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The Man Who Insulted The President

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INDONESIA [image, unknown] The law lends a hand

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The man who insulted
the President

In 1979, Hen Akhmadi, charged with 'insulting the head of state', read to the court a description of local justice from the 1850s novel 'Max Havelaar' by Multatuli (a Havelaar's agony as he fought in vain for justice for Indonesian peasants under the yoke of Dutch imperialism and traditional feudalism. Akhmadi knew, as he read his defence statement, that he had as much chance of justice in sovereign, independent Indonesia as he would have had in colonial Indonesia in the 1850s.

HERI AKHMADI* demanded the right to free speech. He wanted to voice his disapproval of Suharto’s unopposed reelection in 1978 to another term as president. He was arrested and, with other student leaders, charged with having insulted the head of state.

It took Hen Akhmadi three days to read his defence statement toward the end of his trial in June 1979. Yet in Indonesia today there are few Indonesians who know what he said. The media are persuaded that it is not in the national interest to spread the word that there are Indonesians who do not agree with the policies oF their government.

Akhmadi’s address was comprehensive. He accused the judiciary of taking instructions from the state. He complained of the immunity from the law of people in positions of authority and cited cases of corruption in high places going unpunished. He accused Suharto’ s New Order regime of declaring his difference of opinion’ with the government a criminal act.

Akhmadi indicated that he did not approve of Suharto’s policies of the early sixties. He recalled the New Order’s promise to implement the 1945 constitution and the Panca Sila (the philosophical base of the republic). He mourned the ‘fading of the New Order’s ideals’ of which President Suharto had made so much.

Akhmadi analysed the process by which the Indonesian parliament and president are elected. Proving that Indonesia’s ~democratic’ process could not seriously weakeneddepraved a person is who holds two such titles simultaneously.’ said Akhmadi. ‘His office gives him the authority and the power to take decisions. . . while his entrepreneurial spirit whines with yearning to take advantage of every possible opportunity to make a profit) These officials, he said, had become completely dependent on the financiers and foreign entrepreneurs who now have actually taken over our country’s economic life.

And then Akhmadi came to that part of his defence which officialdom would have most wanted to keep from the public — his comments on the national economy. Some of his observations, all solidly backed by statistical evidence:

The rupiah:To ‘protect the image of stabilitY, the New Order had concealed the diminishing value of the rupiah in relation to the US dollar( to which it has been tied since 1971) by paving a subsidy (from people’s taxes) on imported goods. From a Fix of Rp 415 to the dollar in 1971. he said, the subsidy by 1977 was Rp 369. The consequence had been bankruptcy for Indonesian businesses as prices of imported goods fell. Akhmadi asked the court: How can domestic producers possibly compete when the government, which is supposed to protect them, instead squeezes them by subsidising imported goods?

Foreign capital: Most foreign capital entering Indonesia was going into import-substitution enterprises, for example textiles. Today we own textile mills... But what has really happened?... We import almost all the materials needed to make them.’ The New Order had made Indonesia only a station from which foreign factory owners could seize and consolidate their markets for their goods. Using imported materials and cheap local labour, foreign investors were walking off with the wealth.

Jobs: Foreign investment from 1971 to 1973 had caused the closure of 225.259 small Indonesian factories and the loss of 432.285 jobs. In the 10 years from 1967 foreign investment had created only 410,897 jobs.

• Wages: Of Indonesia’s 54.5 million workers. 61.4 per cent received less than 64 cents a day. What can you buy with wages like that?’ Akhmadi asked the judge.

Worker organisation: The government had failed to back up its policy of establishing union branches in every company. And where they had been established, as branches of the government- organised and controlled All—Indonesia Workers’ Federation FBSI (the only legal union organisation) ~95 per cent of the leaders and organisers . . . have been “created” by the owners themselves’. Asserting that only 1.4 million jobs had been created in a decade in which 12.6 million had joined the ranks of the unemployed. Akhmadi asked: ~Why should a boss worry about firing a worker when nine unemployed people. dreaming of that job, are waiting in line?

Famine: News or severe famines has become routine, Krawang 1977, Garut 1977. Boyolai. Sragen. Karang Anyar. Wonogiri, Flores. ..‘ Akhmadi blamed them on the New Order’s destruction of traditional methods of agriculture: its programme of intensive rice farming; and extensive use of fertilizer being forced on farmers because the New Order regime had succeeded in producing urea fertilizer. New planting methods and urea fertilizer, according to agronomists, said Akhmadi. had caused massive infestation of a pest which had devastated large areas of rice planting in Java. The government, he said were treating the farmers and the land they worked as ‘rice production machines’.

Rice Yield: he noted, had failed miserably to meet the New Orders targets. Imports by 1977-78 exceeded the planned volume by nearly 300 per cent. Expenditure on rice between 1973 and 1978 of $2.2 billion amounted to almost a quarter of the foreign debt incurred by the government in the same period. This made Indonesia the largest rice importer in the world. How tragic it is,said Akhmadi. that while the Suharto regime has been rushing about begging left and right for what it said was development”, evidently the resulting funds have had to be used just for eating.’

Land: Akhmadi said five million of the 8.8 million farmers on Java no longer owned their land. They now worked as farm labourers. This had come about because people’s land has been bought up at cheap prices under the protection of New Order elements’. In 1963,43.6 per cent of landowning farmers held 0.5 hectares or less~ by 1973 this percentage had grown to 59 per cent. Farmers who own less than 0.5 hectares of land cannot earn a living by working their own land,’ said Akhmadi.

Akhmadi warned: ‘The New Order regime’s ambition to spur economic growth has taken a toll which will never be forgiven by the little people involved.’ He saw the combination of population, food, employment, national unity and ‘mental outlook’ problems facing Indonesia as a recipe for national disaster.

Before his trial. Akhmadi spent about a year under various forms of detention, undergoing many interrogations. At the end of his trial he was sentenced to a year’s imprisonment.

Freedom of speech in that courtroom was such that Hen Akhmadi was able to spend three days reciting all that he thought was wrong with modern Indonesia. What is missing in today’s Indonesia is the freedom to hear free speech.

*Heri Akhmadi at the time of his arrest was general chairman of the Students’ Council of the Bandung Institute of Technology. His defence statement, entitled Breaking the chains of oppression of the Indonesian people was translated and published by Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, USA.

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From 'Max Havelaar'. Illustration by Clive Offley.

From 'Max Havelaar'. Illustration by Clive Offley.

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