Wednesday, October 23, 2013

My Torturers Are Still in Power

[An interview with Mugiyanto, one of the activists who were tortured and disappeared months before the collapse of the Soeharto regime in May 1998. He spoke to Danilo Reyes, editor of Article 2, recalling his ordeal in an underground secret detention centre. Fifteen years on, their torturers still wield power and influence in Indonesia.]

Mugi: Thank you Danilo. As basic information my name is Mugiyanto, chairperson of the Asian Federation against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) and IKOHI. I am a survivor of the disappearances that happened in Indonesia in 1998 when Soeharto was still in power.
Briefly, this is what happen to me at that time. I was a student activist struggling for democracy, for freedom, for reform in Indonesia but at that time my organization was the Student Solidarity for Democracy in Indonesia (SMID). We just affiliated with the People’s Democratic Party (PRD), which was, at that time announced as illegal by the government. We were accused as the mastermind of a riot at that time. The riot happened on July 27, 1996 and then after that my organization was accused by the government of being the mastermind. As this took place around the revival of the Indonesia Communist Party that was the accusation by the government since then we worked in the underground secretly.

We organized the people’s movement although we were banned and we worked underground. That was in 1996, 1997 and 1998. There was also the external factor of the economic crisis. That was the economic crisis that also hit Indonesia very badly and this also gave rise to the popular movement. In 1998 the government had a political agenda: it was the general election and the specific agenda for that general election was in order for the old ruling party to win the election in order for Suharto to be re-elected for the seventh term.

So, the government was very repressive at that time. And that was exactly the reason that the government started disappearing people.
So, one of the cases was what we called the disappearance of Pro democracy activists in 1997 to 1998. The name of the case given is 1997 to 1998 because at that time the disappearance targeted Pro democracy activists. That was the background, that was the context and because of that I was taken from my house. The safe house was actually in Jakarta and it was in the evening on March 13, 1998 and I was taken from my safe house to the military branch and then I was brought again to another military office still in East Jakarta, interrogated again and after that I was brought again to what we called the “mysterious place”.

I was brought there by about seven people, I did not know. When I was forced to get in the car initially they forgot all about me. And then after an hour the car stopped and then they asked me to get out of the car and I walked only three steps. Then they started interrogating me. When I was still blindfolded, they asked me about my name and also the names of my friends I live with. And that was the first time that I was beaten. They did not like my answers because I told them I lived alone. They told me I was lying and started kicking me. When I fell to the ground they forced me to stand up again and interrogated me again. And every time they did not like my answer, or were not happy with my answer, they kicked me, they beat me on my body, on my face and then I fell down again.

After that they stripped off my clothes so that I was only in my underpants still blindfolded and was asked to lay down it’s like a military bed and then they tied both my hands and my legs. It was very cold. And also I heard the water flowing and the sound of whipping. I thought at that time I was brought to the rice field that they were about to killed me.

Danilo: Whipping sound? Not a person weeping?

Mugi: Yes, not a person it’s just a siren like they started interrogating me again about the names of my friends, the leaders at that time and also about my activities, why we wanted to replace Suharto, why we support the Independence of Timor Leste, why want to bring back the military to barracks, why we want to repeal what we called the package of the five political laws which according to us, according to me and my organization were the backbone of the old regime.

Danilo: So, what are those laws?

Mugi: This law is about the General Election, about mass organization, about the parliament in the Central and local level. I can’t remember these five package of political laws issued by the government in 1985 and the fourth is about the sole ideology basically in this law it is said that the political party should only be three political parties that all organization must be based on the ideology of Pancasila, something like that. These are the things that we identify as the backbone of the new order the five political parties and the dual function of the military as in Indonesia the military has a social and political role.

And they also asked me about what we thought to be the solution to the economic crisis in Indonesia at that time. And those are the questions given to me and my two other friends because later when I was there I realized that I was not the only person being held there, being interrogated there. Because when they interrogated me and they don’t like my answer they tortured me. And that was also the time that I realize that the whip was not the sound of whipping (that I thought), but it was the electric shock.

Danilo: Electric shocks applied to somebody else?

Mugi: At that time to me, so it is electric shock because when it touch my leg. That was the torture I had experienced: electric shocks. I was blindfolded and after they interrogated me. They interrogated someone else. Maybe five meters from me and then I realize that he was my friend.

Danilo: How did you know he is your friend?

Mugi: I know very well because he spoke and answered the questions of the interrogator. So, I listened to him, he was about five meters away. He was screaming when he was tortured. There was another person who was being tortured and interrogated there. I also realize that he was my other friend. We were in the same safe house at that time because, in fact, those two friends of mine where taken from my house one hour before me. When I entered the safe house, the safe house was already surrounded by different military officers. So that was happened to me. I was there for 2 days and 2 nights in this X place, mysterious place.

Danilo: So, there were two other persons, your friends who were there, so did you know the places where you were taken and who were those?

