Mon, 11 Jun 2001

Questioning of foreigners criticized

By Emmy Fitri

JAKARTA (JP): The police's recent detention of participants of a seminar in Sawangan has angered many people both at home and abroad, with even the immigration office here questioning the alleged visa violations police claim were committed by foreign seminar participants.

Abdul Hakim Garuda Nusantara, the chairman of the Institute for Human Rights Research and Advocacy, said Friday night's raid was a direct violation of the freedom of assembly.

"Whatever the reason and motive behind it (the raid) and the questioning of the conference participants, police themselves have clearly breached one of the important principals of the Universal Human Rights Declaration," Abdul Hakim said, while also pointing to such guarantees in Indonesia's Constitution.

"This will only worsen Indonesia's image before the international community as the conference was attended by activists from foreign countries," Abdul said.

Police raided the Sawangan Golf Inn on the outskirts of Jakarta on Friday and arrested 40 participants of the Asia Pacific Labor Solidarity Conference on Neoliberalism.

Thirty-two foreign conference participants were released on Saturday and told to report on Monday to the immigration office for further processing.

According to Abdul, the police could charge the foreign participants with immigration violations, but "do the police know that as soon as foreigners arrive in Indonesia they fill out a form stating the purpose of their visit, which can be business, to attend a conference or as a tourist"?

"This practice takes place all over the world. We have to fill out a declaration form and then show our invitation (to the conference) at the airport, that's all," Abdul said.

In defending their actions, the police have cited Immigration Law No. 9/1992, under which a foreigner can be deported and barred from entering Indonesia for a certain period of time.

But a senior official at the Directorate General for Immigration appeared puzzled by the police's actions.

Directorate general spokesman Mursanuddin Gani told The Jakarta Post on Sunday his office had not received a report from police about the questioning of the 32 foreigners.

"The police could have contacted our office prior to the raid, but as far as I know there was no notification. We have undertaken a series of joint operations targeting foreigners who are believed to have breached immigration laws, but not in this instance," Gani said.

He also doubted whether "any immigration officials were involved in Friday's raid of the Sawangan seminar".

"If they (the foreigners) really violated immigration laws, why were they released? They should have been sent to the immigration office."

Gani pointed out that foreigners visiting Indonesia for special events like conferences and business meetings were eligible for the visa-on-arrival facility.

He said the creation of this visa was meant to attract foreigners to Indonesia, and that the purpose of their visit could be stated upon arriving in the country.

"The police can only summon the organizers of the seminar for questioning, not necessarily question the foreigners," Gani added.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association, Hendardi, blasted the police's actions as a violation of democratic principles.

Lawyer Apong Herlina also questioned the raid and detentions. "It is bizarre for the police to take such actions nowadays. I think they are too sensitive. There are a lot of gatherings and seminars held here and participated in by foreigners, why was this one raided?" asked Apong, who is a former chairman of the Jakarta Legal Aid Foundation.

Meanwhile in Sydney, a four-year-old girl and her mother, among the foreigners detained during Friday's raid, arrived back home in Australia on Sunday.

The two were allowed to leave Indonesia for humanitarian reasons after sustained negotiations by Australian Embassy officials, a spokeswoman for Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told Reuters.

From Auckland, AFP reported that New Zealand activist and Auckland city councillor Marie Leadbeater was among the foreigners detained.

New Zealand's Minister of Foreign Affairs Phil Goff said on Sunday his country's embassy was making efforts to ensure Leadbeater returned home as planned on Monday.

From Bangkok, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development said on Sunday the police raid signaled an "imminent danger" to democracy in Indonesia.

According to the Bangkok Post, Thai academic Ji Ungphakorn was among those detained in the raid.

Thai Minister of Foreign Affairs Surakiart Sathirathai said Ji's arrest was a "misunderstanding" and that his detention would not affect relations between Thailand and Indonesia. (emf)