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Prohibition of student politics slammed

Jakarta Post - April 6, 1998

Jakarta – Minister of Education and Culture Wiranto Arismunandar banned Saturday students from being involved in practical political activities, a move that immediately drew harsh criticism from an observer.

Amien Rais, leader of the 28 million-strong Muhammadiyah Moslem organization, warned the ban might force students to let off steam through channels that might lead to anarchy.

"If they cannot rally on their own campuses, they would find another channel and go unsupervised," Amien said yesterday. "If students got out of control and security personnel neglected legal procedures and gave free rein to their emotions we would all lose."

On Saturday, Wiranto met with rectors of state-run colleges and the heads of the provincial education and culture offices. Afterward, he said stern sanctions, including expulsion awaited those who violated the ban.

"Students are banned from being involved in politics because campuses are not places for political activities. And I have asked rectors to impose sanctions against students infringing the ruling," he said. "One of the sanctions which can be taken is dismissing the student."

Wiranto's statement came at a time of heightened on-campus student protests demanding political and economic reform. Over 100 student activists have been injured in the last three weeks on campuses in Bandar Lampung, Bandung, Semarang, Purwokerto, Yogyakarta, Surakarta and Surabaya.

Violence usually erupted when students tried to move their demonstrations off the campus grounds and onto the streets.

"Students should carry out only scientific activities," Wiranto said Saturday.

Installed as minister last month, Wiranto was known never to shy away from severe action against his own students.

As rector of the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB), he expelled 66 students for various activities, including organizing a protest against the visit of a cabinet minister to the campus. Eleven were subsequently jailed.

In their protests over the past few weeks, students have also clamored for dialog with President Soeharto who has indicated a general willingness to engage in such a forum.

Amien suggested that the dialog be held immediately in order to bridge the communication gap between students and the government. "Don't (offer) a dialog merely as 'political cosmetics'... but establish a serious discussion on the real situation in our country," Amien said during a meeting with Jakarta Military Command's Chief of Staff Brig. Gen. Sudi Silalahi who represented Commander Maj. Gen. Sjaflie Sjamsoeddin.

Sudi said the security personnel would not attack students holding protests on their campuses.

Meanwhile rectors offered differing opinions as to whether security personnel should be allowed to enter campuses.

Alhusniduki Hamim, rector of the Lampung University in Bandarlampung, said the university had allowed security personnel to enter the campus during protests following last month's clash between protesters and police.

"Security personnel have been allowed to enter our campus to prevent such future clashes."

He said the 11 students injured in the clash had been released from hospital and the 60 students arrested had been freed.

Haris Mudjiman, rector of the Sebelas Maret University in Surakarta, Central Java, said so far there was no need for security officials to enter his campus since protests were still at a tolerable level.

"Security personnel are barred from entering the campus during the rallies, except in emergencies," he said. "Students are allowed to expressed their deep concern about what is happening in the country."