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Dita Sari

Wim F. Wertheim - July 4, 1997

It is well known that since 27th July, the day on which the Suharto regime in a most violent manner crushed the peaceful movement in Indonesia which demanded a restoration of democratic rights in the country, hundreds of Indonesians have been persecuted and locked up behind bars. A female leader of that democratic moverment, Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of former President Sukarno, has been since that time quite prominent in the international press - and rightly so. But it is less known, that another woman, prominent in the fight for democratic reform, Dita Sari, 23 years old, was already arrested on 8 July 1996, and is still locked up in a prison in Surabaya and prosecuted for allegedly criminal offences.

Dita Sari started her law studies at the prestigious University of Indonesia in Jakarta, in 1991. In an interview she admitted: "I was like most other students: apolitical and wanting only to enjoy life". Her political awakening started in December 1992, when she attended a demonstration on campus concerning human rights, organized by SMID, an organization advocating Student Solidarity for Democracy in Indonesia. To a great disappointment of her rather prosperous parents she quit her study in law in order to become a trade union leader. In an interview with a Dutch journalist shortly before she was arrested, she provided the following motivation for her courageous step: "I do not believe in law any more. Law is here without any real content. I could not bear any longer sitting at a school dest and listening to all those empty talks. I think my trade union work is more important, and this is on which I wish fully to concentrate myself."

Dita Sari became one of the founders of PPBI (Pusat Perjuangan Buruh Indonesia), which means Indonesian Centre for the Struggle of Labourers. The organization was founded in Ambarawa (Dentral Java) in 1994 by some sixty activists from cities such as Surabaya, Yogyakarta, Jakarta and Medan. The PPBI had close links with other radical organizations such as SMID (students), a peasant union and an organization of cultural workers, which together found a sort of coordination in PRD (the Indonesian People's Democratic Party). All these unions were, according to the concept of the Suharto regime, 'illegal', since the regime only acknowledges organizations created or approved by the authorities.

Dita Sari explained in her interview the relation with SBSI, also an 'illegal'trade union. Whereas this important free trade union, chaired by the wellknown Muchtar Pakpahan, who by the way is also under arrest, and facing a trial for 'subversion', is only pursuing economic objectives for industrial labour, PPBI was in addition advacing labour interests in demanding representation of the workers'class in Parliament.

Her activities in PPBI resulted in two visits, which Dita Sari in December 1994 and March 1995 paid to Australia, where she attended conferences on the international workers movement, and where she was a speaker at the West Australia, where she attended conferences on the international Women's Day Rally. She had often entered factories to talk with female workers. Finally she was elected as chairwoman of PPBI.

She also was active in the demonstrations in Jakarta in June 1996, when a big protest movement grew against the scandalous way Megawati had been eliminated by the government as chairwoman of PDI, one of the three officially acknowledged political parties. On 8 July she was one of the leaders of a big demonstration in Surabaya of a number of organizations coordinated by PRD. The demonstration was attended by between ten and twenty thousand people. The demands were: increase of wages, and recognition of democratic rights. Before the procession could reach the local office of the Labour Ministry, the procession was halted by the army. The mass of the people were violently dissipated, some fifty people were arrested, among whom were Dita Sari, Coen Hussein Pontoh, and M. Sholeh, three of the leaders. Most of the people, among whom both students and labourers, were soon released, but the three leaders were being held in prison, and are at present accused of serious crimes.

Shortly after Dita Sari was arrested, her mother died: but she was not allowed to attend the funerals. Her father regularly attempts to travel to Surabaya and to visit her in jail, but not seldom he is not allowed to see her.

In November the trial against the three prisoners started; but in view of Dita Sari's opinion about the way law is being administered in Suharto's Indonesia they did not expect anything like a fair trial. Together the three defendants issued a brave declaration, that could be divulged via Internet, in which they explained that they were not discouraged by the way their preliminary defence plea had been handled, because this only confirmed that the judges in Indonesia were nothing but tools in the hands of the government. "God bless our struggle."

The case of Dita Sari should attact much attention outside Indonesia, where since Suharto's access to power in 1965/66 through a huge massacre, the people of Indonesia were robbed of all their rights.