Date: Wed Nov 10 1993 – 11:12:00 EST


From: “John A. MacDougall”
Subject: Human Rights in North Sumatra

Forwarded courtesy of Asia Watch (

Asia Watch


The province of North Sumatra continues to be plagued by
human rights abuses committed by security forces. Two
cases are highlighted in this report: the ongoing military
interference in a leadership dispute within a Protestant
church group (Huria Kristen Batak Protestant or HKBP), and
the treatment of villagers in a complicated land dispute
in Sei Lapan, an area about 80 miles north of Medan, the
provincial capital.

Both of these cases involve disputes in which the
Indonesian government is an active party. Both involve
arbitrary arrest and detention by the military, in
violation of Indonesia’s own Criminal Procedure Code as
well as international human rights standards. Over 100 men
and women remained in detention from the Sei Lapan case at
the end of September 1993, some of them with serious
injuries suffered during beatings by security forces. Two
men disappeared after having been taken into custody.

Both cases have involved widespread denial of freedom of
assembly and freedom of expression. Both cases have also
involved some acts of violence on the part of individuals,
such as assaulting a policeman and setting fire to
vehicles; it is obviously appropriate to punish such acts
under the relevant provision of the Criminal Code (KUHP).
But the Indonesian security forces have shown a
disquieting propensity for collective, disproportionate
and summary punishment, in a manner that violates the
rights of those suspected — including the right not to be
subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

The two cases are illustrative as well of the more general
lack of effective means of redress for those who have
grievances against the government and military. This
problem is clearly not unique to Indonesia, but as the
Indonesian government begins to discuss ways of addressing
human rights problems at home and within the region, the
lack of accountability of officials must be high on its


The two disputes described in this report are symptomatic
of a broader pattern of abuse in northern Sumatra that has
gone largely unnoticed by the international community and
unpunished by the Indonesian authorities. The worst abuses
in the area took place in Aceh, a special region on the
northern tip of Sumatra, between 1989 and 1991 where over
1,000 people
are estimated to have been killed by the military in the course of
a counterinsurgency campaign against an armed Acehnese
independence organization called Aceh Merdeka. The Medan-based
regional military command (KODAM I “Bukit Barisan”) was heavily
involved in those operations. The government never carried out any
investigation of army atrocities as it did, however imperfectly,
in East Timor, nor was any officer ever disciplined or punished
for those atrocities which included summary executions,
disappearances, and torture. On the contrary, key officers were
promoted. Many prisoners were detained incommunicado and abused in
detention facilities in the city of Medan, such as the one run by
the intelligence unit of Bukit Barisan command on Gaperta Street,
usually referred to simply as “Gaperta.”

Medan has also been the center of periodic crackdowns on
non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and independent
associations. On June 25, 1993, for example, two labor
activists from the independent trade union SBSI were
arrested on the street in Medan without warrant by the
local subdistrict military command and taken to district
military headquarters. Amosi Telambanua and Soniman Lafoa
were detained incommunicado and severely beaten before
being released a week later. (The founder and
secretary-general of SBSI, Mochtar Pakpahan is originally
from North Sumatra.)

Many of these NGOs claim goals of furthering such
government objectives as economic development or
environmental conservation, and some have been recognized
for these efforts by the government. However, the emphasis
placed by some of these same organizations on legal
education and community empowerment has brought them into
conflict with military and civilian officials at the local
and national levels. Two NGOs in particular, KSPPM,
(Kelompok Studi Pengembangan Prakarsa Masyarakat) and WIM
(Wahana Informasi Masyarakat), a coalition of NGOs in the
province, have been past targets of harassment, as Asia
Watch has documented in two reports. Incidents of
harassment have ranged from surveillance to arrests and
forced suspension of activities. KSPPM is a rural
development and advocacy group established by activist
members of the HKBP, the focus of one of the disputes
described in this report, although it is an independent
body with no formal relationship to the church.
Government suspicion of these NGOs is illustrated by the
local government’s response to a letter sent by three
students on August 20, 1993 to the governor of North
Sumatra, the regional military commander, and the regional
police chief, denouncing five NGOs for inciting people to
oppose the government. Four of the NGOs cited in the
letter (WIM, Bitra, KKSP, and Sintesa), were accused of
inciting protests against the governor and a large pulp
and paper factory in the area, P.T.Indorayon. The NGO
Sintesa was also accused of inciting a riot in the city of
Kisaran that resulted in the burning of a hotel and a
movie theater. The fifth NGO, YPMP, was listed in the
letter because its head, Natsir Silalahi, was being sought
in connection with the Sei Lepan case discussed below.
Also listed by name were Osmar Tanjung (WIM), Sebastian
Saragih (Bitra), Hendrik Saragih (Sintesa), and Taufan
Daumanik and Sri Eni (KKSP). The letter urged that these
people and all other staff members be detained as
subversives and that their computer records be
confiscated. It added that these organizations and others
like them received money from foreign sources, and that
they made up information to justify the funding. A
handwritten notation on one copy from the Social and
Political Affairs office of the provincial government
indicated that at least three of the NGO activists
denounced in the letter were going to be called in for
questioning — simply on the basis of an unsubstantiated