Mugi: At that time we did not know. We knew the place after we were released and then KontraS conducted the investigation based on the testimonies of those released. And the conclusion was the place is the illegal detention centre of the Special Armed Forces the Kopasus in Indonesia, in East Jakarta, it was an underground detention cell.

Danilo: So, they discovered that it was an underground cell?

Mugi: It was an underground and the military also admitted because there is a military against Kopasus. There were also an investigation by the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) and there was also an investigation by the military. It was the place but at the time they conducted the investigation the detention did not exist anymore today because they already demolished it. So that’s what I have experienced in terms of torture.
After these two days, because it happen on Friday 13 of March and 15 of March in the afternoon, three of us were brought again to another place. We did not know because we were blindfolded during the two days. We were all blindfolded and only wearing underpants. So after two days we were brought to a place and then we were interrogated again for about two hours. I was interrogated for two hours by the military officers and then when I was interrogated my blindfold was released so I tried to identify where it was in the Jakarta Regional Command Office. After this two hours interrogation three of us were brought to another place, again blindfolded again, and brought again in the vehicle.

Danilo: It was the fifth place already, right?

Mugi: Yes, fifth place. We were brought again and inside the car we were also intimidated by the person behind us. Mugi, what is the last word you want to say to your parents something like that. Mugi, what is your religion, Muslim? You have to pray. Can you pray? You cannot pray because you are a communist. That’s what they said and after that the car stopped and we realized that it was in Jakarta Police Regional Office and then they released my blindfold and then they said, Mugi you are safe here, and then the three of us were brought there and then we were under went the legal process, we were interviewed by the Police. I told them I didn’t want to be interviewed, I wanted a lawyer. They said, Mugi don’t make it difficult you are safe already here so, let’s undergo this legal process and I said no, no, I need a lawyer.

And they beat me with a stick on my back and also intimidating me with the mask because I was still traumatized with the mask because one of my interrogator wore the mask in the Kopasus detention because once my blindfold was released in the Kopasus detention Centre that was when I was in the toilet and they took my photograph. But when someone took my photograph my blindfold was released and I saw that the photographer was wearing the mask. So I never recognized the faces of these interrogators. So we were in a police detention centre, we were finally undergoing the process, we call it the questioning and we were charged with the Anti-Subversion Law because we were against the government.

I was interrogated for 5pm until 1pm. Then after that, after 11pm the police sent us to cells in the isolation cell. Me, Nezar and Aan my other friend were placed in separate cells. One big cell, one person at that time we were there. That was the time that Munir, was taking this issue. Munir was one of my lawyers at that time. So, I was there on March 15 detained by the police and charged with subversion which could mean the death penalty in Indonesia Law.

And then it was in March we were really isolated but next to me was a the cell full of detainees, political detainees from the supporters of Megawatti because many people were detained at that time as there were a lot of demonstrations. They were demanding the reduction of the price of the basic needs, and so on, and so on. At that time they were against corruption and then there were several detainees next to my cell (I was in cell number 11). The next cell was 10. In one big cell, several detainees knew me as the PRD activist. So they would be the one supplying me the newspapers, like the smuggled newspapers and give me cigarettes and they also help me communicate with Nezar and Aan my other friend into synchronizing the answers of the interrogation so I write down and send them messages.

So that was in March. Then in May we read that students held a lot of demonstrations, so we motivated each other me, Naser and Aan we would shout, the student demonstration are becoming bigger and bigger, so we encouraged each other at that time because we were still very traumatized by that time two days in Kopasus detention centre.

In May 12, 13 and 14 the time when the popular movement reached its climax after the shooting of the student in a University and the death was followed by burnings in Jakarta. There was looting everywhere but there were no police, there was no military in Jakarta at that time. What happened was the burning of buildings, looting of the malls and also the rape of the Chinese Indonesian woman.

So, it was from 12 to 15 and finally on the 21st Soeharto announced his resignation. We were very happy at that time inside the prison. And then after Soeharto resigned, the security in prison was loosened. I had better food. Initially the prison officers were very repressive, they kept monitoring us and they didn’t allow us to communicate with each other or go out to exercise like the other prisoners; but after Suharto resigned we were allowed to go out and exercise with the other detainees. And then we had better food unlike before. We have better rice like that spinach and tofu.

It was in May that Suharto resigned and then by June he was replaced by his Vice President, B. J. Habibie. Habibie repealed the Anti-subversion Law. That was the reason why we were released on June 6, 1998 because the law that was used as a basis of detention was repealed. So we were released. So that was happen to me, that’s what I experience.

But I was still traumatized. By that time, after I was release that was on June 6. On June 8 Munir wanted us to have a press conference for the three of us about our experiences. I have the written testimony, it is also in the internet in my blog as well. My testimony of what happen to me. I think there is also an English version of my testimony. But I was still traumatized at that time. After that we were still in the safe houses. We were coping with our mental depression.

