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Brussels-based group accuses Jakarta of suppressing union

Reuters - February 17, 1997

Jakarta – The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) yesterday said it had called on the United Nations human rights investigator to investigate the trial of an Indonesian independent labour union leader charged with subversion.

The Brussels-based trades union group said in a statement it had sent a letter to the UN special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Param Cumaraswamy, asking him to look into the trial of Muchtar Pakpahan, head of the unrecognised Indonesian Labour Welfare Union.

"The ICFTU accuses the Indonesian government of using the courts to suppress the country's only independent trade union organisation," it said in a statement.

"The unprecedented move to call on the UN Rapporteur to observe the trial and report this to the March session in Geneva of the UN Commission of Human Rights, is in response to the 'exceptional nature and scope of irregularities surrounding the case'," said the statement.

Pakpahan, accused along with several others on a charge that carries the death penalty, was arrested in connection with riots in Jakarta on July 27. At least five people died in the riots, the worst in more than 20 years, which erupted after a police-backed takeover of the headquarters of the Indonesian Democratic Party to evict supporters of ousted PDI leader Megawati Sukarnoputri.

The ICFTU said it criticised what it called the "partial and hostile attitude" towards defence lawyers of presiding judge Jasuli Sudibyo.

"Judge Sudibyo does most of the questioning of the witnesses himself (and) often leads with questioning aimed at incriminating Pakpahan," said the statement.

"It is worth noting that the prosecutors have referred very little in court to the July 27 riots since they apparently cannot link Pakpahan to the violence," it added.

The statement also said: "All the evidence at our disposal suggests that Pakpahan's legal problems are only linked to his trade union activities and that the authorities are determined to keep him in detention at all costs."

Pakpahan's lawyer Lutfie Hakim said recently the authorities seemed to be preparing to expedite the proceedings and conclude the trial as soon as possible, before the general elections. Indonesia goes to the polls in May.

Pakpahan is being tried for statements he made in a book, speeches, news releases and a music cassette of workers' songs between mid-1995 and July last year.