Last Wednesday was International Labour Day – the day to remember and continue the struggle for basic human rights for workers around the world. Far too often the efforts of worker activists for justice end in sackings, beatings, imprisonment, torture or even death. Also far too often the international human rights community chooses to disociate itself from the worker struggle as it is ‘too sensitive’ or ‘too political’, even though workers are almost always at the forefront of the fight for economic, social and cultural rights.
Asia Human Rights Commisson (AHRC) wishes to affirm a basic position: that people fighting for livable wages, for security at work, for equality for women and migrants at work, for protection from unemployment and for the freedoms of assembly, association and expression are Human Rights Defenders. They have made enormous progress in some of areas of workers’ human rights, but to this day face severe repression and violence.
May Day 2002 showed that as well as fighting for economic, social and cultural rights, worker activists are also fighting against rising racism in the west, with strong showings in Australia to protest the government’s detention of asylum seekers, anti-Nazi protests in Germany, and more than a million demontrating in France against the right wing presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen.
May Day 2002 repression in Asia
Government security forces in Asia excelled themselves in efforts to suppress the human rights defenders in the following countries:
MALAYSIA – 18 people were arrested in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia during a protest for rights for plantation workers;
SINGAPORE – The Singapore police arrested Chee Soon Juan and Gandhi Ambalam, both of the Singapore Democratic Party, who were defending their right to freedom of assembly in defience of police warning not to hold the rally for workers’ rights;
AUSTRALIA – 32 were detained and around 30 injured after mounted police were brought into the Sydney protest at the treatment of asylum seekers by the government and their private contractor Australasian Correctional Management;
INDONESIA – In Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia, police arrested seven labour activists for organising workers to join a rally. Due to severe police beatings, 23 activists suffered injuries ranging from cuts and bruises to broken ribs and serious head wounds. Thousands around Indonesia were calling for better wages and for May Day to be declared a national holiday. A full report of this incident is provided below. Please read, or scroll down to a simple action you can take on behalf of these victims.
Police violence in Indonesia
In Indonesia, the labour organisations, student movement, urban peoples and NGOs celebrated Interantional Labour Day on May 1, 2002 with a strike in several cities, including Jakarta, Bandung, Medan, Makasarm, Yogyakarta, Semarang and Surabaya. The occasion was used to urge the government to act in consistence with a government regulation stating that May 1st should become a national holiday and also to ask the government to implement economic policies favourable to workers and poor people. In Surabaya, the police already prepared since the morning to protect the gate into the city. Many people from other regions in East Java wanted to enter Surabaya, but had many difficulties in doing so. The workers were prevented from joining the strike action in many ways, eg. some would have been fired if they had joined the strike.
On May 1, 2002, the Komite Pemogokan Rakyat Miskin (KPRM, Poor People’s Strike Committee) initiated a strike. The police dismissed the labour strike, reasoning that they did not have a license to strike (however, according to UU No. 9/1999, the strikers did not require a license, they only had to make an announcement). The police tried to break up the strike with violence. Police hit and kicked many people while they were sitting taking a rest at lunch-time. At 3.35pm, some of the participants in the demonstration were hit by the police and tried to take them to the police truck. We note that 23 people were injured, at least five of whom required head surgery, and three suffering broken bones. The injured were:
1. Tita from FNPBI (she suffered a broken rib)
2. Ismail from STN (he suffered bleeding from the head and facial bruising)
3. Heni from LMND (she suffered a gash to the head)
4. Miftah from LMND (his ribs and hand were broken)
5. Dian from FISIP UNAIR (she suffered bleeding from the head and facial bruising)
6. Mustaimah from FNPBI (she was bleeding from a head wound)
7. Jamil from STN (he suffered a head wound) 8. Yusuf from GPK (his hand was broken)
The police arrested seven people:
1. Wiwik Wijanarka (LMND)
2. Samirin (PRD)
3. Moh. Juhnaedi (LMND)
4. Mati Herman (LMND)
5. Syafrudin Budiman (UWK)
6. Edi Basuki (STN)
7. Adrianus Sugiardi (LMND)
All the people arrested by the police were released on May 3, 2002. All the injured have been release from IRRD Dr. Sutomo hospital.
Besides the above injured, many others watching the strike were injured by police beatings. The police looked for the participants in many places including in the traders’ areas, where the police also destroyed traders’ goods.
Suggested action Please write to the leaders of the above four countries with a copy to the UN Special Representative on human rights defenders with a simple message:
“Worker advocates are human rights defenders – they have a right to freedom of assembly. I request that you immediately release those unjustly imprisoned for May Day assemblies and prosecute all members of security forces who have wantonly injured May Day protestors.”
You can also add other details specific to each country, according to the information provided above.
Send your letters to:
1. INDONESIAN PRESIDENT Her Excellency Megawati Sukarnoputri
President, Republic of Indonesia
Presidential Palace, Jakarta
Istana Negara, Indonesia.
Fax: (62 21) 345 7782
2. AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER
Hon. John Howard Prime Minister
House of Representatives
Canberra ACT 2600
TEL: +61 2 6277 7700
FAX: +61 2 6273 4100
SALUTATION: Dear Prime Minister
Also you can send an email via his home page:
3. MALAYSIAN HOME MINISTER
Datuk Abdullah Ahmad Badawi
Aras 13, Block D1, Parcel D,
Pusat Pentadbiran Kerajaan Persekutuan,
Fax: +603 8886 8014
4. SINGAPOREAN HOME MINISTER
Hon. Wong Kan Seng
MINISTRY OF HOME AFFAIRS
Joint Operations Division
Phoenix Park, Tanglin Road
Tel: 838 5706
Fax: 838 5702
Please send copies of your message to:
Ms. Hina Jilani Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the
situation of human rights defenders
c/o OHCHR-UNOG, 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Fax: (41 22) 917 9006
(Please attention it to: Special Representative Hina Jilani)
and AHRC Urgent Appeals
Fax: +(852) – 26986367