Indonesia today released 10,000 political prisoners, most of them held without trial for the past 12 years, including many prominent figures in the government of former President Sukarno.
The release represented the first phase of a three-stage effort that it scheduled to lead to the freeing of the other 20,000 political prisoners before the end of 1979.
Amnesty International, the 1977 Nobel Peace Prize winner, and other human rights groups have been sharply critical of Indonesia's "long-standing and massive violations of funds mental rights." More than 55,000 persons, and perhaps as many as 100,000 are believed to have been held in Indonesian prison camps without charge or trial since a 1965 abortive Communist coup.
About 500,000 persons were killed in the wake of the abortive coup, according to Indonesia's security chief Adm. Sudomo.
The decision by President Suharto's government to free some of these prisoners appears to reflect the growing international sensitivity [WORD ILLEGIBLE] the question of human rights that has been championed by President Carter.
Those released today are part of the 30,000 suspected Communist officials who were not directly involved in the 1965 coup but who are regarded as dangerous. The Suharto government has pledged to released 10,000 more in 1978 and the remaining 9,791 in 1979.
Some 10,130 of those falling into this category remain in detention on this notorious prison island.
The inmates freed today formed a long line of gaunt-looking men in ragged clothes. They were the old men of the Buru camps, aged over 85, or those chronically ill with tuberculosis and other diseases.
As a military policeman called out their names through a bullhorn, they stepped forward to be checked off and have a label stapled to their shirts. Then they were herded to barges for a trip down river and across a wide bay to Namica, the island's main township.
This morning they were drawn up on the town football field, and dutifully repeated an oath of allegiance to President Suharto.They swore to renounce Marxism-Leninism, to accept all actions that have been taken against them as necessary for national security, and not to bring any charges against the government.
Later, they filed down the single wharf to be ferried out to navy landing ships that will deliver them to Surabeta, East Java, on Christmas day. They face six months of house arrest and a further six months confinement in their home towns before they receive complete freedom.
Among those taking the oath were Prof. Suprato, 62, who once taught law at the Bandung University in West Java, Abdulrahman Atmosudirdjo, once assistant minister of the National Planning Board, Bachtiar Siagian, former chairman of the Indonesian Film Institute, and Tom Anwar, one-time deputy editor of the now banned newspaper, Bintang Timur.
Witnessing the ceremony here today were some 20 foreign and Indonesian correspondents who had spent the last four days on Buru. It was the first such group to be allowed onto Buru since 1971.
The visit was arranged by the government to counter criticism from Amnesty International and other groups about alleged brutality.
After interviews with numerous prisoners and a succession of equivocal answers by prison officials, some of the most serious criticism appeared well-founded to the visiting correspondents.
The boat up to the prison headquarters chugs for five hours up the Waingapu River between walls of sago Palms and tall trees, trailing vines into the brown water.
The crocodiles have learned to disappear when they hear the motor.
At the pontoon landing stage, a work detail of prisoners was waiting to carry bags up to the wooden huts. One quietly introduces himself. It is Basuki Effendi, 49, once a leading film-maker in Jakarta, now a prison laborer.
It was the first of many handshakes in which men with the appearance of tramps revealed themselves to be highly educated and desperate to make contact with the outside world.
Despite some attempts at shepherding by officials and an arranged program, journalists were able to move quite freely around the camps close to headquarters and were able to talk freely with prisoners.
Some risked reprisals by talking openly in front of guards. Hashim Rachman, the former chief editor of Bintang Timor was placed in confinement immediately after speaking to foreign reporters. Others feared they would be punished after the press party left.
"After the last journalist' visit in 1971 many of us were beaten up by the soldiers," one prisoner said. "I was one of them because I was working without a shirt on when a journalist walked past and remarked to an official how thin I was. The guards said I should have covered myself."
Others prisoners spoke of deaths, brutality, and privations that were common-place while they were still in Jakarta jails. "I withnessed two or three men daynig each day; their food was terribly bad and they had dysentery," one prisoner said about his experiences in Jakarta's Tangerang jail.
The inmates were so hungry that some of them could not restrain themselves when they received parcels from their relatives. "They finished all of it, and a few minutes later they would be dead," a prisoner said.
When they landed in Buru, "we were greeted with blows from rifle butts," he continued. "My group was the first to go into the interior. It took six hours to go 3 miles around fallen trees and with thorns tearing holes in you everywhere."
Buru is the largest of Indonesia's prison camps. It is notorious for reports of torture, murder, suicide, sex scandals and cannibalis.
Most of the freed prisoners were circumspects when asked about prison life. "What is granted to us is freedom on loan and it could be taken from us at any time," one former inmate responded.