An Asia Watch report published in January 1993 described
the leadership dispute within the largest Protestant
church organization in Indonesia, Huria Kristen Batak
Protestan or HKBP, in North Sumatra. (The Batak are the
dominant ethnic group in the region.) The long-simmering
dispute came into public view during the 51st Synod in
late November 1992, when the regional military command
intervened to replace the elected incumbent leader or
ephorus, Dr. S.A.E. Nababan. A December 23 directive from
the internal security agency, Bakorstanasda (Badan
Koordinasi Bantuan Pemantapan Stabilitas Nasional Daerah
— the Regional Coordinating Agency for the Maintenance of
National Stability), appointed a lecturer named Rev.
Siahaan in his place. The appointment was to be on an
interim basis until a special synod could be convened.
Supporters of Nababan, and those upset by the apparent
disregard for the HKBP constitution, mounted a series of
protests, which intensified after the anti-Nababan faction
began replacing ministers who rejected the
government-appointed leader. Those protests led to
numerous incidents of illegal arrest and detention and
severe physical abuse of protestors by security forces.

Asia Watch’s report was issued just after a military
crackdown on pro-Nababan supporters began on January 16,
1993. Early that morning, the military stormed a church in
Tarutung, North Sumatra where several thousand Nababan
supporters occupied the church compound. Over 80 were
taken into custody, and many beaten. The commander of the
Bukit Barisan regional command denied that any arrests or
physical abuse took place.

About 11:45 a.m. the same day, Rev. J.A.U. Doloksaribu, a
founding member of the KSPPM organization, well known for
his social activism, was arrested. He was taken into
custody by intelligence operatives of district military
command, KODIM 0201, in Medan, outside the Sudirman
church, as he was about to officiate at a wedding
ceremony. He was taken first to the KODIM headquarters,
then to the military intelligence office and detention
center of the Bukit Barisan command on Gaperta Street. At
11 p.m., still wearing his robes, he was moved to the
municipal police station in Medan where he was detained.
(He was sentenced to six months in prison for incitement
in June).

On the evening of January 17, Dr. Nababan returned to
Medan from Jakarta to attend a hearing scheduled for the
following day in Medan’s administrative court (Pengadilan
Tata Usaha Negara). The hearing was on a suit Nababan had
filed in December challenging the regional military
command’s appointment of Siahaan. Nababan proceeded to a
house in the city where dozens of his supporters, most of
them students, had gathered in the yard. About 8 p.m.,
two truckloads of military police and soldiers from the
district military command, KODIM, arrived at the house,
together with intelligence agents from Bakorstanasda. They
began to forcibly arrest those in the yard. One of those
arrested described the events that followed in an
interview with Asia Watch:

…[A]bout 49 students and other followers were forcibly put into
the open top military jeeps and taken to Poltabes [Medan Police].
Poltabes refused us. We were taken to KODIM. All the way there,
the military were hitting our faces with rattan bats, with the
butts of their rifles. They kicked us. When we arrived at KODIM we
were kicked and shoved and hit all over again….They proceeded to
kick us, beat us with rifles and rattan. A few were taken to
separate places. We could hear them scream. Then they ran over our
backs as we were made to do pushups. If we failed in a pushup,
they hit us harder.

Seventeen of those arrested were then taken by military
truck to Gaperta. They arrived there close to midnight.
Uniformed soldiers and some men who were not in uniform
then used a one-meter stick of rattan to beat the Nababan
supporters, accusing them of being government rebels,
according to one account. Their interrogators told them
that Nababan and another HKBP minister were corrupt and
had embezzled billions of rupiahs. One detainee told Asia

Then they said we could sleep but we had to sit in a
circle. But they didn’t let us sleep. The room was barely
large enough for us to sit in a circle, but just large
enough for a soldier to come in and beat us one by one
going around the circle. They did this every fifteen
minutes. A soldier would come in and do this, beating us
one by one in the face. Many of our faces were bleeding
and swollen by this time. This continued for hours. The
soldiers started calling us to the door in order to beat
us at the door rather than come inside. This lasted until
around three or four in the morning…

The detainees were interrogated again in the morning and
forced to confess that the demonstrations in support of
Nababan had been organized. They accused Nababan of being
a communist. Early that afternoon, they saw some 20
persons arrested the day before in Tarutung being brought
into the detention center with their hands chained. On the
evening of January 20, they were forced to sign a
statement that they would no longer protest the new church
leadership and would endeavor to make the special synod
called by Bakorstanasda of North Sumatra a success. The
intelligence officers said that those who did not sign the
statement would not be released. All signed and they were
taken to Poltabes, the Medan police station, at 9 p.m.
They were released the next day.

The Special Synod

The Synod Agung Istemewa, or special synod, was held
February 11-13, 1993 in a Medan hotel. Rev. P.W.T.
Simanjuntak, an ally of Rev. Siahaan, was elected ephorus.
Nababan’s supporters charged that 83 of the 464 delegates
at the special synod were appointed by Acting Ephorus
Siahaan and that the only credentials required to be a
delegate was to agree in writing to recognize Siahaan as
ephorus and to acknowledge that Dr. Nababan had had no
claim to speak for HKBP since November 28, 1992, the date
of the 51st Synod. Protests from the pro-Nababan faction
escalated, saying Nababan had been illegally ousted. The
anti-Nababan faction in turn argued that the Special Synod
had been valid. They also circulated a letter calling
Nababan “a dashing figure in the world of international
church jet-setting” who had “brought six years of
suffering, fear and dictatorship” to HKBP.

