Thu, 23 Nov 2000

Indonesia told to free Aceh activist

JAKARTA (JP): Pressures are mounting from international and domestic communities for an immediate release of the chairman of the Information Center for Aceh Referendum (SIRA) Muhammad Nazar who was arrested on Monday evening for allegedly creating public disorder.

In a written statement, dated Nov. 21, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said the arrest of an Acehnese activist on charges of spreading hatred and incitement was "a throwback to Indonesia's authoritarian past."

The human rights group said Nazar's arrest marked the first use by the government of Abdurrahman Wahid of Articles 154 and 155, the so-called "spreading-hatred" articles of the Indonesian Criminal Code.

Inherited from the Dutch colonial administration, these articles were used by the Soeharto government to quell free speech forums critical of Soeharto and to discourage pro- independence activities in East Timor.

Human rights lawyers and activists had expected that in a democratic Indonesia, these articles would be repealed.

"If this is incitement, Indonesian democracy is in serious trouble," Sidney Jones, Asia director of the Human Rights Watch said.

Nazar has been named a suspect by police on charges of creating public disorder during a protest held along with the commemoration of Indonesia Independence Day on Aug. 17, when SIRA displayed a banner, calling Indonesia a "Neocolonialist".

SIRA was also the organizer of the Mass Gathering for Peace (SIRA RAKAN) on Nov. 11, which drew tens of thousands of Acehnese to the capital of Banda Aceh.

The Aceh-based National Commission on Human Rights said the violence, which erupted ahead of the mass gathering claimed the lives of at least 30 people, while 62 others were injured as security officers intensified efforts to prevent the Acehnese from entering Banda Aceh.

The Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association (PBHI) joined the call for the release of Nazar, saying it was "an effort to systematically provoke the situation, which in turn could lead to a bigger sociopolitical upheaval."

In its statement signed by its chairman Hendardi, PBHI suspected that political motives were behind the arrest, due to the fact that it was made on Nazar over a case of the past.

The rights body asked President Abdurrahman Wahid to take necessary steps, in particular to release Nazar, otherwise the present government would add complicity to the ongoing political settlement of Aceh problem.

Separately, in Banda Aceh, SIRA Polling Coordinator Radhi Darmansyah disclosed in a press conference on Wednesday the results of the polls on self determination, conducted from Nov. 3 to Nov. 11.

The polling results showed that of the total 2,062,398 respondents, 1,897,818 people or 92.02 percent had voted for independence, 2,744 people or 0.133 percent opted to remain a part of Indonesia, while 161,836 people or 7.847 percent abstained.

The population of Aceh this year is 3,956,938 and the polling center distributed a total of 2,769,856 polling forms to residents across the province. (50/lup/jaw)