Thu, 18 Aug 1994

SBSI chief formally charged with inciting Medan riots

JAKARTA (JP): Muchtar Pakpahan, the chairman of the outlawed Indonesian Prosperous Labor Union (SBSI), has been formally charged with inciting the riots in Medan last April.

National Police Chief Spokesman Brig. Gen. IK Ratta said on Tuesday that Muchtar, who is in the custody of the Medan Police in North Sumatra, was formally informed of the charge on Monday.

The police investigation found that Muchtar was actively involved in mobilizing workers to stage a strike in Medan last April which turned into a full scale riot, Ratta said during a "morning coffee" session with reporters at his office.

He said the Medan Police have now completed the dossier and will soon turn it over to the local public prosecutors office.

Muchtar has been hit with Article 160 of the Criminal Code, which deals with inciting others to commit crime or violence. If found guilty, he faces a maximum penalty of six years imprisonment.

Muchtar was picked up from his Jakarta home on Saturday morning and taken to Medan where the investigation is being carried out.

A businessman died and dozens of people were injured during the week long workers riot in Medan which also left dozens of factories and shops damaged.

What began initially as an SBSI-initiated protest march turned into a riot as protesters looted and burned shops and factories in several industrial zones in Medan's outskirts.

Some 80 people, including a number of local SBSI leaders, have been or are being tried in connection with the violence.

Muchtar was assisting with the investigation from the beginning, but was never put under arrest until last Saturday.

"His arrest complied with legal procedures," Ratta said. "Police had to pick him up at his home because he had ignored the summons."

SBSI was formed two years ago by Muchtar to challenge the government's policy of recognizing the All Indonesian Workers Union (SPSI) as the only organization allowed to represent workers in disputes with management.

Although declared illegal, the government has never seriously attempted to disband the SBSI although it has disrupted some of its meetings, including its first congress in nearby Puncak last year.


Meanwhile, the U.S. embassy in Jakarta expressed concern on Tuesday over the Muchtar's arrest and said his case may come up in dialog over a bilateral trade privilege.

"The U.S. Embassy is concerned about Mr. Pakpahan's arrest and detention. We hope that his case can be resolved promptly and we will continue to monitor Mr. Pakpahan's situation," it said in a statement.

"With respect to the ongoing dialog between the U.S. and Indonesia concerning GSP (Generalized System of Preferences), worker rights and human resource development, the Pakpahan case may come up during the course of that dialog.

"We do not expect any announcements on GSP to be made while that dialog is continuing," the statement added.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Alatas, after a meeting with several foreign journalists here yesterday, played down the embassy's statement saying that Muchtar's detention was necessary in resolving the investigations on Medan riots.

"I hope they understand that this matter is strictly within our internal jurisdiction," he said.

Washington is currently reviewing the GSP facility it granted to Indonesia and its continuation hinges heavily on the labor conditions in Indonesia. Some $650 million worth of Indonesian exports to the United States qualify for the duty free treatment under the GSP.

Commenting on the U.S's linkage of labor issues to the GSP, Alatas said that such an act was "totally counterproductive" and would only "increase unnecessary irritation."

He even went so far as to sneer at the value of the GSP to the national economy, "It's not so big, we can do without it .. Did they think we would be trembling in our shoes?"

In Tuesday's press statement, the embassy said: "The U.S. supports the rights of workers to organize, to form free associations, and to bargain collectively without interference from government or military authorities.

"These are well established, internationally recognized standards formulated by the International Labor Organization (ILO)," the statement added. (jsk/mds/emb)