Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Reflection on Ten Years after the Kidnapping of Activists

We Will Never Forget

8 April 2008 - 18:3 WIB

Today exactly ten years ago, on March 13, 1998, several hordes of the coercive New Order apparatus slithered from one region to the next towards the densely populated area of Jakarta. They intended to arrest "dangerous" people who their leader considered to have the potential to cause the authoritarian New Order regime under Soeharto to crash. They were looking for Nezar Patria, Aan Rusdianto, Mugiyanto, and Petrus Bima Anugerah. Four people who they believed to live in the same place.

One day before, on March 12 1998, one of the hordes succeeded in executing their mission. That horde succeeded in kidnapping three "dangerous" people. These were Faisol Riza, Raharja Waluya Jati, and Herman Hendrawan. These three people were the underground leaders of an organization prohibited at that time, the Democratic People's Party (PRD). Riza, Jati, and Herman were kidnapped when they were about to have lunch around Jalan Diponegoro. Riza and Jati were kidnapped around Cipto Hospital (RSCM), while it has been certified that Herman was kidnapped around the Megaria complex.

After being locked up, interrogated, and tortured for almost a month in some mysterious place, Riza and Jati were sent home. Herman, on the other hand, was not. He has not returned home to Bangka until today, even when his beloved father passed away five years ago.

That Friday of March 13 1998, at 7.30 pm, was an unlucky day for me. As I entered the house we had only been renting for a week, something awkward happened. Nezar and Aan should have been home, because I asked them on the telephone to wait for me 20 minutes before and they had said "yes". But they both were not there. They had only left a glass of lemonade, which was still hot, behind. At that moment, I thought that surely they were just outside for a while.

I also sent a message to Nezar's pager "Nez, where are you? I wait at home, okay." That was the message I sent him via the operator. I sent that message twice, because the first message had not been answered. About five minutes later, I started getting all kinds of thoughts. I was thinking of worst case scenarios. Admittedly we were indeed being looked for at the time. We were alleged as the actors of the riot on July 27, 1996. This was the incident where the PDI (Democratic Party of Indonesia, the only official opposition party of that time) office on Jalan Diponegoro in Jakarta, was invaded by a large group of people with short hair cuts and hefty postures, causing hundreds of people to die and disappear.

Then two of my friends phoned me at home. They were both in a state of panic. One of them was crying leaving this message, "You guys please be careful, and don't let any of you get caught again." Rather than encouraging me, that message increased my suspicions that something really bad was waiting for me. I was reminded of tens of other friends from the PRD who had been sent to jail at that time, such as Budiman Sudjatmiko, Dita Sari, Petrus Harianto, and others.

And I was right. I went up to the window of the two storey house and moved the curtain aside to peep outside. My body suddenly went limp as I saw some people with sturdy postures standing down there in a line observing me intently. Then I tiptoed to the kitchen, contemplating to jump down and run away. But down there, tens of other people were standing lined up. My house had already been besieged. My body went even limper. I already imagined that my end was near.

With the only energy I had left in me, I reached out to the electric switch and turned off the light. Then, precisely at that moment, they pounded on the door. "Open the door! Open the door!" I opened the door, and about ten people entered the house. One of them was an old man wearing a peci (rimless cap), looking like a state official. He was very polite and relaxed. "Mas, please just follow them," he said. Two of the men were dressed in military uniforms and the rest were in civilian outfits.

After they messed up the house, they took me downstairs three minutes later. They put me onto a vehicle which had been waiting to bring us to a place which turned out to be the Duren Sawit Military Headquarters in East Jakarta. I was interrogated for half an hour before they took "us" to the East Jakarta Military District Command. I say "us" because I had a "companion" who was also arrested, called Jaka. Or at least that is how he introduced himself to me in front of the interrogators of the Military Headquarters.

In the end it was revealed to me that Jaka was a Special Forces officer, a member of the Mawar Team assigned to ensure that I would not be taken by other unit. After stopping for three minutes at the East Jakarta Military District Command, I was taken onto the vehicle again. This time, I was blindfolded. This is when the process of interrogation and the American military style torture started.

I was locked up, interrogated, and tortured from the evening of March 13 to the afternoon of March 15. I was blindfolded, while both of my hands and legs were tied up to a cot. I only wore my underwear. There was the sound of sirens roaring, the space was very cold and an there was an electrocution device which sounded like a whip. There was also horrifying torture equipment, and those kidnappers intentionally made us listen to the screams of other people who were being tortured. Such savage kidnappers they were. They made me listen to the voices of Nezar Patria and Aan Rusdianto who were being tortured near to where I was. I then realized that before I got arrested, Nezar and Aan had been already been kidnapped. My messages for Nezar, which I sent from my pager, were received by those brutal kidnappers.

