Date: Mon Jan 25 1993 – 09:07:00 EST


From: “John A. MacDougall”
Subject: ABRI Interferes In HKBP

Forwarded by

Asia Watch press release

January 25, 1993
Vol.5, No.3



In late November 1992, a long-simmering conflict broke out in the open over
the leadership of the Batak Protestant Christian Congregation (Huria Kristen
Batak Protestan or HKBP) in north Sumatra. The head of the congregation is
known as ephorus, roughly equivalent to “archbishop.” In December, the North
Sumatra branch of Indonesia’s internal security agency, BAKORSTANASDA,
intervened on one side of the conflict and issued a decree appointing its own
choice for ephorus, a man who was a convicted embezzler. In the uproar and
protests that followed, dozens of church members were arbitrarily detained,
houses were searched without warrants, and press coverage of the situation
was banned. As of January 18, 1993, some sixty people were believed to be
in detention. Asia Watch called on the Indonesian government to release all
those arbitrarily detained, to lift restrictions on freedom of expression
and to allow members of HKBP full freedom of association to choose their
leadership without government interference.

Background to Intervention

The Toba clan of the Batak ethnic group in north Sumatra is largely
Protestant, and the church is organized into a congregation, the HKBP, of
some two million members, headed by an ephorus and a governing Central
Council. The ephorus is elected for a six-year term. Between November 23
and 28, 1992, the HKBP, which has a history of social activism, convened its
51st Synod in Sipoholon, Tarutung, North Sumatra, at which the election of
an ephorus was to take place. Rev. Dr. S.A.E. Nababan, the current ephorus
elected in 1986, was being challenged by a faction within the HKBP close
to the army. That faction was headed by the Secretary-General of the HKBP,
one Rev. Simorangkir.

The synod was marked by demonstrations and disruptions. On the final
night of the synod, November 28, at about 10 p.m., the session was in
disarray, with Simorangkir’s faction noisily claiming that Nababan was trying
to block discussion of three items. There had been no election. Nababan
suspended proceedings as an ephorus is authorized to do under HKBP’s rules
of governance; an army officer, Lt. Col. Paris Ginting, then appeared and
ordered Nababan to leave the room.

After his departure, a rump session of the Central Council was held
with Ginting; Colonel Daniel Toding, the regional military commander
(DANREM 023); and Simorangkir, among others. Participants at the meeting
told the press that the main subject of discussion was the security problems
caused by the fractious synod.

Later on, in the early hours of November 29, Simorangkir, claiming
a mandate from the Central Council, called a general meeting of the synod,
without the knowledge of Nababan, and read out a typed statement. Purporting
to be the decision of the meeting the night before, it announced the
formation of a caretaker council with Simorangkir himself as acting
ephorus, on the utterly false grounds that Nababan had resigned for
health reasons. Participants in that meeting, however, said no such
decision had been reached or even discussed, and suggested the statement
must have been prepared long in advance. Members of the synod rejected
Simorangkir’s coup attempt and overwhelmingly voted to retain Nababan.
Simorangkir then claimed that the HKBP had turned the leadership question
over to the Indonesian government to resolve. Neither Simorangkir nor HKBP,
however, had any authority to act without the agreement of the ephorus,
i.e. Nababan.

As the meeting degenerated into a mass protest largely directed
against Simorangkir, Colonel Toding, who was present throughout, ordered
his men to arrest unruly members. He also, however, cancelled Simorangkir’s
“decision” to make himself acting ephorus and the meeting broke up.

The December 23 Decree

Over the following weeks, tension remained high, and the HKBP
headquarters in the village of Pearaja, Tarutung, was surrounded by the
military. On December 23, Major General R. Pramono, the regional commander
of BAKORSTANASDA, who is also the regional military commander, issued a
decree appointing a member of the Simorangkir faction, Dr. S.M. Siahaan,
as acting ephorus, effective December 31. Siahaan, former dean of the
education faculty of the respected Nommensen University in North Sumatra,
had been convicted of corruption in 1976 for embezzling university funds
and sentenced to six months in prison; he was also accused of taking funds
from HKBP’s Education Foundation in Pematangsiantar, North Sumatra.

The BAKORSTANASDA decree (appendix 1) claimed the intervention was
necessary on national security grounds given the upcoming session in March
1993 of the People’s Consultative Assembly which is expected to re-elect
President Suharto. It cited two other decrees giving the government
responsibility to settle the HKBP dispute. One was a BAKORSTANASDA decree
dated February 27, 1991; the second was a Ministry of Religious Affairs
decree dated October 21, 1992, meaning the military had decided to intervene
long before the synod was ever convened. The December 23, 1992 decree also
cited a report from the military commander, Colonel Toding, on the failure
of the synod to elect a new ephorus, and a report by the Committee of the
51st Synod about matters the synod was unable to resolve. The latter report
was prepared by Simorangkir. The decree also called for a special synod to
be convened, in cooperation with BAKORSTANASDA, no later than mid-February
1993 to elect new officials for HKBP.

