Charged with subversion, Johan Teterissa says "there is no justice"

Freedom was the rallying call of the mass protests in Indonesia that toppled Suharto from the presidency in 1998.

 

Many of the thousands of political opponents imprisoned under his rule were released after his fall. But, as Al Jazeera's Step Vaessen reports, 10 years on Indonesian's are once again being jailed for expressing their opinions.

 
Locked up for life for waving a flag, independence activist Johan Teterissa is Indonesia's latest political prisoner.

 

The 45-year-old Amobonese managed to get past heavy security when Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Indonesia's president, visited the island last June and unfurled an independence flag in his face.

 

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Teterissa was immediately arrested, charged with subversion and sentenced to life in prison.

 

And pictures indicate he was not treated kindly.

 

"I was seriously beaten up, they even put a grenade in my mouth. They treated me as if I was a dangerous killer," Teterissa says.

 

But Teterissa is only one of Indonesia's modern political prisoners.

 

For the last 60 years a small group has been demanding independence for Ambon and in eastern Indonesia, more than 40 people are in jail for raising the independence flag.

 

The government denies any crackdown on political opponents.

 

Mohammad Nuh, the minister of communication, said Indonesia does have "freedom of expression now".

 

"But if people are fighting to separate from Indonesia special laws apply. That is a very sensitive issue for us," he added.

 

'Half-hearted democracy'

 

Teterissa says he was beaten and
had a grenade put in his mouth
Students, the heroes of Indonesia's struggle for democracy in 1998, are also feeling the pressure.

 

Fahrur Rohman, now 20, was convicted of insulting the president during a demonstration and sent to prison for three months last year.

 

"Our democracy is only half-hearted. Disguised as democracy the government is still using an iron fist against political opponents," he says.

 

Some feel democracy has brought unprecedented freedom.

 

Political activist Budiman Sudjatmiko was among those released after Suharto was forced from power.

 

A new, more democratic Indonesia has given him the chance to join one of the country's many political parties and he is campaigning for elections next year.

 

"Democracy has given me liberty, I was sentence to 13 years and if Suharto had not stepped down I would still have been in jail," he says.

 

But locked up for life, things look very different to Johan Teterissa.

 

"There is no justice. We are sentenced as separatists. Can they prove this? We never took up arms, the only thing we did was to show a flag."

 

As the country struggles with its new found freedom, some in Indonesian have found that old habits die hard.