LONDON-BORN Carmel Budiardjo's ties with Indonesia are almost as old as the republic itself It was 1950 and Carmel was working in Prague with the International Union of Students. She fell in with a group of Indonesian students still savouring the pleasure of having seen their Dutch colonial masters fought to a standstill and Indonesian independence becoming a reality the year before.
Then she met Budiardjo, also a student Soon they married and by 1952 were living in Jakarta. Her course was set Indonesia had become, inextricably, part of her life.
At first came the highs: working for the Indonesian foreign ministry and with the Indonesian Association of University Graduates (through which she was to become closely associated with the Indonesian Communist Party). Then the lows: years of detention, first for her husband, Bud, then for herself. And then a stubborn, thankless struggle: nine years of running an organisation in Britain devoted to the defence of political prisoners and human rights in Indonesia.
Carmel Budiardjo, now 57, is a founding member and still the driving force behind Tapol, a campaign named after the Indonesian abbreviation of the words tahanan politik (political prisoner).
With hindsight, Carmel now accepts that the organisation might have been better off with a different name. Though rapol literally means political prisoner’, Indonesians (whether for or against the New Order government) translate it as ~communist political prisoner.
In terms of making contact with human rights groups working inside Indonesia, the name has been a liability. The leadership of Indonesia’s New Dissent’ comprises mostly people who, in the late sixties, were solid backers of President Suharto’s declared intention of getting Indonesia back to consttutional government It was when he didn’t and obviously had no intention of doing so that the New Dissent began to emerge. It was anti-Suharto but equally anti-communist So Tapol was stigmatised in the eyes of the New Dissent’ says Carmel.
But this year Tapol achieved a major breakthrough with the New Dissent Cannel caught up. in Holland with Adnan Buvung Nasution, a lawyer who could reasonably claim to be Indonesian’s best-known and most successful human rights worker.
To her delight, Buyung recognised the way in which Tapol has broadened its activities since most untried political prisoners were released in Indonesia in 1979. &yung told her: ‘I have criticised Tapol as well as Amnesty for not raising your voices on behalf of other political prisoners in Indonesia What I have noticed in the past is that you only cared for communist political prisoners. That gave a bad impression of Tapol as well as Amnesty. But this question ot’yours (about Muslim political prisoners) is a good sign because it really means that you will stick to the struggle for human rights as a fundamental thing’.
Life hasn’t been easy for Tapol or Carmel Budiardjo since the organisation was founded in 1973. Church support through the years mainly Catholic to start, but now there is a substantial Protestant financial input has kept it afloat.
But Tapol has staying power like the thousands of Indonesians who patiently waited some as long as 14 years after the purge of 1965 for release and in the past three years has substantially broadened its area of activity.
In the latest 20-page Tapol bulletin, compiled by Carmel in her groundfloor flat in southwest London, the spectrum of its new interests is clear from the headlines: ‘New famine feared, say visiting newsman’ (East Timor); PNG and human rights in West Papua; Water cell in Jayapura; Dutch arms sales to Indonesia...: Muslim trials; Tempo back, Pelita still out (press control); Trade union journal banned; Student protest in Riau...
Tapol might be Britain-based, its information might not always be first hand news leaks out of Indonesia in a score of ways but there are few non-Indonesians better equipped than Cannel Budiardjo to weigh the merit and authenticity of the information which does come out.
By the time events came to a head in the final days of Sukamo’s power in 1965, Carmel had won quite a name for herself in Jakarta as a critic of the government’s economic policies. Although she was no admirer of Sukam6s rhetoric after September 30, 1965, she was quickly picked up by Indonesian intelligence. She laughs: The officer who picked me up didn’t have his heart in it and he let me go.’ Her husband was not as fortunate. On a telephoned order from Sumitro. the then head of the national security organisation, Bud was detained without charge. He was held until the end of 1967 when Cannel made a personal plea to Sumitro to release him. The security boss did so by telephone.
This, then, was the ad hoc-ery of the late sixties in Indonesia. People were being slaughtered, tortured, detained, purged. Formal charges were few. Most prisoners were never tried. Carmel recalls that when officials came to arrest her again in 1968 she got the impression that they thought her husband was already in jail. ‘If Bud hadn’t appeared when they came for me,’ she says, he might not have been taken in’.
Bud was to spend the next 10 years in jail. For Carmel. it was detention until 1971 before being released and put on the next plane to England. Throughout her prison ordeal their two children, daughter Tan and son Anto, lived with Bud’s relatives.
By 1973 Tapol was a reality. The aim of the founders was to get news of tapols to the English-speaking world: there was plenty of activity going on in Holland among sympathetic ex-colonialists and Indonesians in exile but very little information available to English speakers.
As well as their reluctance to associate with an organisation with communist connotations, Carmel believes most Indonesians also are naturally reticent to tell the world of their trials. She feels they ~have a misplaced patriotism which says you must not attack your own government’ and that until now they have failed to see the value in international campaigns.
Looking back over the years, Carmel Budiardjo remembers vividly the horrors of 1965: ‘It was a bloodbath which put people into trauma The people became scared to organise themselves. It has taken nearly two generations to get this out of their system. But now Indonesians are coming out of their shock. The army has used the hell-fire of a resurgence of communism time and again to keep the people in line. But this tactic is getting less effective. But really organised dissent? At the moment it is still fragmented.