious separatist movements, but also included outspoken political dissidents who dared to attempt publicly to organize political opposition to Soeharto. Although political space for dissent began to expand beginning in the late 1980s, broadly worded laws limiting freedom of expression continued to enable the government to target those whom it wished. Some of the most prominent targets were from the academic community.

The Soeharto government used three primary legal weapons against critics and political opponents, all of which, as of this writing, are still on the books:

As has been emphasized by many observers, the vagueness of the laws invites arbitrary applications, allowing the government to invoke the laws to imprison opponents at will.111 What the Indonesian Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) said about the subversion law can be equally said of all three: “The . . . law can be used to punish people whose ideas are different from those of the government.”112

As documented in previously published human rights reports, students were arrested and often convicted and sentenced to lengthy jail terms under these broad laws for such things as distributing banned novels and participating in discussion groups on political themes,113 distributing a “Land for the People” calendar that caricatured government leaders,114 staging a satirical protest of the government’s election campaign,115 holding a demonstration outside the national parliament calling on Soeharto to take responsibility for human rights violations,116 and possession of stickers calling Soeharto the “mastermind of all disasters.”117

At the time Soeharto resigned, jailed political prisoners included a professor and a number of student activists. Two of the cases—that of University of Indonesia economist Sri Bintang Pamungkas and that of fourteen students and youths affiliated with the PRD—are set forthbelow.118 In both cases, the individuals concerned were originally arrested and publicly held responsible for anti-government unrest. In both cases, the government, apparently lacking evidence to prove the initial charges, proceeded with criminal prosecution anyway, using Indonesia’s broad subversion and hatred-sowing laws to impose substantial jail terms. The different treatment of the cases by the post-Soeharto government shows the distance already traveled by the new government and the distance still left to be traveled as it confronts the legacy of the Soeharto years.

Sri Bintang Pamungkas

At the time of Soeharto’s resignation, Dr. Sri Bintang Pamungkas, a prominent, fifty-three-year-old economist at the University of Indonesia, Muslim democracy activist, and outspoken critic of President Soeharto, was in prison and standing trial in Jakarta. On May 8, 1996, Sri Bintang was sentenced to a thirty-four month prison sentence for “insulting the president,” based on remarks he made during a lecture at the Berlin Technological University in Germany in 1995. After being released pending appeal, he was again arrested in March 1997, this time charged with subversion—for forming a political party dedicated to reform of the Indonesia political system and for sending a greeting card calling for the boycott of national elections and the replacement of Soeharto.

Sri Bintang holds a Ph.D. in economics from Iowa State University and a master’s degree in industrial system engineering from the University of Southern California. He joined the faculty at the University of Indonesia in 1972 and has also served as a senior management consultant. In the late 1980s, he emerged as one of the most outspoken critics of the government. He first became directly involved in politics in 1992, when he joined the Development Unity Party (Partai Persatuan Pembangunan), one of the two opposition parties allowed to operate in Indonesia. Sri Bintang’s decision to join the PPP was itself a bold move, because, as professor, he was a civil servant, and, pursuant to civil service rules, he was expected to show “monoloyalty” to the ruling Golkar party.

Sri Bintang’s 1992 campaign for parliament has been described as “exceptional for its blunt criticisms of corruption, economic inequality, and the continuing involvement of the military in national politics.”119 Sri Bintang continued to speak out after he was elected to office. In March 1994, during a speech at Muhammadiyah University in Surakarta, he alleged misuse of state bank credits by PT Sritex, an Indonesian-owned textile factory near Surakarta partly owned by Harmoko, then Golkar chairman, and by the president’s daughter Siti Hardijanti Rukmana (commonly referred to as Mbak Tutut).

