Wilson bin Nurtiyas: life in Cipinang prison

Wilson bin Nurtiyas is a member of the Legislation Committee of the People's Democratic Party (PRD) of Indonesia and coordinator of the Indonesian Solidarity with the Struggle of the Maubere [East Timorese] People. In September 1996, he was arrested following a demonstration in Jakarta. He was eventually sentenced to five years in prison, but was released in July of this year as part of a partial amnesty for political prisoners.

PN: You refused to leave prison. Why?

Wilson: Yes, because I demanded that all political prisoners should be released, not just some of us. For example, in Indonesia now there are more than two hundred political prisoners. So I locked my cell for three days until the Cipinang prison guard forced me out early one morning. The military who put me into prison had to force me out. But they knew the political context.

PN: Before you went to prison, you took part in many demonstrations. You must have known all the time that there was a risk of imprisonment.

Wilson: Yeah, we know the risks. In the PRD constitution, we included the risk of being sent to jail, and also the risk of being murdered by the military. These were some of the conditions for becoming PRD members.

PN: On a day to day level, were you always worried?

Wilson: I think we have to use a dialectic reality: when the military repress the people, you have to become anti-military at the same time. When they always arrest and repress you, you lose your fear -- because they have taken away all your fear. Of course, some times we are scared. But, we can compare the situation with East Timor -- they have been repressed by the military so long, they have lost their fear.

In Cipinang prison, we were still able to communicate with our comrades and friends outside prison, and we followed the political news -- from visitors and newspapers.

Xanana Gusmão

PN: Did you meet Xanana Gusmão [the still-imprisoned East Timorese resistance leader]?

Wilson: Yes, we met closely. Both of us were co-ordinators of the football competition in prison! So, we often had meetings -- every afternoon, in the football field. We set up a political prisoners' football team. Every week we had a match against a criminal football team, and we always lost -- because we discussed politics in the football game not about how to make goals. The important thing was not the game, but time to communicate.

PN: What was your daily routine?

Wilson: In Cipinang prison the political prisoners organise a lot of activities. It was us who organised the prison, not the prison officials. For example, sport: football by Xanana Gusmão and me, badminton by the Communist Party, basketball by myself, a repair shop by the communists, and a little farm -- ducks, chicken, fish.

Then, from seven o'clock when the officials opened the cell to six o'clock when they lock the cell we were organising a lot of activities. There were two categories of prisoners -- criminal and political. For political prisoners, there were four people in each cell. From evening until morning, we just stayed in our cell. Every night we had discussions, translated many political articles, and wrote articles.

PN: Did the criminal prisoners become politicised?

Wilson: I can guarantee you, if there is an election in Cipinang prison, the PRD will be number one. We organised a lot. We also established a small library in our cell. When I left there were 1500 criminal prisoners who borrowed our books.

PN: Did they return them?

Wilson: Sometimes, if there is a woman's picture in the magazine, they cut the picture out.

PN: How often were you visited?

Wilson: Two times a week -- Wednesday and Sunday.

PN: Were the prison authorities sympathetic to you?

Wilson: I can tell you like this: thirty minutes after Suharto stepped down, the prison director came to us, to all political prisoners and said, "Congratulations, Suharto has stepped down." We also organised a party with the director! This means the bureaucrats in Cipinang prison support us also.

PN: Did you receive much international support when in prison?

Wilson: There was a lot of attention. Lots of postcards, press releases, petitions. But a problem was that there was just a little bit of attention for the Communist Party members who have stayed in prison more than 30 years, and too little attention for Islamic rebels, some sentenced to life in prison. So, I think the attention for political prisoners should include the communists and Islamic political prisoners.

PN: What kept you going in prison?

Wilson: That people still resist. That there is a lot of political opposition. It gives us an optimistic aspect in prison. We believed it was just a matter of time.

Organising with the PRD

PN: Since you were released, what work have you been doing?

Wilson: I am trying to organise with PRD. Two months ago, the government unbanned PRD, so we have to change our tactics from being an illegal party to a legal party. We are also reorganising our work in mass organisation -- student, workers, prison and among the urban poor. It is easier for us to make propaganda, to make pamphlets and to organise actions openly. But the PRD does not have illusions. If the military become reactionary in the future, we have special mechanisms.

PN: How hopeful are you about significant change in Indonesia?

Wilson: Of course, there is more openness, but we have to understand that the old structure of Suharto's regime still has power. The most important thing is the military. Why? Because the military is still under Suharto's control. When Suharto stepped down in May, Wiranto, the commander of the armed forces, said, "The military will protect Suharto and his family."

Now the common platform in the radical movement -- mainly liberal, student and PRD -- is how to make a coalition opposed to the military. If you want to stop human rights abuses, we have to push the military step by step from power.

East Timor

PN: What are the thoughts and feelings about East Timor in Indonesia?

Wilson: Now there is more press freedom in Indonesia. Every week there is an interview with Xanana. You cannot imagine that in the past. Now he is the most popular figure in the newspapers. Now, more ordinary people can understand the East Timor problem.

I went to East Timor last month and joined a public meeting. There were more than 2000 students and youth -- all of them talking openly about self-determination and freedom for East Timor, not about a referendum any more. De facto, they have already demon strated that they are free. But in reality there is still military there. Now a mass political movement is rising in East Timor. The week before I arrived there was a big action with 10,000 people -- this is something we cannot find in the past. I think the key point is how to strengthen the political mass movement in East Timor.

PN: Do you look forward to playing football with Xanana in a free East Timor?

Wilson: You know, I asked Xanana, "If you become President, you will live in a palace in Dili?" And he said, "No, I will stay in prison." "Why?" "Because I can play football every afternoon. If I stay in the palace, I won't be able to play football; I will have lots of meetings."

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