Nababan followers began to be systematically replaced by
the Siahaan group. Some fled to Jakarta to escape the
violence and arbitrary arrests and were immediately
replaced. Many stayed in their positions as long as they
could, and the efforts to replace them took several
months. In many cases, the military appeared to be
involved in the replacement process.

A Medan-area pastor, L. Manurung, was attacked in an
incident that took place at his church, HKBP Dame, on
March 28. A number of outsiders and long absent
congregation members had shown up and claimed control of
the church. The pastor and his congregation protested.
Then, he told Asia Watch,

[a] military officer from Battalion Zenitempur named T.R.
Silitonga arrived. He pushed my head from the side with a
forceful thrust yelling, “Get out, you!” Then I was
grabbed. Sergeant Major Binara Sihombing hit my head on the
temple and ear once and pushed me out the door. My head
hurt and I was worried about my congregation. I didn’t want
them to lose their heads. They were already asking, “Why
did you hit our pastor?” They were advancing rapidly. The
military and police both began to take forceful measures to
stop the people. They began to kick the congregation. . .
The military and the police were pulling people out of the
pews. They were all pushed out of the church.

Two members of the congregation were detained for 24
hours, then released.

Nababan supporters continued to go to services led by
Nababan-appointed ministers, and Simanjuntak supporters
went to services led by the newly-appointed ministers.
Tension mounted between the two groups sharing the
churches, both throughout North Sumatra and, on Java, in
congregations in Cirebon, Bandung and Jakarta. Clashes
occurred on April 4, in Kisaran; April 9 in Tanjung Morawa
and Pematang Siantar; on April 18 in Sei Agul and April
17-18 at the HKBP church at the Pabrik Tenun, Medan. In
the many cases where pro-Nababan factions of the
congregations were barred from using the church, services
were held in private homes and often in the street outside
the church.

On May 1, a crowd of Simanjuntak supporters surrounded a
church in Tebing Tinggi, some 60 kilometers south of
Medan, that was being defended by a pro-Nababan
congregation. According to one source interviewed by Asia
Watch the crowd was not from the area, but instead was
made up of hired thugs or soldiers in civilian dress
trying to take the church over for Rev. Simanjuntak. At 2
a.m. the crowd began throwing rocks that had reportedly
been brought to the site in military trucks that were
parked in front of the gates. Uniformed soldiers
reportedly joined in the rock-throwing.

At 3 a.m. the crowd broke into four HKBP-owned houses, one
of them the home of a pro-Nababan pastor and destroyed
their contents throughout that day, May 2. The wells were
filled with garbage and all the pastor’s belongings
destroyed. The pastor disguised himself in Muslim clothing
and escaped, walking “right past the gang who were busy
eating an afternoon meal after a hard day’s work
destroying…houses,” according to one eyewitness
interviewed by Asia Watch. At this point some members of
the congregation regrouped and armed themselves with
molotov cocktails. That evening they took back the church
with no further injuries.

Asia Watch does not sanction the use of weapons on the
part of the Nababan faction defending the church and
recognizes the right of Indonesian police to charge those
who made or possessed the molotov cocktails under the
appropriate provisions of the Indonesian Criminal Code. At
the same time, the reported vandalism of homes on the part
of the army or civilians working under its direction is in
clear violation of Article 17 of the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, “no one shall be
subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his
privacy, family, home” and Article 18, “everyone shall
have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and

On May 16, some 100 troops from KODIM 0121 and 0122
stormed the HKBP church in Tebing Tinggi. At some point
several mopeds and a car were allegedly burned by the
pro-Nababan groups, and eight Nababan supporters were
arrested. A week later, two more members were arrested in
connection with the same struggle in Tebing Tinggi and
held together with the eight arrested on May 16. The ten
members implicated in the May 16 incident were held at the
Tebing Tinggi police station and charged under articles
170 and 406 of the Indonesian Criminal Code for disturbing
the peace and destroying property. The first offense
carries a maximum sentence of five and a half years, the
second, two years and eight months. Four of those have
also been charged with Section 2, paragraph 1, Law No.12,
1951, for the possession of “sharp” weapons.

On May 23, some 39 pro-Nababan church members were rounded
up in connection with the alleged discovery of hundreds of
molotov cocktails and home-made bayonets, among other
simple weapons in the HKBP office in Tebing Tinggi. They
were held overnight in the Tebing Tinggi police office and
released on May 24, 1993. Again, the use or advocacy of
violence is not condoned by Asia Watch.

As of July 15, ten people awaited trial in a Medan prison
and had chosen Legal Aid Foundation (LBH) lawyers for
their defense.

In late May, President Suharto appointed T.B. Silalahi,
Minister for the Utilization of the State Apparatus
(Menpan), to mediate between the two factions. On June
14, an agreement was signed by Nababan and Simanjuntak. In
the agreement Nababan acknowledged the authority of
Simanjuntak pending another synod (to be held in
accordance with HKBP by-laws), and it was agreed that the
replacements would cease and that churches should remain
open for use by all groups wishing to meet for worship.
According to Silalahi, if this could not be done
peacefully, the parties “have already agreed to involve
the security forces.”