In February 1995, Sri Bintang was expelled from the PPP by the party leadership and was formally recalled from parliament. He apparently had angered the PPP leadership by declaring himself a candidate in party elections and engaging in heated confrontations with government officials. In April 1995, Sri Bintang delivered a lecture at the Berlin Technical University (Technische Universiteit Berlin). The lecture coincided with a state visit to Germany by President Soeharto which was marked by rowdy demonstrations in Hanover on April 2 and in Dresden on April 5 accusing the president of major human rights violations. President Soeharto called the Indonesians who took part in the demonstrations "traitors" and also termed them "insane" and "irrational."120 Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Soesilo Soedarman suggested that the demonstrations were evidence that activists were trying to undermine Pancasila.121

Upon his return from Germany, Sri Bintang was publicly blamed for the demonstrations and was made the subject of an aggressive government campaign to discredit him. Even before charges were filed against him, he was deprived of the right to travel and thus was forced to miss the graduation of one of his children from Iowa State University.122 On April 19, one day after Sri Bintang's interrogation had begun, his house was stoned by men on motorcycles, and the rear window of his car was smashed. Although he was given police protection at his request thereafter, the suspected culprits were members of Pemuda Pancasila, a goon squad that had worked closely with the government in the past, particularly during election campaigns.123

As described above, although the government’s investigation apparently failed to produce evidence that Dr. Pamungkas had played a role in organizing the demonstrations, he was tried instead under Indonesia’s “lese majesty” law for derogatory remarks about Soeharto heallegedly made in a question-and-answer period following his lecture at the Berlin Technical University. He was sentenced to two years and ten months in prison on May 8, 1996 but was released pending the outcome of his appeal. After his release, he immediately picked up where he had left off. On May 29, 1996, three weeks after his conviction, he founded a new political party called the United Indonesian Democratic Party (Partai Uni Demokrasi Indonesia or PUDI), dedicated to constitutional reform and democratic overhaul of the legal system.

PUDI was immediately denounced by existing political parties as in violation of Law No.3/1985 which restricts political parties in Indonesia to the three existing parties. Sri Bintang further enraged the government by saying that one of the goals of PUDI would be to encourage Indonesian citizens to cast a blank ballot (golongan putih) as a protest measure during elections scheduled for May 1997 and by sending holiday greeting cards calling for replacement of Soeharto. At about the same time, a book that was put together by activists telling Bintang’s side of the story, first published in May 1996, was banned by order of the attorney general.124 Sri Bintang was again jailed on March 5, 1997, charged with subversion for launching PUDI and calling for Soeharto’s replacement. In April 1997, he learned in prison that he had been fired from his teaching position at the University of Indonesia.

On May 26, 1998, Sri Bintang was one of the first political prisoners granted amnesty (abolisi) and released by the post-Soeharto government. Almost immediately thereafter, he was reinstated as a faculty member at the University of Indonesia. Sri Bintang’s release was a welcome gesture and came as the new government was also announcing its intent to redraft the subversion law. At the time this report was prepared, however, it was unclear what changes would be made to the law, and whether all of its vaguely worded provisions would be replaced with specific, narrowly drawn provisions capable of providing protection for freedom of expression and preventing arbitrary application of the law. It was also unclear whether the “spreading hatred” laws or the “lese majesty” laws, under which Sri Bintang was convicted in 1996, would be repealed.

The PRD Students

As noted above, following riots in Jakarta in July 1996, the government engaged in a virtual witch-hunt for students affiliated with the People’s Democratic Party (Partai Rakyat Demokrasi or PRD), a radical leftist party.125 Fourteen of the activists ended up being sentenced to jail terms ranging from eighteen months to thirteen years, even though the government failed at trial to produce evidence that any of the fourteen had been involved in the rioting, much less as “masterminds” of the disturbance, as the government repeatedly had claimed in its public campaign against the activists.126 At time this report was being prepared, all of the PRD prisoners were still in jail, and prospects for their release were at best uncertain. The government was continuing to insist that it would not release “Marxists,” and, as described in chapter 3 above, the PRD repeatedly was accused of being communist by the Soeharto government.127 The continued incarceration of the PRD prisoners is thus the clearest evidence that there is still a long way to go before the Soeharto legacy is removed from Indonesia’s penal code and rooted out of its judicial system.

If Sri Bintang was targeted because he was outspoken, even at times brash in his criticism, and had sought through PUDI to organize an independent political party, the radical rhetoric and organizational achievements of the PRD activists made them even more ripe for scapegoating by a government which had little tolerance for independent political activity of any kind and was quick to brand confrontational politics a form of treason.