After staying in Guantánamo Indonesia for two days, which we finally came to know as a base camp of the Special Forces in Cijantung, East Jakarta, we were handed over to the Polda Metrojaya of Jakarta (the District Police). I was detained along with Nezar and Aan in the Rutan Polda (District Police Detention Center) until our arrest was finally extended until June 6, 1998. We were released from prison because President Habibie canceled the Anti-subversion Act which was used as the grounds of our arrest at that time.

(I have released the chronological testimony on June 8, 1998 which can be downloaded at

My heart was pounding when I wrote down this story again. I try to fight against my trauma, although it is difficult. It is very difficult. I cannot forget it. I can only manage it and save this memory to transform it into positive energy, especially because the "mistake" I made in the past was to fight against a dictatorship, a "mistake" which until now I consider to have been the right thing to do. I feel proud of my past, also because in the present I am with those who became the eyewitnesses and martyrs of the more than three-decade long period of dictatorship. (I hope the Stockholm syndrome will always be far removed from my life).

It has been ten years after that incident. IKOHI (The Indonesian Association of Families of the Disappeared), the institution where I have been working to fulfill and continue this life, together with hundreds and maybe even thousands of people who are in the same boat, is now developing solidarity, cooperation, and strength.

But we realize that we need the support of society to be able to make enforced disappearances and kidnappings of the past become history. "Make disappearance a history." That's our slogan in the international movement against enforced disappearances. We want to make the practice of kidnapping and eliminating people a forbidden practice because it is identical with Hitler/Nazi, Pinochet, Videla/Junta, Soeharto/Orba and so forth. It is the measure for the level of civilization of a nation. And to reach that level, the first thing to do is to solve what has happened.


In period of 1997/1998, we have recorded 23 persons as victims of enforced disappearances conducted by the state apparatus. From that amount, one person was found dead (Leonardus Gilang), nine people were released by their kidnappers (Mugiyanto is one of them), while thirteen others are missing until now. The abovementioned case has been investigated by the National Commission on Human Rights based on Act No 26/2000 on a Human Rights Court and have been submitted to the Attorney General two years ago. At the present, the Attorney General has to immediately carry out the investigation especially since the Constitutional Court has told them so on February 21 2008.

This case has to be settled immediately, not because it is the only case of enforced disappearances nor is it the biggest one, but solely because the lawsuit of this 1997/1998 enforced disappearances case has shown progress and is ready to be taken to the Human Rights court. From thereon we will see how the State will bear responsibility for cases of enforced disappearances which have been occurring since the 30 September 1965 tragedy, the periods of martial law in Aceh and Papua, the mysterious murders (Petrus), and others.

It is also important to observe that cases of enforced disappearances have their own unique and specific characteristics. Torture is often mentioned as the mother of human rights violations because almost all grave human rights violations contain an element of torture. But it is in cases of enforced where all grave human rights violations come together. This means that enforced or involuntary disappearances contain elements of grave human rights violations such as torture, detention, and even murder.

Enforced disappearances are also specific because the families left behind are in a continuous state of uncertainty about the condition of the disappeared person. This state of uncertainty is in itself considered as emotional torture. Based on this continuous impact on the family, the United Nation mechanism UNWGEID has issued the requirements of urgent and prompt action, an emergency measure for the state to immediately undertake action whenever a case of enforced disappearance has occurred. In Indonesia, we have to wait for ten years, maybe even more. Millions of other families of the victims of 1965 cases have had to wait more than forty years now.

The families of the enforced disappeared also face other difficulties living in the society and country. To be stigmatized as separatist, communist, rebel or fundamentalist is a daily phenomenon they have to deal with. This stigma continues in the form of discrimination and isolation not only socially by the society but also structurally by the state through legal policies.

One day, a child of one of the victims of enforced disappearances experienced a problem at school. Fajar Merah was asked by his teacher why he filled in the name of his mother Dyah Sujirah in the column for his father's name. Fajar explained that he doesn't know his father. His mother has actually raised him all this time. His mother has become a father to him. He doesn't even know whether or not his father is still alive, because his mother also doesn't. He knows that his father is Wiji Thukul, but he doesn't know his father well since he and his father have been separated by the dictatorship since their last meeting in December 1997, when Fajar celebrated his third birthday. At that time, Thukul recorded Fajar's birthday with a handy cam. Nobody knows whether as we speak Thukul is playing his child's birthday video recording.

The family of Suyat (another victim of enforced disappearances) who lives in Gemolong, Sragen, has a story about hope. Since Suyat was kidnapped in early 1998, his family kept on hoping for him to be returned by his kidnappers, just like some other victims. They had already prepared a sheep to be slaughtered if that beautiful expectation would come true. However, year after year, the expectation did not yet materialize and the sheep was consumed by age, until finally it was sold because of financial difficulties. But that hope is still there. And a sheep will somehow be available somewhere to be slaughtered one day.

Waiting is a very boring thing to do. Waiting for certainty makes this already boring situation even more boring. Because of this that sort of situation turns into restlessness, and makes people want to give up. Waiting for certainty becomes waiting in uncertainty, especially when the waiting time continues to be stretched. This can become something deadly, something fatal.

IKOHI recorded that from the families whose members disappeared in the period of 1997/1998, four parents of victims passed away. They are the fathers of Yadin Muhidin, Herman Hendrawan, and Noval Alkatiri. They all passed away because they were ill, because they were killed by uncertainty. They passed away when the people they loved had not yet returned home to embrace them. Some other parents are also experiencing illnesses, which the doctor diagnosed as caused by the mental pressure they have been going through. They are psychosomatic, with various kinds of other illnesses. There are another ten, hundred, or even thousand victims and victims' families who experience the same thing.

There are many real problems which victims' families go through in their day to day lives as a result of losing their beloved. Those issues require handling of the state. Legally, the cases need to be investigated, researched, and those who are responsible have to be prosecuted by law and punished according to justice, whereas the victims and victims' families need obtain their rights to be restored. One kind of restoration which should be carried out by the state is to bring back the victims and their families to the same situation they were in before the incident happened.

Victims' families need to get complete answers from the state for these main questions:
"Where are the people we love?"
"How are their conditions?"
"We are ready to accept even the worst answer."
"If they are already dead, where are they buried?"
They will also request:
"Return them in the same condition you took them in!"

Parveena Ahangar, a mother whose son was kidnapped by the Indian military in Kashmir, shared her story with me.

"At one point, I was asked to meet with an Indian military officer who supervises Srinagar city where my son was kidnapped. In the meeting which was witnessed by some other families of victims, the officer said, "Please Mam, just stop talking about that incident. It is impossible to return your missing son. Here, we give you USD 100.000 as compensation money, so you can forget that incident, and you can live a normal life." Then I told that officer, ' Sir, what if I give you twice the amount of money you offer me, and then I just kill your child!"

Parveena wept because of holding back her anger when telling me her story almost three years ago. She now leads an organization for families of the enforced disappeared in Kashmir, India.

Yesterday as a closing to this reflection a friend of mine typed something in a Yahoo Messenger chat room: "One Soeharto is dead, and another thousand of Soehartos will emerge. But it is very difficult to replace one friend who was struggling with us but is still missing now." That friend, Wilson, is right, because a thousand Soehartos can be stopped by one fighting friend.

There is another quote which I recently found back. This quote is taken from the plea of Budiman Sudjatmiko, who was the Leader of the Democratic People's Party at the time, and was brought to justice by the New Order court in 1997. It was there that he stated, "I become the witness for the suffering of my people who are struggling, and I will take that testimony with me until they are free."

I trembled listening to that statement, because until today the people are not yet free and the same is true for 13 other victims of enforced disappearances, including Wiji Thukul, Herman Hendrawan, Suyat, Petrus Bimo Anugerah, and Yani Afri.
Suyatno, Suyat's older brother, a villager who works as a carpenter far away in Gemolong, Sragen always said, "If it wouldn't be for Suyat, there is no way that Gus Dur, Mega, and SBY would have become president."

When saying goodbye to Sipon, his beloved wife, Wiji Thukul told her, "Pon, I return to Jakarta because my friends are imprisoned."

Hmmmmm..... (Taking a deep breath)

It has been ten years since this incident happened. When I saw my child and the children of my friends playing together, I felt like time was running fast. But when I saw posters of the enforced disappeared posted in the IKOHI office and the faces of their families, Mami, Bu Nung, Mbak Pon, Pak Tomo, Bu Tomo, Bu Fatah, Bu Paniyem, Pak Paimin, Bu Zuniar, I felt that the time of torture runs very slow.
What is for sure is that we will never forget that in the history of this nation, we are the eyewitnesses of the cruel oppression carried out by the New Order administration. And we have the constitutional right to demand our rights: truth, justice, and peace, even to the grave. (*)


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