Wed, 24 Jul 1996

Detained students holding up well

By Sirikit Syah

SURABAYA (JP): Dita Indah Sari, one of the three student activists detained on charges of inciting massive street labor protests earlier this month, looks healthy.

"We're doing fine," she told The Jakarta Post who visited her in her cell at the Surabaya police detention center on Monday. "We eat three times a day. We take showers normally. The water supply is good here."

She was accompanied by her friend, Coen Husein Pontoh, while the third, M. Sholeh, was still being interrogated. "He has been questioned since 11 a.m. this morning, and yet the police have not done with him yet," Dita said. It was 4 p.m.

Dita said she was on good terms with some of the policemen who are guarding them, and with the other detainees. She said they are frequently called for interrogation, but that they are never physically abused.

"The questioning is wearing us down. They ask the same questions over and over again. I know I must be strong," she said.

She is defiant, though. "I'm prepared to face whatever lies in store for me," she said.

"What we did was right. We have nothing to regret. We won't deny that we were involved in the strike and protest, but our involvement had a good reason," said the chief of the Center for the Indonesian Workers' Struggle, a wing of the newly established People's Democratic Party.

Dita, Pontoh and Sholeh were arrested on charges of inciting massive labor protests, involving some 10,000 workers from 10 local factories at Tandes industrial estate in a southern suburb, on July 8 and 9. The workers demanded their daily wages be raised to Rp 7,000 (US$3). The minimum daily wage for Surabaya, set by the government last April, is Rp 5,200 (US$ 2,26).

"We have to detain them because we have strong evidence they masterminded the labor demonstrations," the spokesman for the East Java police command, Lt. Col. M. Sofwat Hadi, said earlier.

At the time of the arrest, Dita and Coen were visibly battered, with bruises to their heads. All the students at the police station then also had injuries. Heavily guarded, they were barred from talking to journalists.

Chief of the Brawijaya local military command Maj. Gen. Imam Utomo earlier threatened to bring the student activists to court on charges of subversion, which carries a maximum penalty of death.

The authorities, however, later slapped them with charges of disturbing public order which carries penalties ranging between six to seven years. Some top-notch lawyers, including Trimoelja D. Soerjadi, are now representing them.


Dita was born in Medan and grew up in Jakarta. She had been attending University of Indonesia's Law School in Depok, West Java, for seven semesters before she decided to take a break. "I've been on a leave for three semesters," she said, adding she has no regrets.

Will she go back to campus some day? "I don't know. Maybe. It depends," she said.

Pontoh, an alumnus of the Sam Ratulangi University in Manado, North Sumatra, feels the same way. An farming engineer, he said he did not really care about a career.

His involvement in the strike was related to his activities in the National Farmers Association, also a wing of the People's Democratic Party. "Everybody knows that laborers here...are never given the chance to enjoy the fruits of national development."

"What we did was right," he said, echoing Dita. He was visibly upset when asked about some military officials' comment likening his organization to the banned Indonesian Communist Party.

"They know that's not true. They only say it in order to grind us down. There's no way our movement can be equated with communism," he said.


Pontoh was not sure whether his parents knew what was happening to him. "I think they know. They read and watch the news, too," he said. "We don't communicate very often. They live in Manado."

Dian, an older brother of Dita's, told the Post that their parents were not supportive. "We're just trying to understand her," he said. "I'm sad for her, but proud, too."

Dita said she needed her family's support at a time like this. "We believe we didn't do anything wrong. We don't have any regrets. This is what makes us strong. But we also need our family's and friends' support," she said.

The three students are frequently visited by other students and activists, many of whom they do not even know.

Meanwhile, the student body of Wijaya Kusuma University has requested the police's permit for Sholeh to take his exams, which began Monday. So far, no permission has been granted.

Similar requests had been made by the team of lawyers for the students. Police have decided to detain her for another 60 days, according to a source at the Surabaya Legal Aid Institute. The police could not be reached for confirmation.

Trimoelja, known for handling controversial cases such as the one of murdered labor activist Marsinah, said he agreed to defend the students simply because "everybody has the right to legal counsel".

"It's the students' friends, not their families, who asked me to represent them. I visited the three, and they said yes, they wanted me. I couldn't say no," he said.

The team of 19 lawyers defending the students include human rights campaigner Adnan Buyung Nasution and Bambang Widjojanto from the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute.