Fear over dozens of 'missing' protesters

Indonesia: The weekend riots have lit a fuse under a regime which holds together one of the world's most populous countries

Three days after the army broke up riots and pro-democracy demonstrations in Jakarta, at least 78 people are missing in what human rights workers fear may be a new round of politically-inspired "disappearances" by the Indonesian government.

As many as 10,000 people took to the streets on Saturday after police raided the offices of the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) where pro- democracy demonstrators had been conducting a sit-in. After throwing stones at police who who had sealed off the streets around the PDI, angry crowds rioted in a nearby business district, setting fire to cars, buses and buildings, including banks, car showrooms and a government ministry. Hundreds of people were arrested, many of them injured by police batons, but discrepancies between govern- ment figures and those gathered by human rights groups are raising fears that the government may be resorting to illegal means to dispose of its political opponents.

According to figures supplied by the police and army to the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (ILAF), 178 people have been charged with crimes committed during the riots, and 28 more remain in custody without charge, while 158 people are known to be receiving hospital treatment for injuries sustained during the disturbances.

A military spokesman yesterday claimed that only two people had died, but at 9pm on Sunday three ambulance hearses were seen leaving a Jakarta hospital escorted by police and army vehicles. The PDI claims that as many as 54 people died, and by yesterday evening 78 political activists remained unaccounted for.

"Today 78 families came to this office asking for help in finding their relatives who hadn't come home," the operations secretary of the ILAF, Mr Munir, told the Independent. "Some of them saw their family members being arrested, and they are very worried about them." The ILAF believes that 500 people disappeared in 1984 after a battle between Muslim demonstrators and soldiers at Tanjung Priok in Jakarta. "We are also very concerned that this is following a similar pattern," said Mr Munir.

The government-sponsored National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR) yesterday launched an investigation into the disturbances. "They constituted clear violations of human rights, including the right to freedom from fear and property rights," said the vice-chairman of the NCHR, Marzuki Darusman. "These things happened because violence was used in trying to resolve matters by people with political objectives. It comes down to the skills ... of politicians and ministers in handling these things."

Officials of the NCHR were yesterday turned away from hospitals where some of the wounded are being treated. The Legal Aid Foundation believes that many of those in custody have been denied access to lawyers.

The Indonesian government and armed forces have repeatedly been accused of perpetrating the "disappearances" of political opponents. In East Timor, a former Portuguese colony which was annexed by Indonesia in 1976, as many 200,000 people are believed by human rights organisations to have been killed or to have died of starvation or disease after the invasion. In 1991, 270 people were killed and some 200 disappeared after troops fired on unarmed mourners at a funeral in the former East Timorese capital, Dili.

A statement on the weekend's events was issued by Amnesty International. "As on previous occasions when the security forces have moved to suppress public opposition, the raid was characterised by the use of excessive force," it said. "Amnesty International is gravely concerned for the safety of those individuals currently in detention".

In a statement to the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonisation last week, Amnesty International criticised cited "reports of extra-judicial killings, 'disappear- ances', arbitrary arrests, torture, beatings and unfair political trials throughout the year."

Indonesia: country profile

Geography: Indonesia is the world's largest island group consisting of five large islands (Java, Sumatra, two thirds of Borneo, Sulawesi and Irian Jaya) and 14,000 smaller islands (6,000 inhabited) covering 735,000 square miles. It is the world's fourth largest country with an estimated 192 million people, 87 per cent of whom are Muslim.

History: Indian and Persian traders introduced Islam in the 14th century. Dutch control, as the Dutch East Indies, lasted from the18th century to Japanese conquest in 1942. After a brief war, independence was granted in 1949. Indonesia seized the former Dutch territory of East Timor in 1975 but this has never been recognised internationally.

Politics: From 1949 to 1967, Indonesia was dominated by the President Sukarno, who adopted a broadly anti-Western and pro-Maoist foreign policy. He was replaced by former General Suharto in 1968, who switched to a pro-western approach but imposed de facto one party rule. Riots last weekend were sparked, in part, by the government's ousting of Megawati Sukarnoputri - daughter of Sukarno - from the leadership of the main opposition party, the Indonesian Democratic party (PDI).

Economy: Growing industrialisation in recent years but oil and gas from Borneo and Sumatra still provide 60 per cent of the national income.The GDP in 1994 was $190bn (pounds 126bn) or $1,000 a head.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Production Administrator

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading and fastest ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sunroom / Conservatory / Extension Designers

£16000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Planning Assistant

£16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be working for one of the count...

Recruitment Genius: Purchase Ledger Administrator

£5120 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be working for one of the countr...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence