Wed, 24 Mar 1999

40 Acehnese political prisoners released

JAKARTA (JP): Only three days before President B.J. Habibie's visit to Aceh, the government announced on Tuesday the release of 40 Acehnese political prisoners on the condition they pledge allegiance to the state ideology Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution.

Minister of Justice Muladi said their release was effected by Habibie in decree No. 13 dated March 17. He acknowledged the decision was intended to create a conducive atmosphere for the President's visit.

"I think an atmosphere of reconciliation, a conducive spirit, needs to be created so that Pak Habibie will not be talking nonsense (in his visit)," Muladi said after accompanying Habibie in a meeting with a delegation from the International Commission of Jurists at Merdeka Palace.

The President is scheduled to pay a one-day visit to Aceh on Friday.

In decree No. 14, Habibie also granted clemency to blind Muslim preacher Hussein Ali Al Habsyi. He was sentenced to life in 1991 for masterminding a series of bombings, including a 1985 explosion at Borobudur temple in Magelang, Central Java.

The government said the acts were part of a campaign to establish an Islamic state.

Habibie also agreed to release Hasbi Abdullah, jailed for 17 years for subversion.

The Acehnese prisoners, jailed for actions related to the Free Aceh movement, are obliged to pledge and sign the following statement: "I swear to be faithful to Pancasila as the state ideology, the 1945 Constitution, the decrees of the People's Consultative Assembly, and all other prevailing laws".

The decree on Hussein and Hasbi does not contain the obligation.

Eight of the Aceh separatists were sentenced to 20 years in jail, including Tengku Zulkarnaini and Tengku Bantakia; six to 15 years, including Yunus Mahmud; six others for 12 years, including Syaiful Bahri, and two for eight years, among them Nazaruddin.

Bantakia reportedly cultivated marijuana to finance the separatist movement. Six of the people were sentenced in 1991, while seven were convicted last year.

With the release of the 42 convicts, Muladi said the government had freed 202 of 240 political convicts.

The minister promised the government would release about 10 former members of the outlawed Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) on the grounds of advanced age and because they were imprisoned more than 30 years.

"They are already quite old, so for humanitarian reasons we will free them and, apparently, they have also changed."

He said he did not know how many accused PKI members were still in the nation's prisons. Three are in East Jakarta's Cipinang Prison.

Muladi also disclosed that it was nearly impossible for the government to release leaders of the Democratic People's Party (PRD), including its chairman Budiman Sudjatmiko and secretary- general Petrus Hari Haryanto.

Muladi stated the stumbling block was Budiman's demand that Habibie grant them general amnesty and release all political prisoners as the condition for his release.

Legally there is only clemency and amnesty, Muladi said, which both imply admission of guilt, which is not contained in a general amnesty.

The two were sentenced to 13 years and six years respectively for masterminding riots on July 27, 1996, following the forced takeover of the headquarters of the Indonesian Democratic Party, then headed by Megawati Soekarnoputri.

PRD is one of 48 political parties permitted to contest the general election in June.

Muladi said he was not informed if internationally acclaimed author Pramoedya Ananta Toer was still subject to a travel ban. He has been invited to the United States for the launching of a translation of his books and to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Michigan.

"If he has been released without condition, then his passport must be given to him and there should no longer be a travel ban on him," Muladi said.

Pramoedya was jailed without trial for 14 years until 1979 for his links to PKI's literary wing. His travel ban was lifted in 1997, but immigration officials have declined to confirm whether he remains on a list of thousands banned from traveling overseas.

Also on Tuesday, Habibie gave permission for five members of the jurist commission to visit several provinces to obtain firsthand information on the implementation of laws in the country.

"But due to their limited time, they will only visit Aceh and South Sumatra," said Adnan Buyung Nasution, a commission member from Indonesia, citing two provinces with rampant rights violations. (prb)