Tue, 10 Jun 2003

Aceh police targeting rights activists, offices

Muninggar Sri Saraswati, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Police are continuing to detain and interrogate rights activists over alleged links to the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

Legal Aid Institute director for Aceh Afridal Darmi told The Jakarta Post in Jakarta on Monday that police were regularly questioning activists across Aceh.

Several activists from a number of organizations have already been charged with subversion and face life in jail if convicted.

Darmi said the questioning of six activists with the Legal Aid and Human Rights Center in East Aceh over the weekend was the latest case.

The six were identified as the center's director, M. Yusuf Puteh, and his subordinates, namely Nur Syamsiah, Fitri, Nazariah, Arma and Fida.

Faisal Hadi, the coordinator of the Coalition of Non- governmental Organizations in Aceh, said the six were not linked to GAM.

"The accusation is clearly erroneous because the human rights center works to uphold human rights and law," he told AFP.

Aceh Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Sayed Husainy admitted police were questioning the activists.

"Three of them are being questioned, instead of being detained."

Afridal said that NGOs were still free to make contact with people inside and outside the war-torn province although there were limitations on activities due to security concerns.

"We're being closely watched," he said, adding that he feared the martial law administration might outlaw at least one NGO for its criticism of the military operation.

Afridal also complained about the difficulties of getting information on the whereabouts of all the activists in the province to check on their wellbeing.

On Saturday, a volunteer with the Commission for Victims of Violence and Missing Persons (Kontras) was found shot dead in East Aceh.

Kontras board member Munir, speaking in Jakarta, said it could not investigate the death of Saiful Bachri due to restrictions.

"The military have told us that Saiful Bachri was shot dead by GAM members," Munir said.

Police have rounded up an unknown number of activists in Aceh and charged them under state emergency laws with subversion for alleged links to GAM. The article carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

One of the accused is Srikandi Aceh women's rights organization coordinator Cut Asikin. The police alleged Cut is the commander of GAM's female military wing Inong Balee.

The Center for Information on Aceh Referendum (SIRA) -- whose chairman is currently on trial for violating the law on freedom of expression -- and Student Solidarity for the People's Movement (SMUR) have been accused of being GAM sympathizers.

Chief of the martial law administration in Aceh, Maj. Gen. Endang Suwarya, has threatened to arrest all of the two organizations' activists if they continue to support the separatist movement.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have expressed concern over the threats against rights activists in Aceh.

Amnesty said: "The imposition of martial law in Aceh has brought new dangers for human rights activists there."

Besides the military operation and the imposition of martial law, the government has also tried to isolate the rebels from the press, the bureaucracy, their exiled leaders abroad and NGOs overseas in a bid to stamp them out.