Three characteristics, which were the focus of the allegations against the PRD defendants at trial, set them apart from other activists.

First, their rhetoric was strident. In a declaration released after its founding conference in 1994, for example, SMID (Student Solidarity for Democracy), one of the PRD-affiliated groups, called for a fight against what it called the totalitarianism and fascism of the New Order government; an end to the capitalist strategy of development; academic freedom and an end to militarism on campus; a democratic trade union movement; basic human rights, including freedom of expression and association; a multiparty political system; abolition of the “dualfunction” of the military; and an end to economic monopolies.128 Although the language contains neo-Marxist, populist and liberal democratic elements, there is no call for armed struggle or violent overthrow of the government.

Second, although the PRD was small in numbers, it attempted to organize a united front to challenge the New Order government, establishing separate affiliates dedicated to organizing on behalf of peasants, workers, artists and students. During the public campaign against the PRD, Gen. Feisal Tanjung, then commander of the armed forces, argued that this structure was borrowed from the PKI. When the argument was pointed out to a leader of SMID who had gone underground, he replied, “We didn’t borrow from the PKI, we learned from Golkar [the government party]—it started out as a loose organization and then became a party. And Golkar has its organizations for peasants, workers, and youth.”129

Finally, the PRD was involved in organizing a series of major student protests and public demonstrations, including labor rallies which attracted over 10,000 workers into the streets of cities such as Jakarta, Surabaya, Solo, and Bogor, demanding their rights under Indonesian law and the right to freedom of association.130 Although there had been clashes between protesters and security forces at some of the demonstrations, at trial the government did not claim that the rallies had been violent. Instead, the prosecution focused on the allegedly subversive nature of the demands made by the protesters who attended the demonstrations, including such demands as a referendum to determine the status of East Timor, an increase in wages, and freedom of association.131

All of the features described above set the PRD activists apart from other student groups, but none of the features justified their imprisonment, let alone the severe sentences—thirteen years for PRD leader Budiman Sudjatmiko—that they received. To the extent that the government is distinguishing the PRD prisoners from Sri Bintang and other prisoners who have been released on the ground that the PRD prisoners were accused at trial of harboring “Marxist” ideas, the distinction finds no support in international human rights law. In Indonesia, “Marxist” has long been used as an epithet, and the term in any case is not susceptible to precise definition. If the new government is to make a break with the Soeharto past, in which expression of dissenting views and vigorous assertion of rights was too often conflated with violence against the state, it must immediately release all prisoners arrested for peacefully exercising their basic rights of free expression, association and assembly, including the PRD prisoners.

* * * * * * *

The effect in the classroom of the arrest of outspoken faculty and students is hard to gauge. There is evidence, however, that the government’s allegations that the PRD activists were “anti-Pancasila” traitors led both students and faculty alike to question the premises of the government’s mandatory Pancasila curriculum (see chapter 7 below). There is no question, however, that such arrests, and the media campaigns that accompanied them, chilled the speech of students and faculty on political subjects, limiting their ability to contribute to and participate in public life as citizens.132

Dr. Melani Budianta, a professor at the University of Indonesia told Human Rights Watch that, in the immediate aftermath of the July 27 riots, she was part of a group of professors in the languages and literature faculty who were outraged at the government’s scapegoating of the PRD and its ongoing hunt for PRD members still at large.133 Three students in the languages and literature faculty who had belonged the PRD had disappeared, and the faculty members did not know whether they were in hiding or had been arrested. The professors decided they would write a strongly worded letter protesting the government’s actions for publication in a Jakarta newspaper. In a short time, some members of the groups began to have doubts because of the increasing severity of the government’s ideological campaign against the PRD in public media. Some left the group, and the language of the draft letter was toned down. The professor explained: “People became afraid, unwilling to take an unnecessary risk by putting their own reputations on the line. It wasn’t so much a question of fear of arrest, as fear that they would be labeled as troublemakers, that signing a letter could be a black mark that would follow them for years.”134 Eventually, the group disbanded and no letter was sent.

