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Regime seeks harsher term for jailed activist

Sydney Morning Herald - April 29, 1997

Louise Williams, Jakarta – The Soeharto Government has announced that it will appeal against a 13-year sentence for subversion handed down yesterday on the leader of an anti-government group, demanding a harsher penalty for the activist it blames for last year's political riots in Jakarta.

Scores of anti-government protesters clashed with riot police outside a Jakarta court yesterday as the judge sentenced Budiman Sujatmiko, the 27-year-old leader of the underground People's Democratic Party (PRD), and signalled that further charges of insulting the court would be heard soon.

About 30 angry youths faced police outside the Jakarta District Court where the former student and four of his fellow activists were convicted of subversion, a charge which carries the maximum penalty of death, over activities linked to last year's riots. The prosecutor immediately appealed against the sentence, saying the Government was seeking a minimum term of 15 years. The judge found Budiman guilty of insulting President Soeharto, inciting hatred against the Indonesian State and plotting to overthrow the Government. Eyewitnesses said at least five youths were arrested and several injured when riot police dispersed the protesters after they unfurled a banner reading: "Budiman is the future leader."

Budiman appeared briefly in court and announced that he rejected the judgment of the Indonesian court system, which he said was rigged in the Government's favour. He was removed before the sentence against him was read. His four fellow activists were sentenced to between eight and 12 years in prison.

Earlier this month, Budiman and the four other members of the PRD dismissed their defence lawyers and announced that they were abandoning their defence because the court case was a sham.

Before being led from the court on that occasion they shouted for their followers to boycott next month's national elections, a call repeated by protesters yesterday.

Human rights activists have condemned the use of the subversion charge against political opponents of the Soeharto regime, arguing that the charge was originally intended to protect the Indonesian State against armed insurrection, not civilian political opposition.

The Government claimed in court that the PRD was a communist-style organisation which was plotting to overthrow the Soeharto administration.

The case linked the PRD to last year's riots because of anti-government speeches made by its members at a sit-in in support of the Partai Demokrasi Indonesia leader, Ms Megawati Sukarnoputri. Two days of rioting broke out after troops raided the sit-in.