February 23, 1997

Article at Sunday Age

WORLD | Dissident diplomat in political asylum bid

Guruh Sukarnoputra, former opposition parliamentarian and brother of pro-democracy leader Megawati Sukarnoputri

By Wilson da Silva

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 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 yesterday that an application for 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 Sunday Age.

Aji, who has been in hiding since his activities were discovered, appealed last week for urgent help via the Internet, sending a message to US academic Professor Noam Chomsky of Boston. Chomsky is known as a strong critic of the Indonesian regime and has intervened in previous bids for political asylum by East European and Latin American dissidents.

“(South Africa) 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 Deakin University academic Scott Burchill. “He said the fellow seemed to be in a bit of trouble,” said Burchill, a lecturer in international relations. “The official also wanted to contact José Ramos Horta, whom Chomsky thought was still in Australia.”

Ramos Horta, who lives in Sydney but spends much of the year travelling, 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, a Catholic without diplomatic immunity, said he was in fear of his life after the embassy withheld his passport, applied to South African authorities to have him returned to Indonesia and had his American-born wife harassed by the embassy’s military attache.

Basoeki Koesasi, an Indonesian scholar at Monash University, said that if Aji had been found to have leaked official documents to the pro-democracy movement, he could face serious charges back home, including treason.

A bid for political asylum by an official would be embarrasing for Indonesia and has not occurred since the 1965 crisis, when the military took control of the country after a failed communist coup, Koesasi said. Relations with South Africa, which is quietly sympathetic to the democratic movement in Indonesia and 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 terminated his position. Professor Chomsky told The Sunday Age that Amnesty International, which only becomes involved in asylum cases where there is a genuine fear of persecution, is believed to have intervened.