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NGO AGM broken up by police

Tapol - September 11, 1997

A North Sumatran network of NGOs has sued the local police for banning its Annual General Meeting in June this year. The police accused the organisers of failing to obtain a police permit for the meeting, even though according to a recent regulation, no permit was needed.

The annual meeting of Wahana Information Masyarakat (WIM), the Information Network which brings together a number of NGOs throughout North Sumatra was scheduled to take place from 19 - 21 June 1997. Seventy people had gathered at a hotel in Haranggaol, sub-district of Simalungan, for the occasion, coming from the sub-districts of North and South Tapanuli, Langkat, Asahan, Deli Serdang, Daiiiri and Medan.

From early afternoon on the first day, police were seen prowling around the hotel. They entered the meeting-place in the evening and ordered the participants to disperse. The organisers protested, saying that they had complied with requirements by notifying the authorities one week in advance. When the police said they did not have a permit, the convenors said that according to a regulation introduced in 1995, permission was not required; all that was required was for them to notify the police.

When the participants woke the next morning, they were told to leave the hotel without delay as the police had instructed the hotel proprietor to order them to vacate their rooms. They decided to take a trip by boat on a nearby lake, to decide what to do.

According to a press report, a police officer said that a permit for the meeting had been refused on the grounds that it was bound to discuss matters of a political nature. WIM leaders said this was a routine meeting to evaluate past activities and enable its members to renew contact and discuss internal affairs. [Republika, 21 June]

WIM is suing the local police for Rp 1.3 trillion (=A3300,000) for material and non-material losses caused by the ban. In the early 1990s, many meetings were disbanded by the police up and down the country, leading to strong protest at this intolerable abuse of the right of assembly. As a result, the interior and defence ministers issued a joint decree in December 1995 which stipulated that only large gatherings in public places required a police permit. In other cases, the police need only be notified in advance.

The first court hearing was scheduled to take place on 2 September.