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Subject: UA: Release All Indonesia's Political Prisoners
Date: Fri, 3 Jul 1998 13:38:52 +0100 (BST)


Introduction A few days after Suharto fell from power on 21 May and his vice-president, B.J. Habibie, took over, Minister of Justice Professor Muladi declared that all political prisoners would be released, with the exception of thirteen men convicted for alleged involvement in the events of October 1965, alleged by Suharto to have been a Communist-inspired coup attempt.

Six weeks later, out of a total of 155 listed by Amnesty International, only four Indonesian political prisoners have been released along with five against whom charges were dropped. Of the 170 East Timorese political prisoners listed by the Melbourne-based East Timor Human Rights Centre, only 29 have been released. Both organisations stress that their lists are likely to be far from complete because of the difficulty of access and the lack of data made public by the authorities.

In addition, twelve activists have been missing for months and in some cases, for more than a year.

After a brief burst of activity in the fortnight following Habibie's accession, nothing has happened for nearly a month. In other words, the release programme appears to have stalled.

TAPOL believes that the international community should intensify pressure on the Habibie government to release all the remaining prisoners including the 'disappeared', along with those convicted for alleged involvement in the October 1965 events.

This Memorandum summarises the categories of prisoners and concludes with an appeal for urgent action on behalf of Indonesia's hundreds of political prisoners.

The 1965 prisoners The thirteen men convicted in grossly unfair trials for alleged involvement in the events of 1965 are all elderly and most are suffering from chronic disorders or are incapacitated. Four have been under sentence of death for more than 25 years; the rest are serving life sentences which Suharto refused to commute to fixed-term sentences that would have enabled their eventual release.

All these men should be released without delay on humanitarian grounds and allowed to spend what remains of their lives with their families. Cold War rhetoric about a 'communist threat' should not be allowed to keep them in prison any longer.

The PRD prisoners Twelve young prisoners, including one woman, are serving harsh sentences for setting up a non-recognised political party, the People's Democratic Party (PRD), whose central demand is for Indonesia to become a multi-party state. They are alleged to have Marxist leanings, which implies that they too could be denied release for reasons of ideology. (Laws banning Marxism, introduced by Suharto in the 1960s, have not been repealed and are unlikely to be repealed under Habibie.)

West Papuan prisoners The Amnesty list includes 23 West Papuans, most of whom are serving sentences upwards of twelve years. Most were charged for activities in support of independence for West Papua which was annexed in 1969 following a fraudulent 'act of free choice'. Human rights groups in Jayapura say that the actual number is far higher, including prisoners held in prisons in remote places. Acehnese prisoners This is the largest group of all the Indonesian prisoners. Amnesty's list includes 55 convicted people, most of whom are serving upwards of fifteen years. They were convicted on charges related to alleged involvement in activities supporting the Free Aceh Movement. In addition, many more whose names are difficult to trace are being held following their forced deportation from Malaysia although they should have been allowed to apply to the UN High Commission for Refugees for political asylum.

Muslim prisoners Amnesty's list of Muslim prisoners includes thirty names. Eleven are serving life sentences and most of the rest upwards of fourteen years. Most were convicted in the mid 1980s following a clampdown on sects refusing to adhere to the mainstream Sunni-Muslim belief in Indonesia.

The 'disappeared' Starting in mid-1997, there was a spate of 'disappearances', clearly the work of army units. The testimony of four men who subsequently re-surfaced confirmed this. After weeks of denials, the armed forces commander in chief has now acknowledged that army units are involved. If this is so, ask the families and lawyers of the 'disappeared', why are they not being released without delay?

The East Timorese prisoners The Melbourne-based ETHRC has published a list of 170 prisoners, of whom 29 have been released and/or have had charges withdrawn. This compares with Amnesty's list of 81 names. The facts regarding some prisoners have been difficult to confirm while ETHRC acknowledges that the number actually detained could be much higher than their list of 141.

The prisoners include Xanana Gusmao, leader of the East Timor resistance, whose release is seen by many, including the European Union, as being crucial to helping bring about a solution to the question of East Timor. Talks between Indonesia and Portugal under UN auspices have made no progress for years. The release of Xanana and all the other East Timorese prisoners would contribute substantially to easing tensions in East Timor where the situation has become increasingly volatile recently.


1. Please write to your government calling for pressure on the Habibie government to release all the political prisoners without delay. Please mention in particular the release of the 1965 prisoners on humanitarian grounds; their continued incarceration cannot be justified. Besides mentioning the East Timorese prisoners and Xanana Gusmao, also mention the others who have hardly been mentioned in Indonesia and in the foreign press. The West Papuans, Acehnese and Muslims must not be forgotten in the campaign to release Indonesia's political prisoners.

2. Ask MPs in your country to write to your government or raise the issue in parliamentary motions or questions.

3. Send appeals to:
President B.J. Habibie, Istana Negara, Jalan Veteran, Central Jakarta, Indonesia Fax: 62-21 345 7782 Email:

Minister of Justice, Professor Dr. Muladi SH, Ministry of Justice, Jalan H.R. Rasuna Said Blok X, VI, Kav 4-5 Kuningan, Jakarta Selatan, Indonesia Fax: 62-21 525 3095

3. Please write also to the Indonesian ambassador in your country.

TAPOL, Indonesia Human Rights Campaign, 111 Northwood Road, Thornton Heath, Surrey CR7 8HW, UK Phone: 0181 771-2904 Fax: 0181 653-0322 email: Defending the rights of the victims of Indonesian oppression in Indonesia, East Timor, West Papua and Aceh.

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