The following letter has been sent to Alexander Downer, the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade by the Jakarta detainees.
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On the afternoon of June 8 the Asia Pacific Labour Solidarity Conference on Neoliberalism in Sawangan south of Jakarta, organised by the Indonesian NGO INCREASE, Indonesian Centre for Reform and Social Emancipation, was violently broken up by Indonesian secret police and their right-wing militia thugs.
Courageous attempts by the conference organisers failed to prevent the police from herding 32 foreign participants onto police trucks and cars to be driven to the central Jakarta police station. There they were detained without charge by police intelligence and their passports removed.
The police left the conference site mindful that the machete- and sickle-wielding militia thugs had stayed behind. At approximately 7pm they launched an attack on the remaining Indonesian participants, who had to run for their lives. A number were injured and two people were hospitalised, one requiring emergency surgery for a slashed artery.
This vicious attack on democratic rights is of serious concern: it signifies the beginning of an attempt by the right wing to return to the worst of the New Order repression experienced under the former Suharto regime. It is also reminiscent of the actions carried out by the Indonesian armed forces in collaboration with militia thugs in East Timor in 1999 and by similar groups in Indonesia against the democratic forces.
It is now clear that the “visa violations” were really an excuse used by the police intelligence to close down the conference. The Indonesian immigration authorities have stated that the foreign participants using a short stay pass were entitled to attend seminars and did not breach any laws.
According to a senior official at the Director-General for Immigration, Mursanuddin Gani, who was quoted in the June 11 Jakarta Post, the police acted on their own. “The police could have contacted our office prior to raid, but as far as I know there was no notification . If they [the foreigners] really violated immigration laws, why were they released? . The police can only summons the organizers of the seminar for questioning, not necessarily question the foreigners.”
Gani pointed out in the same interview that foreigners visiting Indonesia for special events like conferences and business meetings were eligible for the visa-on-arrival facility, the same visa obtained by the Australian participants at the INCREASE conference. Despite this, the Australian government was quick to echo the Indonesian secret police and insist that the detainee’s plight was the result of a “visa misunderstanding”.
We, the undersigned supporters of democracy and labour rights, condemn this brutal repression of democractic rights and free speech. The Australian government’s silence on this incident shows just how out of step it is with the democratic aspirations of both the Australian and Indonesian people.
The vicious attack on the Sawangan conference should also make it clear that any renewal of military ties with Indonesia will give political support to the sorts of anti-democratic actions carried out by the police and right-wing militia thugs.
We demand that you as Minister for Foreign Affairs condemn this blatant attack on free speech and democratic rights and that you speak out against acts of repression. Australia’s foreign policy must be geared towards assisting the growth and extension of democracy in Indonesia. It should not allow the former “special relationship” - cultivated for 32 years by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Suharto regime - to take precedence over democratic and human rights. Australians should not be “advised” against attending political meetings in Indonesia - the latest excuse used by DFAT - just as Indonesians should be able to enjoy freedom of association and speech in their own country.
Signed by the detainees:
1. Peter Boyle
2. Nick Everett
3. Gillian Davies
4. Pip Hinman
5. Helen Jarvis
6. Sibylle Kazorek
7. Max Lane
8. Jon Lamb
9. Doug Lorimer
10. Graham Matthews
11. Jim McIllroy
12. Rebecca Meckelburg
13. Allen Myers
14. Dave Murphy
15. Tom O’Lincoln
16. John Percy
17. Julia Perkins
18. Ian Rintoul
19. Eva To
20. Kerryn Williams
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10-11 SMH; AAP; Reut: News reports on activists detained in Jakarta
News added June 11
"About 100 people were at the meeting when dozens of police suddenly appeared, ... They were bristling with rifles. I was there with my partner, Peter Boyle, and four-year-old daughter, Zoe. We just sat tight. They blocked off the exits and used a loud-hailer and were shouting.” Ms Pip Hinman, One of the Australians detained
9 ASIET: Indonesian government reneges on Australians’ release
Release added June 11
"Thirty-two academics, Non Government Organisation representatives and activists are back in police custody at the Jakarta Regional Police Headquarters Intelligence Section, detained against their will because of their attendance at a conference. ... They have no information on what the government intends to do with them. ... There will be vigils and demonstrations in cities around Australia at noon tomorrow, Sunday June 10, outside Indonesian consulates and Garuda Airlines offices to demand the immediate release of the conference attendees and to condemn the Indoesian government and military’s crushing of democratic discussion." Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor
9 ASIET: Jakarta police attack conference, detain foreign academics and
attendees Petition updated June 13
"Urgent support is needed from all supporters of democratic rights around the world following the June 8 police attack on an Asia Pacific solidarity conference held in Jakarta. ... We are asking all supporters of democratic rights to express their condemnation of these attacks through protest faxes and emails to Indonesian diplomatic offices. We also invite people to organise demostrations outside consulates, embassies and offices of Garuda Airways." ASIET (Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor)