Police raid Asia-Pacific Solidarity Conference in Jakarta

By Sundaram

This article originally appeared in the July issue of Liberation, the central organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist).

The Asia-Pacific Solidarity Conference, scheduled June 7-10 at a site 50 kilometres outside the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, was meant to discuss ways of fighting neo-liberal policies and militarism in the region. But thanks to a draconian attempt by police and paramilitary groups to scuttle the event, the participants turned it into a real battle against the neo-fascist forces that are making a bid for power again in Indonesia.

It all started on June 8, the second day of the conference, when more than 100 policemen armed with carbines and tear gas barged into the venue to arrest foreign participants for alleged ``visa violations''. Sealing off the conference hall, switching off the lights and using megaphones to bark out their orders, the gun-toting policemen presented, to the more than 40 representatives of left groups from around the world, a taste of what former Indonesian dictator Suharto's New Order regime must have been like.

Even more reminiscent of the Suharto era was an attack by the Angkatan Kabaah Muda, a Muslim fundamentalist paramilitary group affiliated to a major Indonesian political party, on the local organisers of the conference. Soon after the foreigners were arrested and taken away, the militiamen arrived, armed with swords and sticks, and beat up staff of INCREASE, the policy research NGO that organised the conference, and vandalised their property.

While the police claimed that the foreign delegates did not have proper visas to attend a conference and should be deported, finally, after three days of harassment, the country' immigration authorities found no case against them and had to let them go free. Following intense pressure on immigration authorities to help save the face of the police, one participant, Farooq Tariq of the Labour Party Pakistan, was deported under a trumped-up visa violation charge.

Although the Indonesian police officials who masterminded the entire raid succeeded in closing down the conference, unwittingly they also triggered off a massive backlash both inside Indonesia and around the world against the continued presence of the remnants of the repressive New Order regime.

During Suharto's reign (which began in 1965 with the massacre of nearly a million Communist Party members, supporters and all those considered ``potentially communist''), the police and military had a free hand in arresting, kidnapping and torturing and even eliminating political dissidents. With the ouster of the hated dictator in 1998, following a popular student-led uprising, Indonesia was supposed to be a in a period of ``reform'' towards greater democracy, but as the latest police action shows, little has changed as far as the authoritarian behaviour of the country's military and police forces is concerned.

``The police and its thug friends have made a complete mockery of every value and principle that this nation has been struggling to establish in the last three years, along with the sacrifices that have gone with this struggle. With a single stroke, the raid on the conference has simply turned back the clock on the nation'', said a strong editorial in the Jakarta Post under the title ``Democracy in Peril''.

Condemnations of the incident poured in from socialist and progressive organisations around the world, with demonstrations being held outside Indonesian embassies in Australia, the Philippines, the United States and several European countries.

``The police tactics have clearly boomeranged, and they have had to back away, but there is no guarantee that they will not step up their attacks on local organisations that want to raise issues deemed too sensitive or critical of the old regime'', said Jim McIlroy of the Democratic Socialist Party from Australia, who was among those arrested.

The organisers of the conference believe that the real reason for the drastic police action was the deep-seated antagonism within Suharto-era military and police officials against Budiman Sujatmiko and Dita Indah Sari, leaders of the left-wing People's Democratic Party (PRD), who were taking part in the conference. Both Budiman and Dita were imprisoned for three years by the Suharto regime for alleged ``seditious activities'' and released following the ouster of the Indonesian dictator and pressure from a worldwide campaign.

The PRD, a left-wing organisation set up by Budiman and other student activists in 1996, played a crucial role in the popular uprising against Suharto in mid-1998 and is now a rapidly growing social and political force, which is a reason for their being marked out for victimisation by the police and military.

``The draconian action against a peaceful gathering of international activists discussing economic and human rights issues is an indicator that the forces of the New Order are getting stronger and could make a comeback if they are not resisted'', said Budiman.

Despite the installation of a freer, parliamentary democracy in Indonesia since Suharto's departure, over the past three years there have been many such incidents showing the continuing legacy of the former dictator.

Most well known internationally, of course, are the gross violations of human rights by Indonesian armed forces fighting separatist forces in Aceh and West Papua, as is also their dubious role in fomenting intra-religious violence in several parts of the country. But what is less known is the way the institutions that kept Suharto in power for 32 years still exert an extrajudicial influence on day-to-day political activity and their continued attacks on civil and political rights of those they consider hostile to their interests. The military and police have also been encouraging the formation of paramilitary groups to attack political forces considered ``communist'' or even antagonistic to the remnants of the New Order elite.

The latest instance of police high-handedness comes in the context of an increasingly deteriorating economy as well as growing political turmoil over the impeachment of Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid.

What is really worrying the feudal-crony capitalist-military nexus that ruled Indonesia for the past three decades—and is now operating through various mainstream political parties—is the resurgence of the left in the form of the PRD and its various fronts among workers, students, peasants and the urban poor. With the return of nominal democracy in the past three years, Indonesia has witnessed a massive upsurge in trade union and peasant movements demanding a fair share of both resources and political power and against the neo-liberal economic policies being imposed on Indonesia by the IMF and western donor countries.

In response, the country's right-wing forces have increasingly resorted to nakedly fascist tactics to try to contain the growth of the left. In early June, for example, a new group calling itself the ``Anti-Communist Alliance'' raided bookshops in Jakarta and burned books that they alleged were ``communist propaganda''.

The military and police are also encouraging the formation of paramilitary groups like the Angkatan Kabaah Muda that often use the symbols of Islam to attack the PRD and its affiliated organisations. By using paramilitary groups to do the dirty work, the Indonesian security forces are trying to project themselves as ``upholders of law and order'' and waiting for an opportune time to make a grab for power again.

One of the main themes emerging from the first one and a half days of deliberations at the aborted Asia-Pacific Peopleâ's Solidarity Conference was the growing international resistance to neo-liberal policies and globalisation in recent years. Obviously, for far left organisations all over the world, the next major concern will have to be how to fight and defeat the dangerously fascist, right-wing backlash from the elites to this growing clamour from the masses for a just and equitable world.