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ICFTU complaint to ILO about Dita's sentence

Tapol - April 25, 1997

The General Secretary of the International Confederation of Free Trade Union, Bill Jordan, has written to the Director-General of the International Labour Organisation, Michel Hansenne, complaining about the heavy sentences of 6 and 4 year passed down respectively on trade union activists, Dita Indah Sari and Coen Hussein Pontoh in Surabaya last week, and calling on him to raise the ICFTU's compalin with the ILO's Committee on Freedom of Association.

The four-page letter sets out in some detail the charges brought against the two activists, particularly with regard to their activities as leaders of the workers organisation, the PPBI, and the peasants organisation, the STN.

The concluding paragraphs of the letter read as follows:

It may be noted that the prosecution had asked for 8 and 6 year terms to be inflicted to Sari and Pontoh, respectively. However, the ICFTU would reject any notion that the Court has expressed clemency by imposing slightly lesser sentences than those sought by the state prosecutors. Firstly, in our view, leaders of independent workers organisations should not be detained at all, let alone prosecuted and sentenced, for any legitimate acts of a trade union nature. Secondly, in the context of very strong indications of manipulation and lack of impartiality manifested by the judge in Pakpahan's trial, the ICFTU believes that the Government of Indonesia has once more demonstrated in Sari's, Pontoh's and Sholeh's cases that the country's judiciary is not independent from it. In the ICFTU's opinion, the outcome of Sari et al trials was never in doubt; they were obviously found guilty before the trial.

In conclusion, the ICFTU considers, firstly, that Dita Sari's and Coen Pontoh's sentences to respectively 6 and 4 years on 22 April 1997 blatantly violate internationally-recognised standards on trade union rights. It is clear that they were both arrested in connection with a wave of workers' protests, with which they were associated to a significant extent. Secondly, Dita Sari is a senior official of an independent workers' organisation, the PPBI. This independent labour group was dedicated to improving working and living conditions of Indonesian workers, in particular its own members. This is amply demonstrated by the nature and contents of the slogans used in the 27 March and 8 asnd 9 June 1996 workers protests in Surabaya and Tangerang. As such, the ICFTU considers the arrest of Dita Sari to be in severe breach of the principles of freedom of association, binding on Indonesia.

Thirdly, the case reveals the Government's true reasons for suddenly aggravating charges against Dita Sari and Coen Pontoh after the 27 July events, to which they could not possibly be associated, as both were already detained for three weeks at the time these took place. It once more appears fully clear that the Government of Indonesia is intent, not only on suppressing any independent labour protests, movements and especially, large-scale industrial action, but also on preventing at all costs the country's workers joining other segments of society struggling for the introduction of democracy and the rule of law. That these sentences should come weeks before a national election is yet another sign of the authorities' determined commitment to silence any form of opposition in the face of serious political challenge.

I would very much appreciate it, Mr Director-General, if you could kindly forward this communication to the Committee on Freedom of Association, as additional information to our complaint against the Government of Indonesia,

Yours sincerely, Bill Jordan, General Secretary