We have just received a report that human rights activist Saleh Abdullah has been arrested as part of a general crackdown on non-governmental organizations in Indonesia.
Mr Abdullah has visited Canada and spoken out against the appalling human rights record of the Suharto regime. His last trip took him to Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa with the sponsorship of the Canadian catholic Organization for Development and Peace, Canada Asia Working Group (of the Canadian churches), and East Timor Alert Network. Many of us who met Saleh during that trip will remember his good humour and his dedication to human rights.
Saleh Abdullah has also testified about human rights in Indonesia at the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva, adn attended the most recent international symposium for East Timor in Portugal.
Saleh Abdullah is a secretary of the Indonesian United Democracy Party (PUDI), one of the two genuine opposition parties in Indonesia. As such, PUDI is banned by the government, which recognizes only three parties and keeps all three under tight control. PUDI has been in the forefront of the campaign for a plural society. One of PUDI's most important political acts has been to say openly that the military should not play any role at all in society, a fundamental challenge to the Rdual functionS doctrine that justifies the army's role in politics – and thus a fundamental challenge to the regime itself. The party has also made a draft to reformulate the 1945 constitution. Its proposed changes would, among others, give full autonomy to the regions and a proper check and balance between the executive, legislative and judiciary.
Saleh Abdullah was also a co-founder of INFIGHT, the Indonesian Front for the Defence of Human Rights, one of the first human rights groups to take an uncompromising oppositional stand. The group shared office space and a heavily-overlapping membership with SKEPHI, the Indonesian Network for Forest Conservation. INFIGHT was also the first group to have East Timorese among its founders, marking a new development in Indonesian oppositional politics. INFIGHT has a long-standing relationship with the Canadian churches since 1990 and has recieved financial support from CCODP.
He is a Muslim that has nevertheless resisted attempts by the regime to pit Christians and Muslims against each other in the East Timor situation. A week after the Santa Cruz massacre of 12 November 1991 in East Timor, he helped East Timorese students in Jakarta to organize the first demonstration for East Timorese independence in the Indonesian capital. He had to go into hiding for several months after this demonstration, but resumed his organizing despite threats from the military authorities.
Saleh Abdullah has been at the forefront of organizing joint East Timorese-Indonesian actions against the Suharto regime's policies. There are now several organizations dedicated to this joint organizing, thanks to his work. It is incumbent on friends of East Timor here in Canada to campaign for the release of Saleh Abdullah.
Many Indonesian activists have been held in prison since a pro-democracy outburst last July. These include Muchtar Pakpahan, leader of the Indonesia Prosperity Trade Union (SBSI), himself a past visitor to Canada who spoke out last May at the Canadian Labour Congress convention in Vancouver. They also include many members of the Peoples' Democratic Party (PRD) and the Indonesian Centre for Workers' Struggle (PPBI).
International pressure can help protect Indonesian activists in prison. In the short term, prisoners whose names are known abroad are less likely to face mistreatment while in prison. In the long term, those with international support are more likely to be released, as Muchtar Pakpahan was during a previous arrest.
Please write to the Indonesian authorities to raise the case of Saleh Abdullah. Ask that he be released, and that he not be mistreated while in prison. Also ask for the release of other human rights activists including Muchtar Pakpahan, Dita Sari of the PPBI and members of the PRD.
Saleh Abdullah is now being held at the Office of the Attorney General, where there are fears for his safety. PUDI leader Sri Bintang Pamungkas has alreadt been beaten while in custody, according to reliable reports.