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THE NATION: Habibie's amnesty offer


      Habibie's amnesty offer
      turned down

      JAKARTA -- Two of Indonesia's most
      internationally recognised political
      prisoners rebuffed an offer of amnesty from
      President Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie's
      government, which Monday also announced
      plans for massive political reform and early

      Imprisoned legislator Sri Bintang
      Pamungkas and union leader Muchtar
      Pakpahan said, from inside the Cipinang
      prison in east Jakarta Monday, that they
      would take the amnesty offer only if other
      political prisoners were released as well. 

      The two made their statements just minutes
      after the Justice Minister Muladi had
      announced on television that the
      government was to release all political
      prisoners with ''some legal considerations
      and selection''. 

      However, their planned release drew a
      protest, held by more than 1,000
      Indonesians, in front of the notorious prison.
      They obviously were waiting to welcome all
      political prisoners as they had been

      However, they began to boo government
      officials and prison guards when they
      learned about the release of just two

      Around 200 students and relatives unfurled
      protest banners asking the government to
      release all the political prisoners, which
      include East Timor resistance leader
      Xanana Gusmao. ''Free Xanana Gusmao,''
      read one banner. 

      Muladi, who had attended a Cabinet
      meeting earlier Monday, had mentioned the
      names of Pamungkas and Pakpahan,
      saying that the Cabinet had agreed to
      release them but not the ones whose cases
      ''involved the propagation of communism,
      Marxism or Leninism, as well as those held
      for crimes and acts against pancasila and
      the 1945 constitution''. 

      Pancasila (''the five pillars'') is Indonesia's
      state ideology, whose components are trust
      in God, humanity, national unity, democracy
      and social justice. 

      It was obviously a reference to communist
      leaders jailed in the late 1960s as well as
      younger student activists of the left-leaning
      People's Democratic Party (PRD) and
      separatist fighters for East Timor. 

      Pakpahan, chairman of the unrecognised
      Indonesian Prosperity Trade Union, had
      been charged with inciting the 1994 riots in
      the city of Medan in northern Sumatra, but
      his case has never been brought to trial. 

      The union leader, who has had to be
      treated for respiratory problems since
      March last year, was also charged with
      subversive activities in 1996 due to the
      publication of his book on trade unionism
      and a speech to a Portuguese university. 

      Pamungkas, formerly a legislator of the
      United Development Party, had been
      charged with defaming former president
      Suharto and organising a protest against
      him in Dresden, Germany in 1995. 

      The unexpected refusals from Pamungkas
      and Pakpahan prompted Muladi to
      negotiate with them and their lawyers. It is
      still not clear if the two prisoners will accept
      the amnesty. 

      Muladi said only that Cipinang prison
      officials had released them from their cells
      though the two prisoners, who met their
      wives and relatives, had refused to leave
      the prison. 

      An aide to Pakpahan Rekson Silaban said
      the two had actually agreed to leave the
      prison if Muladi gave them a time frame for
      the release of the other prisoners but as he
      had refused to give them an answer they
      had remained in the prison. 

      Muladi reportedly said all the political
      prisoners, including the East Timor
      freedom fighters, would be pardoned after
      the government had set criteria, adding that
      the amnesty was part of the government's
      efforts to promote human rights and meet
      international criteria on political freedom. 

      According to the Indonesian Legal Aid
      Foundation, there are more than 200
      political prisoners, ranging from student
      leaders like Budiman Sujatmiko and
      Muslim activists to elderly communist
      cadres, some of whom have been held for
      more than 25 years. 

      The 36-member Cabinet unanimously
      approved plans to breathe life into
      Indonesia's restrictive political system. 

      ''The principle is elections as soon as
      possible after we prepare the laws,'' State
      Secretary and chief government
      spokesman Akbar Tandjung said after the

      However, legal experts say the changes
      and preparations for elections will take time
      and polls are not likely to be held before
      next year. 

      With new elections a new session of the
      People's Consultative Assembly (MPR),
      which meets once in five years after
      parliamentary elections, is possible. 

      The 1,000-member MPR includes 500 MPs
      as well as military and civilian officials
      appointed by the president. 

      At present only three political parties are
      allowed to contest polls, and campaigning
      is restricted to a few weeks before

      ''The president has discussed making
      political activity more free ... including
      allowing anyone in society to form political
      parties and organisations,'' Tandjung said. 

      Under the current laws general elections
      are held every five years, and the next one
      is not due until 2002. Suharto's Golkar party
      has won every election with massive
      margins since the former army general took
      power in 1965. 


      The Nation