Thu, 27 May 2004

Police eye outspoken activists

Tiarma Siboro and Muninggar Sri Saraswati, Jakarta

Authorities are closely monitoring activists of 20 local and foreign non-governmental organizations (NGO), a move that could herald a crackdown on outspoken government critics.

National Police chief Gen. Da'i Bachtiar said on Wednesday that his office took as a warning a report that 20 local and foreign NGOs were issuing reports that could trigger security disturbances in the July 5 presidential election.

"We are handling this by reminding them (that their reports) should not disturb national security, but we are also prepared to take other moves (to deal with) possible provocation," Da'i said after a ministerial meeting.

Arrests of activists and individuals critical to government policies were commonplace during the autocratic leadership of president Soeharto.

Da'i did not specify the 20 NGOs but earlier reports suggested that the Brussel-based International Crisis Group (ICG) and the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (Elsam) were among those on the watch list.

The general said that the law would take its full course once police obtained sufficient evidence against those activists.

Separately, ICG Indonesia director Sidney Jones said that authorities had threatened to expel her because of the group's reports on Indonesia.

The government, according to Jones, has forced the group to stop operating in the country on May 10 and refused to extend work permits for its foreign staff.

"The manpower ministry informed me about the policy, but it remains unclear why the authorities took the decision. I recently met officials at the ministry, asking for a clarification about the closing of ICG.

"They did not clearly elaborate, but merely claimed that the decision was due to complaints from various parties. The officials, however, refused to specify the complaints," Jones told The Jakarta Post.

ICG has issued a number of critical reports on a wide variety of issues, including the war in Aceh, the religious violence in Ambon and Poso, Central Sulawesi, and the activities of regional terrorist network Jamaah Islamiyah (JI) in Indonesia.

The National Intelligence Agency (BIN) told the House of Representatives on Tuesday that 20 local and foreign NGOs were working to disturb security during the country's first direct presidential election on July 5.

Jones, in a statement sent to the Post, quoted foreign minister Hassan Wirayuda as saying that ICG's reports were biased and that the government had the right to expel whoever it chose.

But, foreign ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa said that the government was not in the business of removing people from the country but added that the foreign ministry has nothing to do with Jones' work permit.

"This is a classic case of someone trying to make a martyr of oneself. They are creating a crisis which is non-existent between the Indonesian government and the ICG," Marty was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying.

Jones said the authorities have monitored ICG's reports cautiously and "they fear that they may affect the upcoming election".

She said she had been trying unsuccessfully for two months to meet BIN director Hendropriyono to discuss her group's work.

ICG president Gareth Evans, a former Australian foreign minister, said in a statement he had total confidence in Jones and the Jakarta team.

"I think the Indonesian government should take into account that if we are expelled from Indonesia, this will do far more damage to Indonesia's reputation than the ICG's," he said.