Louise Williams, Jakarta – A former member of Parliament and prominent pro-democracy activist, Sri Bintang Pamungkas, has been arrested on subversion charges carrying a maximum penalty of death, closing one of the last channels of political opposition ahead of the May national elections.
The overnight arrest follows President Soeharto's recent statement that he would "clobber" anyone who attempted to unseat him unconstitutionally" and indicates the regime's determination to curtail all political dissent.
Sri Bintang's family said he was arrested at his home late on Thursday night on charges of subversion and defaming Mr Soeharto by using greeting cards, celebrating the end of the Muslim fasting month, to call for a boycott of the polls.
A spokesman for the Attorney-General said a citizen had a right to hold "certain ideals", but was not permitted "to incite others into supporting them". In announcing the subversion charge yesterday the Attorney-General's office said the cards were only part of the case against Sri Bintang.
The subversion charge allows for imprisonment without trial for one year at an undisclosed location and has been opposed by Indonesia's Human Rights Commission on the grounds it was intended to deal with violent threats against the State, not civilian democracy activists.
The boycott call on behalf of Sri Bintang's illegal Indonesian Democratic Union Party has recently been joined by seven branches of the minority Muslim United Development Party, which claims campaigning rules so overwhelming favour the ruling Golkar Party that they cannot effectively compete. The Catholic Church also released advance copies of its Easter message which tells Indonesia's Christian minority they have a moral right to choose not to vote.
The boycott movement is emerging as a de-facto opposition campaign given the tight electoral regulations which permit only two small alternative parties to stand against Golkar, which is backed by the powerful armed forces and the bureaucracy and has access to significant government resources.
Sri Bintang has been one of the most outspoken critics of the Soeharto regime since being forced to resign from Parliament over his challenge to the re-election of President Soeharto and, later, forming the Indonesian Democratic Union Party (PUDI).
Sri Bintang sent his greeting cards to a number of government officials and senior military officers with the basic aims of the PUDI: the election boycott, opposition to another term of the President, and a call on Indonesians to prepare for a new "post-Soeharto political order".
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