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The Jalan Gajah Mada Incident

Eye witness report - 28 April. 1997

This Monday, 28 April is the day of the verdict for eleven PRD activists. Although they have already stated that they do not acknowledge this show trial, Budiman, Garda Sembiring, Iwan, Pranowo, and Suroso arrived at the Jakarta Central Court on Jalan Gajah Mada. They arrived at 9.56am. Approaching the court building, they shouted "Viva Democracy", "Boycott the Elections" and so on. On arriving at the court building they we put into the holding cells. There they gave a short political speech, intervened with "democratic" songs including the song We Shall Overcome. During the time they were in the separate room visitors and journalists were not allowed near. Security in the court house was felt super-tight, there were police from Polres and Polda, while in the street marines joined were ready. This tight security included checking the visitors ID cards.

The trial only just began at 11am, when the judges and prosecutor entered the court room. The PRD activists were still chanting slogans of struggle as they were separately escorted into the court room. They wore black head bands with the writing "Democracy is Dead", and Garda Sembiring work a shirt reading "Boycott the 97 Elections". Initially, they were invited to express their views, and briefly they rejected the trial system. The judges, who apparently already new that they would leave the court, invited them to leave the court. They let, and the judge continued the trial process, only in the presence of the pubic prosecutor and "watchers" who's origins were not clear. It needs to be known, that the defence lawyers did not appear in the court room because their legal authority [to represent their clients] had been withdrawn [by the defendants].

When the activists left the court room, their parents were already waiting near the door, holding flowers. Their parents gave a flow to each of their children while weeping, giving moral support to their children. During this incident the visitors and journalists were not free to witness it because the activist were tightly guarded and taken back to the holding cells in the court building. Because of the tight guard their families and friends who wanted to express their sympathy had to "play the game" of push and shove with the security personnel. One of the visitors feet were stepped on and as a result their toe were bleeding.

On reaching the holding cells, the activist again chanted slogans of struggle and gave short speeches. From the second floor they could see out, to Jalan Gajah Mada. They unfurled as small PRD flag and displayed the flowers they got from their parents. At that time around 40 PRD "sympathisers" had gathered outside the court fence. On hearing Budiman's "speech", they shouted chants and also gave speeches. Wearing black head bands with the writing "Democracy is Dead", carried cardboard posters with the slogans such as "Free Budiman and the others", "Boycott the 97 Elections", "Democracy is Dead" and "We Fight for Democracy".

They were able to demonstrate for more then 30 minutes, but then the commander of the security personnel, together with his colleagues, asked them to break up the rally. After a short debate, the security personnel forced them to leave the area. The demonstrators retreated to Jalan Gajah Mada heading in the direction of the city. It is not clear what happened, suddenly an eye witness saw that three people had been carried away by security personnel, being beaten and kicked repeatedly, then put into a vehicle and taken away. They were security personnel wearing civilian clothing, but admitted to being police. The reporters hurriedly "immortalized" the incident, but to foreign journalists were hit by security personnel, as a result one of their cameras was dropped. One of them who was hit was bleeding slightly. The person who had done the beating shouted "Are you brave enough to fight the police?" (Another eye witness said that it was not three but five people who were taken by security personnel).

The demonstrators left, but security personnel continued to be on the alert at the intersection of Jalan Gajah Mada and Jalan Zainul Arifin. There the marines were at the ready. Meanwhile the activists, waited for by their families, repeatedly chanted slogans of struggle. An activist who had only just been released from jail because they were accused of being involved in the July 27 riots, repeatedly yelled the slogans. The atmosphere became rather "hot", most of all when the activists who were arrested and their parents who were Muslims were not able to do their afternoon prayers. A number of people protested to the security personnel who had "gone too far".

Meanwhile, the trial continue. The judge read out the entire "document" as the basis of his verdict. After some time, the judges in Garda's trial sentenced Garda to 12 years in jail. Around one hour later, the court trying Iwan, Pranowo and Suroso handed down a verdict of nine years for Pranowo, eight years for Iwan and seven years for Suroso. Budiman's sentence was handed down last, after the judges had read the "document" of hundreds of pages which took around three hours. Budiman was sentenced to 13 years.

Responding to the sentence, they stated that the verdict did not have much meaning for them who clearly rejected the court system. Only, so that the Indonesian people who they defended could continue to follow this "show trial", they would state an appeal. The parents accompanying them without being beaten, and are ready to accept that "risk".

Around 2.45 the activists were brought down to return to the Salemba Jail. As they approached the vehicle, Budiman suddenly leapt on the roof of the vehicle and gave a short speech, the essence of which was that they would continue to struggle to uphold democracy in this country. The other activists joined in the chants which included "Viva Megawati" and "Boycott the Elections". One of the security personnel grabbed Garda Sembiring's hair, forcing him into the vehicle. The visitors which witnessed this yelled in protests.

Not long afterwards, when the activists had been taken away, in the parking lot Budiman and Garda's mothers were interviewed by a journalist, but a security officer "dragged them away" to get into the car and forbid them from being interviewed. Budiman's mothers back bumped into a car. Seeing this, Garda and Iwan's mothers along with several other women shouted protesting the security office. The visitors saw them, but those protesting were quickly escorted away fro the court house. This incident caused a traffic jam for a short time.

(At the South Jakarta trial, according to reports, those trying Petrus Haryanto, Ken Budha Kusumandaru, Victor da Costa and Putut Arintoko went ahead relatively quietly. The final sentences handed down: Petrus was "rewarded" with six years, Ken four years, Victor and Putut one-and-a-half years. The prosecutor immediately appealed for heavier sentences.)

[Unabridged translation by James Balowski]