Thu, 25 Mar 1999

Government releases PKI prisoners

JAKARTA (JP): Minister of Justice Muladi announced on Wednesday the release of 10 aging former members of the outlawed Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), jailed for their involvement in the communist-backed abortive coup attempt in 1965.

According to Muladi, the release was "intended to speed up the process of national reconciliation, which requires legal efforts, by giving amnesty to prisoners who are serving sentences".

The minister said the release was effected by President B.J. Habibie in decree No. 15 dated March 17, on the condition they swear an oath to Pancasila as the state ideology, to the 1945 Constitution and decrees of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR).

With their release, Habibie has freed 212 of 240 political prisoners since he replaced Soeharto in May last year.

Eight leaders of the newly rehabilitated People's Democratic Party (PRD) remain in jail, including its chairman Budiman Sudjatmiko and secretary-general Petrus Haryanto.

Muladi said on Tuesday it was almost impossible to release the younger prisoners, as they demanded a general amnesty without any preconditions.

"They can continue sleeping in the prison," Muladi said on Wednesday.

The PKI prisoners would be released "because they have shown good conduct, and due to humanitarian considerations including their advanced age and deteriorating health conditions," Muladi said, after meeting with the President at Merdeka Palace.

Four of the elderly inmates were sentenced to death for subversive activities and an attempt to topple the government. The President's decree identifies them as Asep Suryaman, 73, former Chief Sgt. Boengkoes, 72, former Sgt. Maj. Natanael Marsudi, 71, and Isnanto, 76.

The other six prisoners are former Col. Abdul Latief, 73, Sri Suhardjo, 70, Suryabrata, 71, Buyung Ketek, 52, Markus Giroth, 61, and Sido, 52.

Abdul Latief is the most senior among the 10 inmates. He told The Jakarta Post in October that on the night of Sept. 30, 1965, Soeharto, then chief of the Army's Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad), was fully aware of the coup plan and the killings of six senior generals.

Latief, currently in Cipinang prison, East Jakarta, claimed Soeharto had victimized him to cover-up his role in the coup plot. He said his family was close to the Soeharto family until the tragedy erupted.

Details of the coup remain a mystery. Following the fall of Soeharto last year, questions concerning Soeharto's role in the coup have been raised. (prb)