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New York Times Editorial (r)

The New York Times (Jan. 21, 1997)
As reprinted in the Japan Times
January 23, 1997

Bearing the burden in Indonesia

UP- Kyodo

Few people outside Indonesia have hard of Muchtar Pakpahan, but his problems
are a good index of how the country's democrats are faring.  The government
is carrying out the most severe persecution in years of independent
organizations and leaders such as Pakpahan, who is the head of the nation's
largest independent labor union.  

There has been little international outcry, and most of that from trade
unions, partly because the Suharto government is currently not bothering
Megawati Supkarnoputri, the daughter of Indonesia's first president and the
leader of the opposition to President Suharto.

When the government engineered Megawati's removal as head of her party last
June, Indonesians rioted.  Afterward, she was repeatedly called in for
questioning.  Since she has come to symbolize Indonesia's democracy
movement, as Aung San Suu Kyi does in Myanmar, her safety is taken
internationally as a sign that all is well.

The current trials of political opponents are evidence of the government's
anxiety over Indonesians' support for the opposition, especially because
parliamentary elections are scheduled for May.

The government arrested Pakpahan on July 30, just after the riots, and
charged him with inciting them.  Unable to find evidence for the charge, the
government is instead trying him for subversion.  He faces a long prison
term and possibly the death penalty for criticizing Suharto's rule.
Indonesia's brutal occupation of East Timor and the nation's economic gap
between the rich and poor.

Pakpahan is important not just as a political activist but as head of an
independent trade union in a country that has repeatedly used troops to put
down attempts by workers to strike or unionize.

Besides Pakpahan, 12 labor or student leaders are being tried on charges of
subversion.  The government is putting pressure on Pakpahan's lawyer,
Bambang Widjojanto, to testify against his client.  The government is also
monitoring the activities and auditing the books -- in one case going back
to the 1970s -- of environmental and human rights organizations.

Harassment of nongovernmental organizations is not the kind of repression
the world gets excited about.  Americans, especially, like to think of
political events in terms of their effect on people we have heard of.  But
the real measure of a country's political health is the fate of those the
world does not know.