Outrage over the BAKORSTANASDA intervention was widespread and
instantaneous. HKBP filed a law suit against the regional military
commander and BAKORSTANASDA head, General Pramono. (On January 11, the
court ruled in favor of HKBP.) Some 4,000 HKBP members marched to the
provincial parliament in Medan on December 28, demanding the decree be
revoked. Others gathered at the governor’s mansion, and still others
marched to the regional military headquarters. Security forces lined
their route. A major Jakarta newspaper, Suara Pembaruan, wondered aloud
whether BAKORSTANASDA had not gone too far and said the action constituted
unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of the church.

Curiously, the Interior Minister, General Rudini, and a senior
minister close to President Suharto, Admiral Sudomo, the Coordinating
Minister for Political Affairs and Security, publicly opposed the
BAKORSTANASDA action, both claiming that they joined with church
leaders in supporting Rev. Nababan. They thus stood in direct opposition
to Commander of the Armed Forces, General Try Sutrisno, who backed
General Pramono.

On December 31, the day that Dr. Siahaan was to be inaugurated,
thousands of HKBP members occupied the church at HKBP headquarters in
Pearaja to prevent the ceremony from taking place. There were also
demonstrations in Jakarta. The occupation of the church, as well as other
protests throughout the Toba Batak area of North Sumatra, continued for
the next two weeks.

Military Action Against HKBP

On January 9, the Indonesian government issued a decree banning
all individuals and organizations from commenting on the HKBP crisis. By
the terms of the decree, only Sudomo, the Coordinating Minister for Political
Affairs and Security, and General Pramono, the regional military commander,
had the authority to make public statements on the issue. By this time,
Sudomo had clearly changed his stance, telling the press that the
BAKORSTANASDA move against HKBP was “justified and not an act of

This clear violation of freedom of expression proved to be the prelude
to a military crackdown which began on January 15, 1993. Eight church members
staying in thehome of Rev. J.A.U. Dolakseribu were seized by the army and
taken to an undisclosed location. Rev. Daulat Sitorus, another minister who
went to look for the eight was also seized. The house of the chief judge
of the North Sumatra High Court, Judge Lintong Oloan Siahaan, who agreed
to hear the HKBP law suit, was reportedly stoned and vandalized.

On January 16, at about 7 a.m., some 100 troops consisting of
soldiers from the Bukit Barisan command, police, and military police,
charged the occupied church, injuring at least three ministers and one
lay person in the process. Two hours later, Rev. Nelson Siregar, the
director of HKBP’s community development program, and Rev. W.T. Simarmata,
director of its education department, were summoned by the local military
commander. They were later arrested and transported 300 km to the provincial
capital, Medan, where they were held in the military headquarters, Gaperta.
Thirty-six students were also detained, all but 10 of whom were released
the next day.

On Sunday, January 17, a human rights lawyer, Laudin Napitupulu, from
the Legal Aid Foundation’s Medan office, was detained together with a HKBP
minister, Rev. Togar Hasugian, and seven students and lay members. All were
arrested at the house of a minister in the village of Aek Siancimun by police
from the North Tapanuli command (POLRES). On the same day, about 30 police
officers arrived at the house of Rev. Nababan, the HKBP ephorus, where many
protestors had gathered. About 25 people, mostly students, were taken away
in military vehicles.

On Monday, January 18, the head of HKBP’s youth program, Rev. J.A.U.
Dolakseribu (whose house had been stormed by police three days earlier) was
arrested after performing a wedding service at the HKBP church on Jalan
Sudirman, Medan.

As of January 18, some 60 HKBP members, including 43 students, were
believed under arrest. Those detained in Gaperta, Medan were denied visits
from their families, in violation of Indonesia’s own Criminal Procedure Code.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The action against HKBP is taking place against the backdrop of
heightened security measures more generally as the “election” of President
Suharto approaches in March and of a fears of increased religious
polarization between Indonesia’s tiny Christian minority and the
Muslim majority. A spate of attacks on Christian churches took place
in November 1992 by Muslim groups fearful of “Christianization.”

But tensions within the Batak church have been going on for years
and have little to do with recent political developments. There is no
justification for the action taken by BAKORSTANASDA against the church
leadership. Asia Watch calls on the Indonesian government to release
immediately and unconditionally all those arbitrarily arrested for
peaceful protest in connection with the protests over BAKORSTANASDA
intervention in HKBP’s affairs, including Rev. Dolakseribu, Sakti
Pakpahan, Hendrik Siagian, Rev. WTP Simarmata, Dr. Tumpak Tobing,
and Haposan Tobing. It notes the action taken by BAKORSTANASDA
to appoint an ephorus against the wishes of the congregation was in
violation of the internationally-recognized right to freedom of
religion and association. The arrest of peaceful protestors was a
violation of their right to freedom of expression. Finally, Asia
Watch calls for disciplinary action to be taken against Major
General Pramono, the man responsible for the human rights abuses cited
in this statement. General Pramono was also responsible for atrocities
committed during the counterinsurgency campaign in Aceh in 1990-91.


For More Information

Sidney Jones (212) 972-8400
(718) 398-4186


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 Chairs are Harriet Rabb and Orville Schell, and the
Executive Director is Sidney Jones.

Asia Watch is a division 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. Aryeh Neier is Executive Director; Kenneth Roth, Deputy Director;
Holly Burkhalter, Washington Director; Susan Osnos, Press Director.


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