HRW: Malaysia--Crackdown Follows Indonesian Model

The Anarchives (
Thu, 21 Nov 1996 15:36:22 +0000 (GMT)

/** reg.easttimor: 602.0 **/
** Topic: HRW: Malaysia--Crackdown Follows Indonesian Model **
** Written 10:06 PM Nov 15, 1996 by cscheiner in cdp:reg.easttimor **
From: (by way of Charles Scheiner <>)
Subject: HRW: Malaysia--Crackdown Follows Indonesian Model

11 Nov 96

Human Rights Watch/Asia today condemned the violent dispersal
of a peaceful meeting on East Timor in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and the arrest
and deportation of participants. It is calling on the Malaysian government to
release the eighteen Malaysians remaining in remand custody in Kuala Lumpur
and on the Indonesian government not to take retaliatory action against those
deported. The organization called the actions of the Malaysian government
disturbing both as violations of the rights to freedom of expression and
assembly and as evidence of how respect for human rights within the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has sunk to the lowest common
denominator, with Indonesia apparently setting the standard.

"Not only has Indonesia successfully cowed its ASEAN partners into
imposing Indonesian-style restrictions on speech and assembly, but it has also
provided a model for how to use political thugs to engage in acts of violence
that official security forces would be ashamed of," said Sidney Jones,
executive director of Human Rights Watch/Asia. Some of the Indonesian
participants and a BBC correspondent based in Jakarta publicly noted the
similarity between the Malaysian actions and the storming on July 27 of
Indonesian opposition party headquarters by military-backed thugs.

On Saturday, November 9, the second Asia-Pacific Conference on East
Timor (APCET) opened in a small hotel, Hotel Asia, in the Chow Kit area of
Kuala Lumpur. The Indonesian government had tried unsuccessfully to stop the
first APCET conference from taking place in Manila in 1994 but did succeed
through economic and diplomatic pressure in persuading the Philippines
government to deny visas at the time to several of well-known individuals
planning to attend, including the wife of the late president of France,
Danielle Mitterand. Despite warnings from the Malaysian Home Ministry not to
proceed with the November 9-12 conference, Malaysian nongovernmental
organizers for APCET II went ahead and by Saturday, over 100 participants had
arrived in the hotel from the Philippines, Indonesia and East Timor,
Australia, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Korea, Bangladesh, Mexico, New Zealand,
the United States and South Africa. Minutes after the introduction of
participants began, an estimated 300 members of group called the Malaysian
Action Front, composed of youth groups affiliated to the ruling National Front
(United Malays National Organization or UMNO; the Malaysian Chinese
Association; and the Malaysian Indian Congress) stormed the hotel, breaking
two hotel doors, and began throwing chairs and tables and beating up
participants. The leader of the youths, a man named Saifudin Nasution, used a
loudspeaker to accuse the conference of trying to damage relations between
Malaysia and Indonesia. Malaysian police let the violence go on for one hour,
then arrived on the scene ostensibly to stop the "chaos," although one
eyewitness from Indonesia claimed he had seen one person taking part in the
violence, go out and come back in with a police name tag.

Police arrested 113 people, including forty-seven foreigners, fifty-nine
Malaysians and seven of the youths who stormed the meeting. The latter were
released Sunday night (November 10), and eight Malaysians, a Singaporean and a
Kuala Lumpur-based journalist for Asiaweek magazine were released on Monday
(November 11). Eighteen Malaysian NGO activists remained in custody under
seven-day remand orders. Those released were told to report back on November
23 to police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur to hear whatever charges might be
leveled against them. The deputy police chief of Kuala Lumpur said those
arrested would be charged with failing to disperse after orders to do so; some
may also be charged with illegal assembly and resisting arrest. It was not
clear as of November 11 whether any charges would be made against the seven
youths who took part in the assault on the hotel.

The Malaysian government denied it had organized the youths, but the
claims rang hollow. On November 7, Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim told
organizers to call off the conference, and that a government decision to ban
it had been made directly by Prime Minister Mahathir in the interests of
protecting Indonesian-Malaysian relations. While the Indonesian government had
been informed of the Malaysia's decision to ban the meeting, he also said that
there had been no request from Indonesia to do so. He warned that the
government would take action against the organizers if the meeting went ahead.
The failure of police to stop the violence of the thugs, at a meeting which
was very clearly under surveillance, together with leniency towards those
involved in the assault, suggests that the violence was fully endorsed by
Malaysian authorities.

Human Rights Watch/Asia remains concerned over the fate of the deported
Indonesian participants, although none are currently in detention. Among those
deported back to Jakarta was an East Timorese activist studying in Australia,
Helder da Costa, who was taken away by police on arrival in Indonesia but who
was released after four hours of questioning. Adhi Ayu Yani, of the youth
communications forum of the Muslim organization, Nahdatul Ulama, was also
questioned, as was Haji Princen, a veteran activist. Other Indonesian
participants who were deported were three activists from the Pijar Foundation,
Bonar Tigor Naipospos, Bambang Suryadi, and Marlin Dinamikanto; Gustav Dupe;
Sukisno, an assistant of Haji Princen; and a man named Pius.

The Malaysian government reportedly offered to send the Indonesians to a
friendly third country, but they had no tickets, having lost them in the
confusion of the violent attack on the meeting. The Indonesian embassy in
Kuala Lumpur then provided the tickets back to Jakarta for the eight
Indonesians and da Costa.

Human Rights Watch/Asia noted that this most recent example of ASEAN
solidarity in the commission of human rights violations should be a warning to
proponents of an ASEAN human rights secretariat. "Even the Philippines has
become caught up in the desire to avoid offending Indonesia," Jones said,
noting that Jose Ramos Horta had been denied a visa to Manila for an NGO
conference taking place at the same time as the Asian Pacific Economic
Cooperation (APEC) summit the third week in November. She noted, "The APCET II
debacle has put to rest to any idea that ASEAN governments will allow any
investigation of each other's human rights problems as long as this generation
of leaders remains in power."

Human Rights Watch/Asia
Human Rights Watch is a nongovernmental organization established in 1978 to
monitor and promote the observance of internationally recognized human rights
in Africa, the Americas, Asia, the Middle East and among the signatories of
the Helsinki accords. Kenneth Roth is the executive director; Cynthia Brown is
the program director. Robert L. Bernstein is the chair of the board and
Adrian W. DeWind is vice chair. Its Asia division was established in 1985 to
monitor and promote the observance of internationally recognized human rights
in Asia. Sidney Jones is the executive director; Mike Jendrzejczyk is the
Washington director; Robin Munro is the Hong Kong director; Patricia Gossman
is a senior researcher; Jeannine Guthrie is NGO Liaison; Dinah PoKempner is
Counsel; Zunetta Liddell is a research associate; Joyce Wan is a Henry R. Luce
Fellow; Paul Lall and Olga Nousias are associates; Mickey Spiegel is a
research consultant. Andrew J. Nathan is chair of the advisory committee and
Orville Schell is vice chair.

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