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'Democracy or death!' in Dita courtroom

ASIET - April 24, 1997

On April 22 in Surabaya, the kangaroo court handling the case of Dita Sari handed down a sentence of six years. The prosecution had demanded nine years. Dita's co-defendants, Coen Hussein Pontoh and Mohammed Soleh were sentenced four years each. Dita and her lawyers immediately denounced the court as a farce and swore to continue the struggles.

Hundreds of people, many wearing the symbol of the Megawati PDI, had assembled at the courtroom in the morning. According to a statement issue by the Democracy Struggle Committee (KPD), there was a larger security presence than normal. There were trucks of soldiers, two antipersonnel armoured cars, one platoon of East Java territorial command troops, as well as mobile brigade troops, as well as score of plain clothes intelligence agents.There were also numbers of paid thugs used by the local branch of the state party, GOLKAR.

When Dita and Coen arrived the military formed a cordon to prevent supporters from shaking hands or otherwise greeting them. They both wore red bandannas with the slogan "Democracy or Death!". The crowd followed them inside the courtroom shouting "Long live the people! Long live democracy! Long live the PRD and PDI! Long live DIta, Coen!". DIta and Coen replied with cries of Long live Megawati! The elections are illegitimate! Without Megawati boycott the elections!

Dita received strong applause, when on arrival in the courtroom, she asked permission to distribute flowers to people and to hand out leaflets calling for a boycott of the May 29 elections. Immediately intelligence agents snatched the leaflets away from her.

Soon after the chief judge read out the sentences which were greeted by shouts of "The court is rigged" from the crowd. Dita immediately stood up and led the crowd in singing "Hymn of struggle."

Dita and Coen were then lead out of the courtroom to a waiting van. Coen was able to speak to the crowd from the back of the van calling for a boycott of the elections. The security forces started to disperse the crowd, resulting in one activist being beaten up.

Later in the day a local alliance of militant pro-democracy forces issued a statement condemning the sentence. The coalition, called the Struggle Alliance for Human Rights and Democracy, consisted of Christian Community Action for Huan Rights, Megawati Support Team, Democracy Struggle Committee and the Communication Forum for Peace in East Timor. The statement also called for the recognition of the Megawati leadership of the PDI and stated that without Megawati's participation the elections were null and void; the freeing of all PRD political prisoners; the repeal of repressive political laws; the end of the military's role in politics; the repeal of the Anti-Subversion Law; and a self-determination referendum for East Timor.