Indonesia tightens repression on eve of Clinton visit


BANGKOK, Thailand -- Less than a month before President Clinton travels to Indonesia for a summit meeting with Asian leaders, human rights groups are warning of a deterioration in human rights there.

These include the recent banning of newspapers and magazines, stepped-up harassment of labor activists and new instances of torture by the military and the police.

Diplomats and human rights groups say Mr. Clinton's impending visit may be part of the reason the government of President Suharto is eager to silence critics during the meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, which starts in November.

Among the recently muzzled publications are the nation's most prominent news magazine, Tempo, and two of its competitors, all of which were ordered shut down over the summer, a move described by Indonesian journalists as a serious blow to free speech.

Human rights groups, disappointed by Mr. Clinton's decision in May to retain trade privileges for China despite human rights abuses, worry that he will offer similar treatment to Indonesia.

"The message to China and the world was that human rights will be the sacrificial lamb to trade," Amnesty International said in a statement issued in September with a report on human rights abuses. "That message is now in danger of being played out again in the U.S.-Indonesia dialogue."

The U.S. Embassy in Indonesia said in a statement that while human rights would be raised "with individual countries on a bilateral basis, our discussions in APEC do not include rights issues."

Amnesty International said in its report that Indonesia was "a country ruled with an iron rod, where dissent is punished by imprisonment, torture and death."

The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, an umbrella organization for labor groups, joined the protest this month with a report detailing the Suharto government's efforts to crush an independent union movement.

The report accused the government of "a flagrant breach of internationally recognized standards on freedom of association and the right to organize."

Irawan Abidin, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said in a telephone interview that criticism of Indonesia's human rights record reflected the views of only a "handful of people," and that the timing of the new reports was meant to embarrass Indonesia.

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