Monday, September 11, 2006

Rights activists question BIN over U.S. lobbying case

Ary Hermawan, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Human rights campaigners are questioning a report that the State Intelligence Agency (BIN) hired Washington lobbying firm Richard L. Collins & Co. in a successful effort to persuade the U.S. Congress to resume military ties with Indonesia.

The report issued by a U.S. based advocacy group said BIN used former president Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid's charitable foundation to hire the lobbying firm for the purpose.

Human Rights Working Group (HRWG) coordinator Rafendi Djamin said BIN's move to hire a foreign lobbying firm to influence other country's policy clearly lacked "accountability and transparency".

"We have to ask from where BIN got the money," he told The Jakarta Post on Saturday. The report said the BIN retained Collins & Co. for US$30,000 a month in May 2005 to influence the U.S. Congressmen, through the Gus Dur Foundation.

Rafendi called on the House of Representatives to pursue the matter because it had oversight over the intelligence agency.

"BIN must explain this case to the House's defense commission," he said.

Rafendi said he believed that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, as a retired army general with close links to American politicians, must have been informed about such lobbying.

However, Rafendi played down the alleged connection between former president Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid and BIN in the case.

"Gus Dur's (connection with BIN) is not the main issue. It's just a secondary matter," he said.

Gus Dur's eldest daughter Zannuba "Yenny" Arifah Chafsoh Rahman has denied the report, saying her father never had contact with the U.S.-based lobby group.

Yenny suggested Gus Dur's name might have been used by those close to BIN to help them lobby Washington without specific consent from her father. "But as far it was for the good of the nation, it's fine," she said.

George W. Bush's administration ended the 14-year arms embargo imposed on the country last year to improve military ties and help the U.S. in its war against terror. The embargo was imposed after the international community accused the Indonesian Military (TNI) of serious human rights abuses in former province East Timor and Papua.

Former BIN officers have been implicated in the 2004 murder of leading human rights advocate Munir Said Thalib, who co-founded the Commission for Missing Persons and the Victims of Violence (Kontras) and rights watchdog Imparsial.

No BIN officials were available for comments on Sunday.

Kontras coordinator Usman Hamid demanded that BIN disclose its lobbying documents to the public. "If the agency had asked Collins & Co. to lobby the U.S. Congress that BIN was not involved in the Munir murder case, there must be a document and an argument supporting the claim," he said.

When asked about the Gus Dur Foundation's involvement in the advocacy, Usman said he had contacted the controversial former president and he denied the report.

Gus Dur told the International Consortium for Investigative Journalism (ICIJ), which was involved in issuing the report, that he did not understand and did not know anything about any contract with the firm. He asked for a copy of the documents used in the lobbying so he could check whether people had used his name.

Gus Dur has made many statements condemning human rights abuses by the military and BIN, and backs thorough investigation into the killing of Munir.

"I think it is shocking," Munir's widow, Suciwati, said about the report. "We will have to check its validity first," she said.

She said BIN might have used Gus Dur's name without his consent to discredit him and divide civil society groups. "They act like they always do," she said. "They will do anything to achieve their goals."

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