However, at Sunday services six days later, when the
agreement was announced, the ongoing conflict over church
leadership erupted again, leading to the arrests of eight
more Nababan supporters on charges ranging from carrying
weapons to murder. The incident allegedly began when a
group of Simanjuntak supporters inside the HKBP church in
the Helvetia neighborhood of Medan refused to let
worshippers enter. One account said they began to throw
stones at the crowd outside and displayed sharp weapons.
The Nababan supporters became angry and tried to storm the
church doors. A fight broke out, and some mopeds and a car
outside the church were set ablaze. Some 50 people from
inside the church ran to a priest’s house for cover, where
they allegedly found weapons.

The newspaper Sinar Indonesia Baru reported that a
pro-Simanjuntak school teacher, Mr. Pakpahan, had died as
a result of injuries sustained in the struggle. However,
according to the Medan Legal Aid Foundation, eyewitnesses
reported seeing Mr. Pakpahan leave the church by
motorscooter, uninjured. Both Cabinet Minister Silalahi
and Medan Police Chief, Lieutenant Colonel Drs.
Chairuddin, have reportedly called the murder charge into

The eight people arrested were detained at the Medan
municipal police station (Poltabes Medan). Six others were
placed under house arrest.

As of July 7, 1993, some 39 members of the HKBP awaited
investigation by the Medan municipal police. Bukit Barisan
army commander Maj. General A. Pranowo reportedly
announced that people should realize that all worship is
the same, and expressed his full attention to resolving
the situation and preventing difficulties through
continued surveillance by Bakorstanasda. In at least one
instance, local military and police personnel gave their
support to a pro-Nababan group seeking access to their
church, HKBP Dame, under the terms of the reconciliation,
indicating that not all local officials sided with the
Simanjuntak faction.

On July 9, however, five more people were arrested after
another struggle outside the Helvetia Medan HKBP church as
Nababan supporters were leaving the church and Simorangkir
supporters were gathered outside. Three days later, six
more Nababan supporters were arrested in another clash
with their opponents. All were charged with the same
crimes as those above. To Asia Watch’s knowledge, no
pro-Simanjuntak supporters were arrested following any of
these clashes.

On July 25, 1993, a photographer named Pardomuan Sibarani
was hired by the pastor of the Bongbongan HKBP church to
record the conflicts that took place every Sunday over use
of the church. Lieutenant Jono of the district military
command, KODIM Simalungun, reportedly called him over and
had him put into a hardtop jeep with license number BK 884
BB. Once in the jeep Lieutenant Jono asked him questions
and punched him constantly in the head and ribs, as did
the private seated on Pardomuan’s right, breaking several
ribs and causing him to bleed from his ears. After
threatening and interrogating Pardomuan and a vicar from
the church, district military command took them to the
police station (Polres 205 Simalungun) as rioters. The
police refused to take them (presumably due to Pardomuan’s
condition) and had them taken to the hospital.

Some Nababan supporters who believe they were arbitrarily
arrested by the military have sought legal redress, always
unsuccessfully, through the praperadilan, a pre-trial
process similar to a habeas corpus hearing that is
provided for in the Indonesia Criminal Procedure Code
(Kitab Undang-Undang Hukum Acara Pidana or KUHAP).

In one such case in August, Rev. Marulan Sitorus
challenged his arrest by the district military command,
KODIM 0204 Deli Serdang, at Tebing Tinggi District Court.
Rev. Sitorus, a Nababan supporter, had begun leading
services for pro-Nababan congregation members again after
the June 14 statement of reconciliation. However, on
August 1 he was arrested without warrant during Sunday
services and detained for three days at the KODIM. On the
third day, he claimed, he was beaten with a cable until he
agreed to sign a confession and to acknowledge in writing
the authority of Rev. Simanjuntak as ephorus.

Rev. Sitorus then went to LBH and they asked for a
pre-trial hearing. On August 19 Judge Amir Sjarifuddin
decided the court did not have the authority to examine
the military.

Similarly, Rev. Manurung in Langkat had been summoned to
district military command by 2nd Lieutenant Djafar Sidik.
He appeared voluntarily and was taken to the regional
military command, KODAM I Bukit Barisan, Medan. He was
held for eight days, where he asserts he was kicked and
hit, accused of being a communist, a cheat, a
“money-priest”, and forced to acknowledge in writing the
authority of the new ephorus.

Rev. Manurung also challenged his wrongful arrest
and detention in the Langkat district. As in the
previous example, the judge, Judge H.S. Hutahuruk,
dismissed the case. He argued that the purpose of
the hearing is to judge whether an arrest and
detention is in accord with KUHAP. According to
him, this applies only to police or other
investigating officers, but not to the military.

Borkat Harahap, a lawyer with the Medan Branch of the
Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation and Rev. Manurung’s
lawyer, said, “The judge’s decision is clearly wrong,” and
pointed to Supreme Court Circular No. 15, 1983. Criminal
Law expert Dr. Loebby Loeqman agreed, saying that while
KUHAP does not explicitly include military in the articles
concerning the praperadilan, it must be interpreted to do
so, since the principle prohibiting arbitrary detention
cannot be violated. The praperadilan guidelines do not
mention military authorities because, according to Article
18 of KUHAP, all arrests are to be carried out by the
police. (However, the Medan district military command did
agree to hear the praperadilan case involving the military
in the case of the two labor activists arrested without
warrant in June, so the position of the courts in the HKBP
cases is inconsistent even with other courts in the same

The responses of the commanding officers of the units
involved are illuminating: the head of the military
command in the district of Langkat, Lieutenant Colonel
Djuardi Mansyur, denies ordering Manurung’s arrest,
saying he was misunderstood by his men. Meanwhile, his
counterpart in the district of Deli Serdang, Lieutenant
Colonel M. Syaruhl, said that Marulan Sitorus was never
detained: “We only held him in protective custody.”

