It was probably the first time that a person was arrested for issuing and sending greeting cards. Eraordinary! But, then, Sri Bintang Pamungkas greeting cards were also quite unusual.
In addition to congratulating the addressees on the Idul Fitri festivity (in February), the cards also contained the political agenda of the unrecognized Indonesian Democratic Union Party (PUDI), which Bintang established last year in defiance of the government policy of recognizing only the existing three political parties.
The political agenda called for a boycott of the upcoming May general election. And worse still, Bintang appealed for rejection of President Soehartos renomination in 1998 and asked the people to prepare for a new order in post-Soeharto era.
The cards were sent to legislators in the House of Representatives (DPR) and a number of high-ranking officials which included the Vice President, Cabinet ministers, ABRI Commander, and the Attorney General.
Bintangs calls solicited expedient responses, although not quite the ones he expected. Legislators in the House accused Bintang of provocative campaigns that smack something like coup detat.
I think (the contents of) the greeting cards are against the constitutional five-year political cycle. I expect the prosecution office to ask for accountability from Sri Bintang, said Achmad Mustahid Astari, chairman of the ruling Golkar faction in the House.
Suparman Achmad, chairman of the Armed Forces (ABRI) faction in the House, criticized Bintangs move as unsympathetic.
He violates the law as well as thr decency of a worthy citizen, Suparman said.
Threat of subversion
The Attorney General Office lost no time and arrested Bintang on March 6. He was arrested with PUDIs vice chairman Julius Usman and secretary general Saleh Abdullah.
The warrants for the arrest of Bintang, Usman and Abdullah, dated March 5, stated that they were arrested as suspects on charges of subversion. The warrants, however, do not specify which of their actions were considered subversive. Attorney General Singgih, however, said that Bintang was arrested not only in relation to the political agenda of the greeting cards, but also because of findings the government had made while monitoring his activities in PUDI.
Just before Bintangs arrest, Siliwangi Military Commander Maj. Gen. Tayo Tarmadi in Bandung, West Java, made a statement about the existence of group(s) which provoked the people through illegal circulars.
On that occasion, Tarmadi explicitly pointed a finger on PUDI activists behind the propaganda because the circulars were signed by the PUDI chairman.
According to Singgih, the activities of the three suspects threatened the states safety, could disturb national unity and cohesion, and might spark unrest among the people at large.
Minister of Justice Oetoyo Oesman branded Bintangs act of persuading the people to boycott the general election as an obstruction of the publics right to vote. ABRI Commander General Feisal Tanjung accused Bintang of acting unconstitutionally.
Democracy is in the hands of the peoples representatives who do not act on the basis of their personal cravings, Tanjung said.
The Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association (PBHI) promptly dismissed the accusations against Bintang.
In a written statement, the association expressed a deep concern and said it had lodged a vigorous protest against the detention of Bintang, Usman and Abdullah.
PBHI maintained that the inclusion of the political agenda in the greeting cards could not be categorized as an act violating the law.
In the democratic perspectives, it is legal for every organization to have a political agenda and socialize it, the Indonesian Observer quoted the statement as saying.
PBHI suggested that the actions of Bintang and his friends should be classified as efforts to grow and develop the blunt political culture.
Such efforts are of course very useful in developing the democratic climate, it added. All through the proceedings Bintang does not seem to waver.
In essence, it is just a congratulation in the Idul Fitri festivity, he said of his greeting cards.
Bintang is a former House member from the United Development Party (PPP). In 1995, he was expelled from the House by PPP for repeatedly breaching party discipline and offending ministers.
In May last year Bintang was sentenced to 34 years in jail by a Jakarta court for allegedly insulting President Soeharto during a speech in Germany. The verdict was upheld by the court of appeal, but Bintang has since filed an appeal to the Supreme Court. (EBRI/ss)