Indonesian police breaks up an international solidarity conference in Jakarta

IT WAS a conference of radical political parties, social movements and labour organisations in the Asia-Pacific region convened to discuss the impact of globalisation in this part of the world.. The conference, held under the theme of Asia-Pacific Solidarity Conference against Neo-liberalism on 7-9 June, was organised under the auspices of Indonesian Centre for Social Reform and Emancipation (INCREASE) (See p.30 for a detailed report). Comrades from People’s Democratic Party (PRD), Indonesia, and Democratic Socialist Party (DSP), Australia, had taken the lead in initiating the conference. Several academics and activists from around the world participated in it. Among them was a large Australian contingent.

On June 8, at 2pm Jakarta time, 300 police surrounded the conference venue and 100 armed police stormed the venue and shut down the conference. The police took the 40 participants, including conference organisers and 32 foreign attendees (from 10 different countries including 18 Australians, two Belgians and one each from the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Japan, Thailand, France, Germany and Pakistan, by truck under arms to the Jakarta Regional Police Headquarters, confiscated their passports and kept them under lock-up for more than 24 hours. Those arrested included Budiman Sujatmiko, leader of the PRD, Farooq Tariq, leader of the Labour Party of Pakistan (LPP) and John Percy, leader of the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP), Pierre Rousset, French representative of the European parliament, and Eric Toussaint, Belgian member of the Committee for the Cancellation of Third World Debt, and well-known author. Of the released foreigners, an associate professor from the University of New South Wales, Helen Jarvis, castigated the raid as an attack on democratic rights: “The police had no arrest warrant, no search warrant. They showed us nothing, told us nothing. They came barging in, with no letter of authorization”.

After the foreign delegates were removed from the conference venue, gangs of thugs backed by the police and masquerading as anti-communist Islamic fundamentalists, attacked the Indonesian delegates, caused serious injuries to several of them, destroyed the personal belongings of the delegates and looted computers, communication equipment and other valuables from the venue. 

Under mounting international and domestic condemnation and pressure, the police, which was acting arbitrarily on their own and on behalf of certain vested interests, released those illegally detained and returned their passports. They were asked to leave the country immediately. The Indonesian police tried to justify their high-handedness with the claim that the foreign visitors had come on tourist visas which didn’t entitle them to participate in conferences. However, they were snubbed by the very Immigration Department of Indonesia which vouched for the fact that the visas of foreign delegates were in order and they were fully entitled to attend any conference. Moreover, the conference organisers too had taken prior permission to hold the meet. However, in a blatant act of discrimination, only a Third World delegate, Comrade Farooq Tariq from Pakistan, was deported on similar charges whereas other foreigners were simply asked to leave on their own after the release. Comrade Farooq commented wryly that this smacked of colonial mentality on the part of Indonesian bureaucracy.

The crackdown on the conference by the Indonesian police was widely condemned all over the world. In a protest note sent to the Indonesian President through the Indonesian Embassy in New Delhi, the CPI(ML) strongly condemned the police raid and demanded the immediate release of those detained. There were protest demonstrations in most of the major Australian cities and in several US cities. The detained Australian comrades, in an open letter to Alexander Downer, the Australian Minister for foreign Affairs, castigated the Australian government for its failure to condemn the attack on the conference and instead spreading the lie that it was a case of “visa misunderstanding”. The Indonesian comrades put up a brave resistance and declared that terror and detention would never stop them fighting for true democracy.

The Indonesian police action shamelessly revealed the true colours of the Indonesian “new democracy” before an international audience. There were shades of joint rightwing-police terror of Suharto days and rampaging, machete-wielding, mobs of East Timor in this sordid episode. However, as Mao Tse-tung said, “the reactionaries lift stones only to drop them on their own feet”. The Indonesian police showed themselves to be the jackasses that they are in the eyes of democratic world opinion. No matter how massive were the massacres they had committed in the past to lay communism to rest, its ghost comes back to haunt them, and it will continue to do so in the days to come.