On August 9, as another step in Cabinet Minister
Silalahi’s “reconciliation”, Siahaan and Nababan went on
state television and announced an end to the problems.
Nababan told Asia Watch that he knew the terms of the
reconciliation would never be carried out despite
Silalahi’s good intentions. Indeed, after an initial
two-week period of action, the working group on the
reconciliation reportedly stopped altogether. Nababan has
also written that he has faith that the situation will be
allowed to resolve itself, counting on factors such as
President Suharto’s April 1991 statement that neither “the
state nor the government have the authority to interfere
with internal religious problems, whether doctrinal or

From August 19 to 24, a delegation of over 100 HKBP
members representing 403 congregations tried
unsuccessfully to meet with the Minister of Religious
Affairs, Tarmizi Taher. After they were turned away by the
Minister, (the problem is “finished” he explained), the
spokesman for the delegation, Rev. H.S. Marpaung, was
quoted as saying, “The minister says only 40
congregations [do] not yet recognize Ephorus Simanjuntak.
In fact, 80 percent do not support him. That’s what you
call engineering lies (rekayasa bohong).” In a letter to
the Minister, the delegation stressed that it would never
accept the authority of an ephorus who is elected without
regard for the rules governing HKBP.

As recently as September 20, 1993, Rembang Siburian, a
religious teacher at the Sitabotabo HKBP church, was
called to the Siborongborong subdistrict military command.
The head of the command, First Lieutenant M. Siahaan, was
angry over the fact that Siburian had allowed a wedding to
take place at the church, officiated by Rev. Japiaman
Lumbangaol. The officer made reference to a letter of
complaint from a pro-Simanjuntak pastor. Lieutenant
Siahaan then beat Siburian until he temporarily lost
consciousness. He was then turned over to a member of the
command staff, Murdiono, who reportedly yelled at and beat
Siburian with his fists and with a wooden club. Seeing
that Siburian had not yet come home from the sub-district
military command (KORAMIL), 100 women from the HKBP church
at Sitabotabo came to the office just before noon. Told he
was not there they pushed their way in and seized him. His
supporters then took Siburian to the Siborongborong police
station to report the beating he had received at
subdistrict command. The complaint was taken by First
Sergeant B.M. Situmorang. Siburian was then taken to
Tarutung Hospital. It is unknown if steps have been taken
as a result of the complaint.

Both Nababan and Simanjuntak were placed under a press
ban, but their supporters have been quoted in national
magazines and newspapers.


On March 25-26, 1993, 198 villagers from the village of
Sei Lepan were detained, accused of damaging a police
station in a district north of Medan that borders on the
special region of Aceh. There were reports of torture and
at least two detainees were reported to have died in
custody. As of September, armed military guards were
denying entry to those wishing to investigate the
situation in Sei Lepan. They were also restricting
villagers from leaving the area to acquire basic food and
medical supplies. Many of the detainees had been released
by September, but 174 people remained in custody.

The origin of these events goes ten years to a struggle by
settlers to claim land ownership rights that had long been
promised to them by the government. But control over the
land, instead of being granted to the settlers, was given
to a private business operating in collusion with the
local government and military.

The settlers were originally from villages not far from
Sei Lepan. In April 1982, they were moved by a government
transmigration program to the disputed site in an attempt
to curb unofficial land use in the area. Each transmigran
lokal or translok was promised two hectares of workable
land, a house, and a monthly stipend. In 1986, the 500
transmigrant families protested to the Ministry of
Transmigration that the government had not met its
obligations, and that they were unable to cultivate the
infertile soil. The Ministry responded that its
responsibility ended in April 1984, when the area was
transferred formally to the control of the local

In January 1989, after six years of unsuccessfully trying
to obtain land ownership certificates and to earn a living
from the soil, the transmigrants learned that their land
had been slated by the district head for development by a
company named P.T. Anugrah Langkat Makmur (PT.ALM). Under
the terms of the agreement, which was signed by the
district head, or district head, and the president of PT.
ALM on January 24, 1989, with no villagers present, the
company was to be responsible for developing a commercial
oil palm plantation, and for providing housing and a
package of social services. After the three years, the
participants of this program would be given the profits
from selling the harvest, less any outstanding debts. The
harvest would have to be sold to PT. ALM. In the meantime,
all participants would receive a salary for working on the

Of the 500 translok families, 135 were excluded from the
official agreement because they had at some point left
their homes to look for work, preventing them from
receiving any benefits that might accrue from the use of
the land. The plantation, which was supposed to provide
employment and eventually profit-sharing, was never able
to employ more than 20 percent of the villagers, and these
at reportedly substandard wages. For these reasons, the
villagers were opposed to the presence of PT. ALM in Sei
Lepan from the start..

On July 3, 1989, PT. ALM began, with no prior warning, to
plow under cropland and productive trees, such as rubber
and coconut trees, that belonged to the transmigrants. In
September 1991, they increased the amount of land
bulldozed for plantation use, despite an order from the
district head to leave 1,104 hectares of the villagers’
land untouched. Around this time the villagers were
invited to a meeting by PT. ALM. An attendance sheet that
was passed around and signed by the villagers was
subsequently and without their knowledge affixed to a
cover letter surrendering all land rights to PT. ALM, and
was subsequently notarized. With this fraudulent document,
PT. ALM took control of even more village land and easily
secured additional bank credit.

