Mon, 24 Feb 2003

PDI-P leader threatens press, students

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A senior member of the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) warned student protesters as well as a Jakarta-based newspaper not to criticize his party.

Jacob Nuwa Wea, who is also the country's manpower and transmigration minister, said that Rakyat Merdeka (Free People) newspaper and the students had been criticizing the party "too much".

"Rakyat Merdeka, I warn you not to write (articles) that abuse PDI Perjuangan. If they insist on insulting PDI Perjuangan leaders, they will have to 'face' thousands of PDI Perjuangan supporters," he told a large group of PDI Perjuangan supporters during a party gathering in Central Jakarta on Sunday.

Jacob also threatened the freedom of expression of the students who have demanded that President Megawati Soekarnoputri, the party's leader, step down.

"Some of them have stepped on her pictures. They've gone too far. If they keep on doing it, they will have to 'face' PDI Perjuangan supporters. I warn you, students, don't repeat your actions," he said.

Two editors of Rakyat Merdeka have been summoned by the police for their article, which allegedly insults the president.

The newspapers offers tabloid-style journalism. Its articles and caricatures often criticize politicians from a variety of parties.

Under Megawati's administration, at least five students have been jailed on charges of defaming the president by stepping on her "pretty" picture or painting an X over presidential photos.

Speaking in Kuala Lumpur, President Megawati described anti- government rallies as "interesting scenery", but underlined that the government would be firm in dealing with destructive demonstrations.

"Most of the rallies in the capital are held in front of the presidential palace, and I find them very interesting. It's fine for me as long as they proceed peacefully," Megawati told a gathering of Indonesian nationals on Sunday evening.

"However, should they disturb public order and security, I have ordered the police to take them to the police station and question them," the president remarked.

She underlined that rallies were a part of the democratic process, but they should not threaten security, as the Indonesian people must learn to deal with things in an orderly fashion.

"Security is one of my main considerations and as citizens, everybody has the obligation to maintain peace," she remarked.

Kusnanto Anggoro, a political analyst from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), criticized both, especially Jacob who maintained a physical threat against the press even while legal proceedings were still underway.

"As a minister, I think Jacob Nuwa Wea should set a good example for the people, not threatening the press with the masses (party supporters). It is an out-of-date way of doing things," Kusnanto told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

He advised PDI Perjuangan and Jacob to use the proper channels in responding to a media report, such as using their right to rebut, reporting the media to the Press Council, or taking legal action.

Meanwhile, Haris Rusli, chairman of the Democratic People's Party (PRD) -- which often sends its supporters to the streets demanding Megawati to step down -- was unruffled by Jacob's threat.

Instead, he said such a threat could even strengthen the efforts of anti-government leaders grouped in the National Coalition to unseat Megawati.

PRD is one of around 50 members that make up the National Coalition.

"The students and anti-Mega groups will continue to up the pressure through various means, including demonstrations. We do not take the threat seriously. Our movement emerged as a response to her bad government," he said.