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90 political prisoners freed

Agence France Presse - December 10, 1999 (slightly abridged)

Jakarta – Indonesia on Friday released 90 political prisoners, most of them East Timorese.

In a ceremony at Cipinang jail in East Jakarta, where many of of those released were held, Law and Legislation Minister Yusril Isra Mahendra officially freed them by reading out three presidential decrees containing the names.

Those released included six members of the People's Democratic Party (PRD), 70 East Timorese and 15 people involved in Muslim radical groups in Lampung, southern Sumatra and in Jakarta in the 1980s.

However, only 18 East Timorese were at the jail where the five PRD members are also held. The other East Timorese were held in prisons in East Timor's districts of Dili and Bacau but Mahendra said they might have been freed long ago as the territory was no longer part of Indonesia.

The East Timorese will spend the night at an undisclosed place in Jakarta under the care of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and will be flown by an ICRC chartered plane to Dili on Saturday morning, ICRC spokesperson Sri Wahyu Endah told AFP.

"This is at the demand of [East Timorese independence leader] Xanana Gusmao himself, and he will be on hand to welcome them back in Dili," Endah said.

Their release followed a presidential amnesty or a presidential decision to cut sentences, he said.

Three presidential decrees have been issued for the releases, he said. The decrees said the decision to free the political prisoners was part of the government's effort to uphold human rights and to promote national unity.

The PRD members freed were chairman Budiman Sujatmiko and four others – Suroso, Ignatius Pranowo, Jacobus Eko Kurniawan and Garda Sembiring.

PRD secretary general Petrus Haryanto, serving a 12-year jail term for trying to undermine the authority of the government handed down in 1997, was not on the list but Mahendra said it was only a "technical" mistake and Haryanto could be released with the other five PRD members Friday.

President Abdurrahman Wahid told visiting businessmen at the Negara Palace earlier Friday that Haryanto had not been on the list of names suggested for release by the legislature.

"I have asked that this be quickly settled, if necessary so he can be released today as well but if is not possible, well, I can only apologize," Wahid said according to the Detikcom online news service.

"I will visit regions across Indonesia to meet PRD activisits. If I have to thank someone, I am thanking my mother, students and the people because without them I would probably have to stay for another five to 10 more years," Sujatmiko said after his release.

The PRD was outlawed under former president Suharto, but the ban was lifted after the former strongman stepped down in May 1998.

PRD leaders were accused by the Suharto government of masterminding a riot in Jakarta in 1996, in which at least five people were killed and dozens of buildings were set ablaze. The government then banned the leftist-leaning pro-democracy organisation and detained its leaders.

The government of Suharto's successor B.J. Habibie lifted the ban, allowed the party to contest the June 7 elections this year and offered its leader Sujatmiko an amnesty.

The offer was rejected by Sujatmiko, who demanded unconditional release for all political prisoners. About 50 PRD supporters and students held a rally outside the jail to welcome the release.