110 International Commission of Jurists, Indonesia and the Rule of Law (London: Frances Pinter, 1987), pp. 85-86. The New Order also periodically used Indonesia’s blasphemy law to silence campus speech. See Human Rights Watch/Asia, “Indonesia: Press Closures in Indonesia One Year Later,” A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 7, no. 9, July 1995, p. 2; Human Rights Watch/Asia, “Indonesia: Students Jailed for Puns,” A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 5, no. 5, March 1993, pp. 1-3; Human Rights Watch/Asia,”Indonesia’s Salman Rushdie,” A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 3, no. 13, April 1991, pp. 1-6.

111 A brief history of the application of the anti-subversion law is set forth in International, “Indonesia: The Anti-subversion Law: A Briefing,” February 1997, AI Index: ASA 21/03/97, pp. 6-9 (on-line version).

112 Quoted in ibid., p. 1.

113 Human Rights Watch/Asia, Injustice, Persecution, Eviction, pp. 7-16.

114 Asia Watch (now Human Rights Watch/Asia), “Indonesia: Criminal Charges for Political Caricatures,” A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 3, no. 14, May 1991.

115 Asia Watch (now Human Rights Watch/Asia), “Indonesia: Government Efforts to Silence Students,” A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 5, no. 16, October 1993.

116 Amnesty International, “Indonesia: Update on Student Prisoners of Conscience,” July 1994, ASA 21/25/94.

117 Human Rights Watch/Asia, The Limits of Openness, p. 11, n. 12.

118 Information on scores of other political prisoners incarcerated at the time of Soeharto’s resignation is in Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, “Release Prisoners of Conscience Now!,” A Joint Human Rights Watch - Amnesty International Report, June 1998.

119 Hefner, Robert W., “Islam, State and Civil Society,” Indonesia 56 (October 1993) (Ithaca, New York: Cornell Modern Indonesia Project), p. 20.

120 See Human Rights Watch/Asia, “Soeharto Retaliates against Critics: Official Reactions to Demonstrations in Germany,” A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 7, no. 6, May 1995, p. 1.

121 Ibid., p. 5.

122 Tim Buku Bintang, Saya Musuh Politik Soeharto (Jakarta: Pijar Indonesia, May 1996), pp. 49-50.

123 Human Rights Watch/Asia, “Soeharto Retaliates,” p. 5; Tim Buku Bintang, Saya Musuh, pp. 45-46.

124 Tim Buku Bintang, Saya Musuh Politik Soeharto (Jakarta: Pijar Indonesia, May 1996).

125 A detailed description of the government’s hunting down and arrest of PRD activists in 1996 and its campaign to portray the PRD as communist is in Human Rights Watch/Asia and Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, “Indonesia: Tough International Response Needed to Widening Crackdown,” A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 8, no. 8(C), August 1996, pp. 5-9, 11-14.

126 Seven of the fourteen report having been beaten during interrogations; one said he was tortured with electric shocks. The defendants were denied a range of rights guaranteed them under Indonesian law, including the right to legal counsel subsequent to arrest. See Amnesty International, “The PRD Prisoners: A Summary of Amnesty International’s Concerns,” October 1997, AI Index 21/56/97, pp 6-7 (on-line version).

127 See “Government to free more political prisoners,” Jakarta Post, May 28, 1998. The article quotes a high-ranking government official as stating that “[President Habibie] said requirements for [the release of] prisoners is based on three criteria: that they are not opposed to the Constitution, not Marxist, and that they are not on criminal charges.”

128 Human Rights Watch/Asia, “Tough International Response Needed,” p. 11.

129 Ibid., p. 12.

130 Ibid., Appendix IV, pp. 23-25.

131 Amnesty International, “Indonesia: The PRD Prisoners,” p. 4 (on-line version).

132 See ibid., pp. 14-16 (describing the impact of the government’s scapegoating campaign against the PRD activists on freedom of expression elsewhere in Indonesian society).

133 Human Rights Watch interview with Melani Budianta, Jakarta, September 30, 1997.

134 Ibid.

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