Jailed trade union leader and feminist, Dita Inhah Sari, of the People’s Democracy Party (PRD), was unconditionally released on Monday, 5 July after spending two years in prison.
Dita, who is 27 years old, was arrested along with other union activists in July 1996 for organising two rallies involving 20,000 workers from 10 factories in the Tandes industrial estate in southern Surabaya, East Java. Dita was arrested after the Indonesian military attacked and dispersed the workers’ protest.
The release of Dita, who was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment under the controversial 1963 Subversion Law, was officially part of an amnesty granted under President B.J. Habibie’s presidential decree #68, issued on July 2, 1999. But the PRD credits the continued and uninterrupted struggle of the Indonesian working class, as well as the international community, for the victory.
Last December, Dita refused an offer of early release, because she could not accept the pre-condition banning her from any political activities. This stance spurred an increase in demonstrations by workers in Indonesia, demanding that Dita Sari be freed. On the day of her release, Mugiyanto, European spokesperson for the PRD, commented: “The release of Dita Sari is one of the many small victories reached by Indonesian people.”
Dita also credits the mass mobilisations, not Habibie, for the victory. The Jakarta Post reports that as she left the Tangerang Prison, she commented: “My freedom is not the mercy of the government, but a pure political measure.” She explained that Habibie’s administration was facing mounting criticism from the public, and her release was simply part of the government’s efforts to increase its popularity.
Dita is now ready to continue to play a leadership role in the struggle for the emancipation of the working class in Indonesia as well the fight for genuine democracy. She also demands freedom for imprisoned PRD leader, Budiman Sudjatmiko, and East Timorese independence leader, Xananana Gusmao.
International marches and rallies on April 24 represented a milestone in the movement to free Mumia Abu-Jamal, a radical African American journalist framed for the 1981 killing of a Philadelphia policeman and then sentenced to death.
Between 15,000 and 25,000 people turned out in both Philadelphia and San Francisco to send the message that “brick by brick, wall by wall, we’re gonna free Mumia Abu-Jamal.” Freedom Socialist Party and Radical Women leader Merle Woo, an Asian American educator and writer, was among the inspiring speakers at the West Coast rally.
On that day, Mumia’s 45th birthday, demonstrations were also held in Puerto Rico, Australia and Italy.
Delia Maxwell, a member of the local branch executive of Radical Women, addressed the Melbourne rally. She recalled the first time she mobilised against the brutal way the U.S. government deals with its political enemies. “I went to a rally outside the American Embassy in 1953 to protest against the execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. They were accused of spying for the Soviet Union, and this was at the height of McCarthyism. They never had a chance. I felt sick then at the cruelty of a system that could kill two people and leave their children motherless and fatherless.”
Delia condemned “the vile propaganda which persuades so many that the Rosenbergs and Mumia Abu-Jamal don’t count. They’re the wrong colour, so to speak – the Rosenbergs red, and Mumia, of course, not only red but black as well.”
Delia explained that Mumia is a proud opponent of the system: “Mumia is not on death row because he killed a cop – he didn’t.” He is on death row, “because he is active and effective in the same struggle Radical Women is active in. This is the struggle to turn back the tide of sexism, racism and homophobia. It’s the struggle to create a society which uses ordinary people to make more profit for the already mega rich.” She concluded by quoting Mumia: “Many people say it is insane to resist the system, but actually it is insane not to!”
The protests around the world demanded a new trial for Abu-Jamal, whose conviction was based on a phony confession and on false testimony by witnesses coerced by police. After spending years in the Pennsylvania courts unsuccessfully seeking a retrial, Mumia and his lawyers are now preparing to take his case to the federal court.
Meanwhile, however, Pennsylvania Governor Thomas Ridge has the authority to sign Abu-Jamal’s death warrant whenever he chooses, an act that would dramatically shorten the time which the legal team has left to work.
Time is pressing. With the deck stacked against him, freedom for Mumia can only be won through massive, irresistible public pressure on his behalf. Now is the time to act!