EAST TIMOR—The human rights organization Amnesty International launched a high-pressure publicity campaign Monday on behalf of Timorese political prisoner Sampit Ujungpandang, calling for him to be given access to "gentler, less abrasive facial soaps immediately."
Describing the "shocking lack of adequate skin moisturizers" in Ujungpandang's 4'x4' prison cell, the group claims that if he is not given higher-quality cleansers soon, the 43-year-old resistance leader will suffer "excessive facial drying, flaking and wrinkling, causing his skin to appear years older."
"All human beings have the right to healthier, younger-looking skin," said Ellen Clark, Amnesty International spokesperson.
Imprisoned since 1976, Ujungpandang was captured in May of that year after death squad commandos wiped out his family during Indonesia's internationally condemned annexation of East Timor. Wrote the jailed resistance leader from his cell in 1991, "[Indonesian president] Suharto's soldiers may bruise my body and torture me to the verge of death, but my spirit—the spirit of freedom for all people—can never be broken. Though they burn my testicles with red-hot iron pincers, they will never touch my soul."
The U.S. government, which since the mid-'70s has deferred imposing sanctions on the oil-rich Indonesian government despite calls for condemnation by human rights watchdogs worldwide, has thus far resisted intervening on behalf of Ujungpandang.
"The United States is not prepared to condemn Indonesia for inadequately mild facial scrubs, nor will it take the position that such scrubs as have been presently employed are excessively harsh. This skin-sensitivity issue is a question best left to policy-makers within Indonesia," read an official State Department press release. "We also deny shipping Suharto those last several boatloads of chemical weapons."
According to one Indonesia expert, Ujungpandang's plight should cause Americans to put their problems in perspective.
"In terms of living conditions, Indonesia is light-years behind the United States," said J. Arthur Schaeffer, Yale University professor of Southeast Asian Studies. "Here in America, our prosperity has placed us beyond such recurring Third World problems as dry, flyaway hair, lack of rec room space, and problem household odors."
"In fact," Schaeffer continued, "in Indonesia, facial tissue doesn't even contain any aloe vera lotion. We're talking about lotion which is absolutely vital to preventing one's nose from feeling raw and irritated after prolonged bouts of sneezing, something we as Americans take for granted as one of our basic human rights."
Despite the U.S. government's reluctance to come to Ujungpandang's aid, word of the jailed resistance leader's plight is spreading among the international human rights community.
"When I think of that poor man, his pores becoming clogged and irritated, his skin losing its luster, day after day, my heart goes out to him," said Roberto Guerrero of the Berkeley-based FreedomNow! organization. "It is up to us, the citizenry of the world's most privileged nations, to be aware that not all people have access to the same moisturizing and skin care that we enjoy here at home. Please help us help Ujungpandang before his skin ages prematurely."
Ujungpandang could not be reached for comment, as he was busy hanging upside down, face-first, in an electrified tub of water, having the soles of his feet beaten at the time.