During this period oil palms were planted not just on
former farmland, but also in the yards of houses and even
the grounds of village churches and mosques. As many as
135 families left Sei Lepan at that time. Of those
remaining, a small percentage worked on the plantation.

On September 7, 1991, PT. ALM ordered the village head to
dismantle all houses that had been left vacant by
villagers who had left the area to search for employment,
and warned that they should not be rebuilt. Nine days
later, a delegation of villagers brought their complaints
to the headquarters of the Indonesian Farmers’ Association
(Himpunan Kerukunan Tani Indonesia — HKTI) in Jakarta.
HKTI requested that the National Land Bureau (Biro
Pertanahan Nasional — BPN) send a team out to PT. ALM to
resolve the situation. Tension mounted over the following
months as villagers were not allowed to replant their own
crops and trees that had been destroyed by the company,
nor were they allowed to harvest from the company’s trees.
Since 1989, reports had been reaching WIM, a Medan-based
forum of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), that the
villagers were once again nearly without food.

In May 1992, several incidents of attempted kidnapping by
plantation security guards, interpreted by some villagers
as attempts to intimidate them from speaking out against
PT. ALM, fueled resentment among the villagers. On May 11,
1992, a Sei Lepan neighborhood official, Misnan Saragih (a
transmigrant himself), forced the company office to close.
On May 19-20, 1992, a company office building in the Alur
Dua neighborhood and fourteen of the employee housing
blocks were burned down. Five of the employees were beaten
up, according to reports from the company. Twenty-one
families (108 people) of transmigrants who were also
plantation employees left the area and took refuge at the
Pangkalan Brandan police station for the next nine months.

On July 2, 1992, in an effort to resolve the conflict, the
district head promised to issue all land certificates to
all villagers and to end the relationship between Sei
Lepan and PT. ALM. This withdrawal would be based on
negotiations with the company. The villagers affirmed
their rejection of the presence of PT. ALM in the village,
and agreed to compensate the company for the oil palms,
based on an independent evaluation of their worth.
Subsequent negotiations were carried out in December

By March 1993, the village was facing food shortages for
the third time since 1983. They received some assistance
from YPMP (Yayasan Pengembangan Masyarakat Pancasila –
Pancasila Community Development Foundation), a small NGO
that had taken an interest in the case. Natsir Silalahi,
its head, visited several times bringing sacks of rice.
They received no assistance from the local government or
PT. ALM. Seeing the oil palms going unharvested while they
were going hungry, yet aware that they were not allowed to
harvest the palms according to the terms of the original
agreement between the district head and PT. ALM, they
informed the authorities of the situation, first by
sending a letter on March 11 and then through several
visits. On March 14, 1993, a regional government official
from the Langkat district, Drs. Sofyan Nasution, announced
to the transmigrants, “We will not order you or forbid
you. Do anything that you see fit as good citizens.” The
apparent permission from the regional government came as a
relief to the transmigrants, and they began to harvest the

On March 23, 1993, after four previous, uneventful trips,
a truck carrying several tons of coconuts was stopped by
the police. Two villagers from Sei Lepan, Zulkifli Sitepu
and Ahmad Surbakti, were arrested together with the
driver. A delegation of villagers came to the police
station that day and the next, asking that the two be
allowed to come home for Idul Fitri, the holiday marking
the end of the Muslim fasting month. Two Christians
volunteered to take their place, but they were refused.

It is still unclear what actually occurred on March 25. In
the morning, according to one account, the wives of the
two detainees went to the Pangkalan Brandan police station
but were turned away and told that their husbands had
already been moved to the Langkat district police command
in Binjai. Rumors began circulating that the two had been
killed and dumped in the Aceh River.

In the charge-sheet against one group of villagers, the
prosecution claims that five men, including Misnan
Saragih, the village official mentioned above, held a
meeting on the morning of March 25 at which they decided
to forcibly free the two detainees. (No witness testimony
is cited to confirm that meeting). At about 3 p.m., the
five went to the Pangkalan Brandan police station and
asked to meet with the two men. One police officer who
testified said his colleagues refused, not mentioning this
time that the detainees had already been transferred.

The sounding of a drum at 6 p.m. that evening was the
signal for some 200 villagers to board three buses and
head for the Pangkalan Brandan police station. (Some
villagers report that they joined the group because Misnan
Saragih and Misnan Jawa, another villager, had threatened
to burn down the houses of anyone who did not do so.) At
8:30 p.m., the prosecution continues, the crowd moved on
the station, led by two of the men urging the rest to
attack and destroy it. One policeman took a megaphone and
ordered the crowd to disperse and go home. He was stabbed,
according to the charge-sheet against one group of
detainees, and three motorcycles were damaged.

