Jakarta – The arrest and trial of an activist caught with copies of a banned magazine was Saturday branded by a human rights watch dog as the latest assault on freedom of expression in Indonesia.
"The arrest and trial of Andi Syahputera is the latest assault on freedom of expression in Indonesia," New York-based Human Rights Watch Asia (HRWA) said in a faxed statement received here.
Syahputra, an activist in several pro-democracy groups including the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), faces six years in jail for defaming the president after being arrested during a police raid on a printing house last October.
He was carrying the master copy of the magazine Suara Independen, which authorities banned last May saying it could discredit and spread distrust of the government.
Police also confiscated 3,000 copies of the magazine at the printing house and arrested an employee of the printing house named Dasrul.
HRWA said there were "major legal and procedural questions" surrounding the arrest of Syahputera. It said police held Syahputera after the legal detention period of one month, although they released Dasrul.
"Whether Andi Syahputera's case is part of the post-July crackdown, pre-election jitters, or the increasingly emotional response of an ageing leader to criticism, it is clear that the tolerance for dissent in Indonesia is steadily decreasing," said Sidney Jones, executive director of HRWA.
The government of President Suharto, 75 – who has run unopposed in all five elections since he came to power in 1968 – launched a widespread c rackdown on opposition activists following riots in Jakarta last July. Two former parliamentarians – Sri Bintang Pamungkas and Aberson Marle Sihaloho – are also facing jail terms for insulting the president.
The Indonesian press and journalists are strictly regulated by the government, which only recognizes the state-sponsored Indonesian Journalist Association (PWI) as the sole organisation for journalists.
AJI was et up in August 1994 to promote press freedom in Indonesia following the banning of three leading publications in June that year and the weak response by the PWI to the decision.
Since then AJI members and those who signed the Sirnagalih Declaration which founded it, have been subject to strong government pressure through their editors. Some have been forced to resign from their jobs in leading publications, transfered out of editorial positions, or demoted. Syahputera's trial resumes on February 13. jg/mdl