Mon, 15 Aug 1994

SBSI chief detained for inciting violence

JAKARTA (JP): Police have detained Muchtar Pakpahan, the chairman of the outlawed Indonesian Prosperous Workers Union (SBSI), on charges of inciting violence, his colleagues said.

Muchtar was picked up from his home on Jl. Kayu Putih Selatan VI in East Jakarta on Saturday morning by officers with a warrant issued by the police precinct in Medan, North Sumatra.

National Police Chief Gen. Banurusman Astrosemitro confirmed that his forces had detained Muchtar in order to find out about the extent of his involvement in the massive workers' riot last April which had its origins in a workers protests.

The riot that went on for one week left one businessman dead and extensive damage to dozens of factories and shops.

"We're trying to find out from the person concerned about the precise role of the SBSI, whether or not it masterminded the protest," Banurusman was quoted by the Antara news agency as saying on Saturday afternoon.

Muchtar had shuttled between Jakarta and Medan several times since after the riot to help with the police inquiry although he was never formally charged.

National Police Deputy Chief for Operation Maj. Gen. Koesparmono Irsan said there are indications that the April protests were no longer "pure" but were already being used by certain parties for their political objectives. "If this could be ascertained, then we will initiate legal process against him."

The SBSI head office in Jakarta on Saturday immediately launched a protest against the arrest, saying that it was another attempt by the authorities to destroy the union once and for all.


In a statement signed by Tohap Simanungkalit, who is coordinating the SBSI's legal affairs, the union said that the timing was suspiscious, coming only a few weeks before a planned general strike called by the SBSI for October. "Why has it taken them four months to decide that he should prosecuted?"

The union, formed in 1992 by labor activists, has never been given official recognition and officials considered it illegal. The authorities never made any serious attempt to actually disband the organization but it has repeatedly harassed its members and leaders, including breaking up its first ever congress in Puncak near here last year.

The SBSI is challenging the government's policy of recognizing the All Indonesian Workers Union (SPSI) as the only organization allowed to represent workers in disputes with managements.

The workers' riots in Medan last April had its origin in a massive workers protests called by the SBSI. More than 80 workers and activists, including the local SBSI leaders, have been tried or are being tried in connection with the violence.

Two top activists of the Medan office of SBSI were on the run for a few weeks before Muchtar himself helped deliver them to the authorities after assurances that they would not be tortured.

The union in its statement questioned the method by which Muchtar was arrested on Saturday, apparently by sending dozens of officers to his home "as if he was a big time criminal".

"Muchtar has been cooperative with the police all this time, complying with their summons despite his feeling that it was all unnecessary, time consuming, tiring and a waste of funds," it said. (emb)