At dawn the next morning, March 26, 1993, some 100 troops
from subdistrict military command (Koramil) and the
military police (CPM) arrived at the police station,
joined by the Major-General of the Bukit Barisan Command,
the North Sumatra regional police chief, a mobile unit of
the army (BRIMOB), and the airborne unit LINUD 100/NS.
Police and soldiers then began to load the villagers into
trucks, beating them with guns. The police claim to have
arrested only 60 villagers, stating the rest came along
for solidarity with those arrested. LBH and other NGO
estimates put the number arrested at the station at 194

The following day, police came to Sei Lepan and arrested
52 villagers, subsequently releasing all but four. The
final total arrested was 198 villagers, including 142 men,
43 women, and 13 children. Following the arrests, 17 of
those arrested had to be taken to police hospitals and one
woman had a miscarriage, according to an NGO coalition
called Forum Solidaritas Untuk Masyarakat Sei Lepan.
Children were separated from their parents, reportedly
including two children under the age of five, and
detained. Natsir Silalahi, the head of YPMP, had visited
the village to celebrate the holidays on the March 25, and
on now learning he was being sought, fled the province.

At least seven of the villagers were then charged with
disturbing the peace, carrying weapons, inciting the
masses, and destroying property: Rajiman Silalahi alias
Situnkir (35); Sanwaridi (50); Saut Hutasoit (50); Anwar
Taringan (61); Marion Hutasoit; Pinondang Pangaribuan
(47); and Misnan Saragih (41). At least one innocent
bystander was reportedly caught up in the mass arrest:
Krisman Simumora was passing by the police station on his
motorcycle on the morning of March 26. He was arrested
shortly after he stopped to see the crowd in front of the
station. He is thought to be still in detention.

According to lawyers of the Indonesian Legal Aid
Foundation (LBH), as of September the detainees remained
in several prisons, without access to legal counsel of
their choice. Police Chief Lieutenant General Banurusman
said in June that some 48 villagers remain in detention,
and that they could receive regular visits from family
members. In addition, he contended that the detainees did
not want to be represented by LBH, and “if they don’t want
[LBH], we can’t force them.”

In an article dated April 21, 1993, Police Lieutenant
Colonel Leo Sukardi explained that the detainees had not
been allowed to consult with lawyers because “if the
suspects were assisted by legal advisors it would
interfere with the results of the investigation.” The
Legal Aid Foundation (LBH) pointed out that this is in
direct conflict not only with international standards of
justice, but with Indonesia’s own Criminal Procedure Code
(KUHAP), which states that “suspects have the right to
legal assistance…for the length of and at each stage of
he investigation.”

A rationale similar to the one above is used to explain
the placement of guard posts manned by military (KODIM
0203 Langkat) and plantation personnel all around Sei
Lepan soon after the March 25 incident. According to a
June statement by the military, checkposts restricting
entry to the area of Sei Lepan have remained in place
because police investigations are still under way. H.
Anif, president of PT. ALM, asserted that the posts are in
place at the villagers’ request, to protect them from
third parties. The posts require that all travelers into
and out of the village bring letters of permission from
the proper authorities.

Eyewitness reports from a villager who had fled the area
and returned on two separate dates state that by May 15,
15 more houses had been destroyed and PT. ALM was back in
the area. By July 11, the same man reported, 100 houses
had been destroyed by PT. ALM, another 100 people had
fled, and the company was terrorizing those who stayed,
mostly women and children. Others reported that families
who had family members in detention were being evicted
from their houses. Those plantation workers who had left
the village the previous year were back. Strangers were
reported to be living in the houses of some of those
detained. Most alarming, in April a Sei Lepan woman whose
husband was in detention was raped by seven men wearing
masks, and her house was robbed. Because security was so
tight in the area, villagers believe that the men, who
made reference to the fact that the woman’s husband was in
prison, must have been employees of the plantation or
gained access to the area with the knowledge of security

One villager told Legal Aid Foundation (LBH) investigators
that on April 12, officials from the police, military, the
district head’s office, and PT. ALM came and told
villagers “[n]o one can help you, not even LBH.” Returning
from a fact-finding visit, LBH and other NGO
representatives encountered the military, who instructed
them to check in with the district military commander at
the house of H. Anif, the president of PT. ALM. They were
questioned at length and noted that Anif, although a
civilian, gave direct orders to low-level military
personnel and did much of the talking while military
officers stayed quiet, despite the fact that LBH had been
summoned specifically to report to the officers.

The detainees were divided into twenty-two groups, with
from five to ten people per dossier. Two of the dossiers
were assigned to LBH although the legal aid lawyers were
not granted access to their clients outside of the
courtroom. In June, some of the detainees were charged
with offenses including committing acts of violence and
carrying illegal weapons. In the charge for one dossier,
reference is made to the fact that three of the thirteen
suspects claim they signed their interrogation depositions
because they were afraid of being hit by the police
investigators, and one suspect claims he signed the
deposition without being allowed to read it first. The
prosecution rejected these arguments on the grounds that
1) the fear of being hit is not the same as being
tortured; 2) previous abuse by arresting officers is
irrelevant to the investigation proper, and 3)
investigators assert there was no intimidation and all
suspects knew the contents of their interrogation
depositions. Such an argument illustrates the casual
acceptance of some form of physical abuse in criminal
justice, and further indicates the willingness of
Indonesian courts to admit depositions obtained
through coercion.

LBH responded to the charges by stating that the
investigation was not valid because no lawyers were
provided in accordance with Article 56 of the Criminal
Procedure Code; therefore the case based on the
investigation is invalid (vernietigbar).

