From Green Left Weekly 456, July 18, 2001

Aceh: Activists Detained at ExxonMobil Protest

By Jon Land

Three activists from the Acehnese Democratic Peoples Resistance Front were detained by police in Banda Aceh on July 11 during a protest against the United States-based company ExxonMobil.

The three activists - Kautsar, chairperson of the FPDRA central committee, Mukhlis, a member of Student Solidarity for the People (SMUR) and Maimun Saleh, editor of Beudoh, the newspaper of the FPDRA were detained by police while on their way to join the 200-strong demonstration.

The protest was part of an international day of action highlighting ExxonMobil's complicity in human rights abuses in Aceh and its opposition to the Kyoto treaty on climate change.

The police had set up roadblocks around Banda Aceh, stopping and searching vehicles heading for the city centre. According to a report in Beudoh, police detained the activists after discovering in their possession copies of a FPDRA statement calling for the closure of the ExxonMobil operations in Aceh and a letter to ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond.

The statement, signed by the leaders of five student, trishaw driver and political organisations, including FPDRA and SIRA (Sentral Informasi Referendum Aceh), condemned presidential instruction No 4/2001 which authorises Indonesian military operations in Aceh to guarantee the security of gas exploration and production for Exxon Mobil and the Indonesian state oil company, Pertamina.

Following news of the arrests, the protest moved to the Banda Aceh central police station. Beudoh reported that: "The police attempted provocation by letting loose dogs and monkeys on the front ranks of the protesters. They also pointed their guns at the crowd. The chairperson of SMUR was also clubbed with a rifle while he was making a speech. The protesters however remained calm. They chanted `Free Kautsar and our two other comrades' and sang songs of struggle."

After a tense stand-off, the police eventually agreed to allow Kautsar to briefly speak to the protesters. He repeated the call for a tax boycott campaign against military operations in Aceh.

"I reaffirm that I will not retreat from these demands", he told those gathered outside the police station. "I take full responsibility for this protest and all the demands and calls for action on the leaflets we have distributed. We will continue to call on the people to boycott the paying of taxes, to reject the restarting of ExxonMobil operations until Aceh's conflict with Jakarta is resolved, and we will continue to demand the withdrawal of presidential instruction 4/2001".

Mukhlis and Maimun Saleh were later released. The police charged Kautsar with articles 145 and 160, which cover inciting hatred and hostility against the government.

"We are extremely concerned about the safety of Kautsar, who visited Australia earlier this year", Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor national secretary Pip Hinman told Green Left Weekly. The SIRA international affairs department released an urgent appeal on July 13 calling for protest messages in support of Kautsar to be sent to the chairperson of the district police.

The appeal also stated: "This is not a story alone of Indonesian police arresting somebody then charging them with the subversion articles. Muhammad Nazar, SIRA chairperson was sentenced for 10 months with the similar article [subversion] in November 2000"

[Protest messages calling for the release of Kautsar can be faxed to: Kombes Polisi Drs Ramli Darwis, Kapolda Aceh, Aceh Police Chairperson, Indonesia, 62-651-26689. Telephone: Mr Sayed Hoesainy, Aceh Besar District Police Chairperson, Indonesia, 62-651-21641.]