Wilson da Silva

Science journalist, feature writer and editor.

Feb 27, 1997
Published on: The American Reporter
1 min read
Guruh Sukarnoputra, former opposition parliamentarian and brother of pro-democracy leader Megawati Sukarnoputri

by Wilson da Silva
American Reporter Correspondent 

SYDNEY, Australia – An Indonesian embassy official has sought political asylum in South Africa, claiming to have classified documents detailing official corruption in his country and evidence of human rights violations in Indonesian-ruled East Timor. 

The official, Stany Aji, said he had been assisting the pro-democracy movement in Indonesia and had been in direct contact with Guruh Sukarnoputra, former opposition parliamentarian and brother of pro-democracy leader Megawati Sukarnoputri. 

Marco Boni, a spokesman for South Africa’s Foreign Ministry, confirmed that an application for political asylum had been received from Aji, who had been working in the trade section of the Indonesian embassy. “Our Home Affairs Department is considering the case at the moment,” he told The American Reporter

Aji, who has been in hiding since his activities were discovered, appealed last week for urgent help via the Internet, sending a message to dissident U.S. academic Professor Noam Chomsky of Boston’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Chomsky is known as a strong critic of the Indonesian government, particularly over East Timor, and has intervened in previous bids for political asylum by East European and Latin American dissidents. 

“Home Affairs has so far not given me any guarantee of granting asylum due to the fact that South Africa wants to hold on to good relations with Indonesia,” Aji said in his plea to Chomsky. “The information that I hold would most definitely break this illusory and temporary state of good relations with the Indonesian government.” 

Chomsky later sought help from a number of colleagues around the world, including Australian academic Scott Burchill. “He said the fellow seemed to be in a bit of trouble,” said Burchill, a lecturer in international relations at Deakin University in Melbourne. “The official also wanted to contact Jose Ramos Horta, whom Chomsky thought was still in Australia.” 

Ramos Horta, who lives in Sydney but travels internationally for much of the year, is an exiled East Timorese resistance leader who shared the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize with the territory’s Catholic Bishop Carlos Belo. He was in Australia until last week. 

Aji, an Indonesian citizen and a Catholic in the largely Moslem embassy, said he has no diplomatic immunity and was in fear of his life. The embassy has withdrawn his passport, applied to the South African authorities to have him returned to Indonesia, and sent the embassy’s defence attache to harass his American-born wife, he said. 

Basoeki Koesasi, an Indonesia scholar at Melbourne’s Monash University, said that if Aji is found to have leaked official documents to the Indonesian pro-democracy movement, he could face serious charges back home. Depending on the sensitivity of the documents, he might even face charges of treason. 

A bid for political asylum would be embarrassing for Indonesia, said Koesasi. None has taken place since the 1965 crisis in Indonesia, when the military took control of the country following a failed communist coup. Relations with South Africa, which is quietly sympathetic to the democratic movement in Indonesia and to the plight of East Timor, could also be strained if Aji were granted asylum. 

The Indonesian embassy accuses Aji of stealing official documents and of corrupt conduct, and has since terminated his position. Chomsky told The American Reporter via telephone from Boston that Amnesty International, which only becomes involved in asylum cases where there is a genuine fear of persecution, is believed to have intervened, although confirmation was not immediately available.