Developments Through September

In July, August, and September many of the villagers who
left Sei Lepan tried to return to their homes. There are
reports that their entrance was prevented by the security
blockades. On September 15, a group of 58 villagers were
stopped from entering, though no clear reason was given.
Two days later, Anif held a meeting in the village and
reportedly encouraged some of the villagers to protest
violently against the return of others who had left for
reasons of safety or economic need. On the following
September 20-21, hundreds of villagers attempted to return
to Sei Lepan in order to speak to an investigative team
from Coordinating Minister for Politics and Security, but
were sent away by the military and security guards
surrounding the village. As of September 23, there were
reportedly 125 villagers, mostly women, now waiting
outside the gate, unable to return to their homes. The
village was guarded by three military posts and two
civilian defense posts.

On September 23, 24 villagers (18 women and 6 men) were
released from Tanjung Pura and Binjai prisons. Eight of
them joined the temporary camp of villagers waiting to
return to their homes. Asia Watch has received reports
that on October 23, 40 more prisoners were to be released,
17 from the Tanjungpura prison and 23 from Binjai. On
September 25, Mangiring Sihombing was taken from prison to
the hospital to be treated for rib injuries. A detainee
named Sukri, once feared dead, has been returned to the
Binjai prison from the hospital, but his condition is
worrying, and he reportedly still constantly bleeds from
the nose.


In both of the cases described above, some individuals
went beyond the bounds of lawful protest and committed
acts punishable under the Indonesian Criminal Code. Asia
Watch does not condone these acts, nor does it question
the legitimacy of arresting people for producing molotov
cocktails or setting fire to police vehicles.

But under no circumstances can torture or disappearances
be justified. Reports of the disappearance and possible
death of Ahmad Surbakti and Zulkifli Sitepu on March 25
must be fully and impartially investigated, and if found
to be accurate, officials responsible must be prosecuted
and punished. (In September 1993, Asia Watch requested
information from the Indonesian Foreign Ministry, offering
to publish any information the Ministry could obtain about
the government’s version of events. We were told orally
that it would be too difficult to do so.)

Treatment of the HKBP detainees arrested in January, May,
July and August and held in various military detention
centers including Gaperta and various district and
subdistrict military commands was clearly unacceptable by
international standards and violated the principle of
proportionality outlined in the United Nations Code of
Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials. That Code states
that officials may only use force “as is reasonably
necessary under the circumstances for the prevention of
crime or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of
offenders or suspected offenders.” Beating with rattan
sticks and other instruments during interrogation to the
point of causing broken ribs and other injuries
constitutes torture.

The Indonesian Criminal Procedure Code and the prohibition
in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on arbitrary
arrest and detention were violated numerous times in both
the Sei Lapan case and the HKBP dispute. When the old
security agency KOPKAMTIB was transformed into BAKORSTANAS
in 1988, the Indonesian government claimed the military
would no longer be responsible for arrests; this was to be
exclusively a police role. But not only do intelligence
task forces and other parts of the military continue to
arrest and detain suspects; their actions, however unjust
and unlawful, cannot be challenged in Indonesian courts if
the rulings on the HKBP praperadilan petitions are any

Another violation of the Criminal Procedure Code took
place in the Sei Lepan case, when all detainees, held at
prisons in Binjai and Tanjung Pura, were denied access to
counsel during the investigations and in preparation for
their trials. They were also often denied access to
friends and family, and the prisoners Ahmad Surbakti and
Zulkifli Sitepu have not been seen since their arrest.

Forced confessions were used in both cases, violating both
the Criminal Procedure Code and Article 14 of
the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In
the Sei Lepan case, three detainees in one twelve-person
dossier stated that their confessions were coerced. In the
HKBP case, instances of coerced confessions took place at
KODIM 0204 Deli Serdang and KODIM 0203 Langkat.

The Sei Lapan case also involved harassment and expulsion
of former detainees and their relatives from their own
homes, in direct violation of Article 17 of the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
prohibiting arbitrary interference with home and family.
All villagers not in detention must be allowed to return
without harassment to their houses and land in accordance
with this principle. Posts guarded by armed military and
plantation personnel restrict the freedom of movement of

Underlying both these cases is the lack of an effective
system of redress when government officials, either
military or civilian, are involved in committing
injustices. In the Sei Lapan case, the military, local
government, and business interests colluded to deprive the
transmigrants of land. The presence of local or regional
military command at all meetings between villagers and PT.
ALM, the close relationship between PT. ALM’s executive
officer H. Anif and local military commanders, and the
post-arrest intimidation of villagers by the military and
plantation guards show how deeply the armed forces were
involved in this case. Despite a decade of organized
delegations and letters to local, regional, and national
offices, villagers were given no valid assistance and
nothing but casual promises to investigate at a later
date. As long as villagers cannot turn to independent and
impartial courts for effective remedy in such situations,
further conflicts are likely to occur.

For More Information

Sidney Jones (212) 972-8400

Asia Watch is an independent organization created in 1985 to
monitor and promote internationally recognized human rights in
Asia. The Chair is Jack Greenberg, the Vice Chair is Orville
Schell, the Executive Director is Sidney Jones and the Washington
Director is Mike Jendrzejczyk.

Asia Watch is a division of Human Rights Watch, which also
includes Africa Watch, Americas Watch, Helsinki Watch and Middle
East Watch. The Chair of Human Rights Watch is Robert L.
Bernstein and the Vice Chair is Adrian DeWind. Kenneth Roth is
Acting Executive Director; Holly Burkhalter, Washington Director;
Susan Osnos, Press Director.


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