Danilo: Even after you release you were staying in a safe house?

Mugi: Yes, yes provided by KontraS.

Danilo: Did you feel secured?

Mugi: Yes, we had to in order to feel secure, and cope with the trauma that I had experienced. It took one month, I think, it was only one month; then I went home to my hometown in Central Java. Then, after two months I went again to Jakarta. That was in October and then KontraS assigned me to go to the Philippines. I met Aileen of Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearances (FIND) in August 1998. I also made use of that time to meet the human rights organizations, specially with FIND working with disappearances. Then in October 1998, we went to Geneva that was the first time we brought this case about disappearances. That was the first time that we worked together on my case at the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances in Geneva, I think.

Danilo: Were you able to identify, file charges against those who abducted and tortured you?

Mugi: Yes

Danilo: And what happened to your complaint?

Mugi: What happen is under investigation of KontraS and advocacy by Kontras led by Munir at that time the government was pressured. They had the military court to try the case so the military police conducted the investigation and they found out the military was involved, specifically the Special Armed Forces whose commander at the time is General Prabowo. Based on the findings it was the Kopasus group for Anti-Terror and below that the Anti-Terror group, they established a small team consisting of 11 officers which was called the “Rose team”. It consisted of 11 officers finally these 11 officers were brought to military court in 1999.

The 11 officers brought to military court along with the higher officer. The commander of the Kopasus General, Lt. General Prabowo, and the commander of Group four Col. Kairawan and the replacement of Prabowo because in May, Prabowo was replaced by Col. Mudi, he was the one who was involved in the assassination of Munir (of KontraS and my former legal counsel). Three of them were not brought to military court but to the military honorary council of the military. Three of them were brought there and after that the 11 official members of the Special Armed Forces of this rose team were sentenced two years maximum 24 months.

Danilo: Because of torture you suffered and your two other friends?

Mugi: The charges were not on torture. Torture was not a crime at that time (editor’s note: until now torture is not a criminal offense in Indonesia). The charges filed against them was about the soldiers “mistakenly interpreting the order of commander”. It was a disciplinary sanction by the court.

Danilo: So, it was an administrative sanction?

Mugi: Administrative not criminal. For mistakenly interpreting the order of the commander. These 11 Kopasus officers and then the three officers, like General Prabowo, were expelled from the military and also Mudi and Kairawan. That was what happened in the military court. I was not in Indonesia at that time. I didn’t give testimony in court. What we know now is that many of the 11 officers of the Kopasus were promoted to higher positions at this moment.

Several numbers of the soldiers involved in torture were promoted in Ache; and as for the victims, we got nothing. Because it’s not a crime in Indonesia we only have abduction and only after 2000 after we have this law on establishing Ad Hoc Human Rights Court we began again to make a campaign. We ask Komnas HAM to start its investigation on the case because we believe that this is the gross violation of human rights violation and a crime against humanity.

We asked Komnas HAM, and it was only in 2005 that Komnas HAM establish on Ad Hoc team to investigate our case. In 2006 Komnas HAM concluded that it was true that there is gross violation of human rights on the category of crime against humanity in the form of disappearances, torture. And then Komnas HAM handed over their report to the Attorney General Office (AGO) for the investigation and prosecution of the case in the Ad Hoc human rights court. One of the weakness in the Indonesian legal system is that, we have government regulation on compensation rehabilitation and restitution that the victims could only access if there is a court decision. If not that is impossible.

I’m talking about the torture and other acts within the category of gross human rights violations. So we don’t have legal remedy. No single person for the victims of enforced disappearances in 1997 - 1998 received any remedy until now. What we had is only recently on the last one year the families enjoyed the service from the government in the form of psychosocial and medical services by the LPSK or the victims and the witnesses protection body. But this on the provision that there should be evidence from the Komnas HAM that the person is really a victim or the family of the victim. This is not remedy, this is not reparation. This is what happened actually in the case of Tanjung Priok. There were three cases of gross human rights violations that were brought to the Human Rights Court. The first is the case of East Timor; second, is the case of Tanjung Priok massacre against Muslims in 1984 in Jakarta and the third, was the case of Abepura in 2000. Abepura was brought to the permanent Human Rights Court, not to Ad Hoc court.

In the case of Tanjung Priok, the court actually ordered the government to provide compensation to the victims. The problem, however, was that in the appeal in the court of appeal the judges said that there was no human rights violation. Yes, there is no human rights violation. One of the elements of the crime was that it has to be done as part of systematic and widespread action targeting civilians. What happen in Tanjung Priok at that time was that, it is not the military but it was a civilian group who attacked the military. That is why no one was convicted. So, everyone was released basically.

Danilo: There is no concept of command responsibility?

Mugi: Yeah, there is none because the court did not consider it a crime. The good thing is at least the judge ordered the state to provide compensation, rehabilitation and restitution to the victims, but it was not implemented. So that happens in Indonesia and many cases of gross human rights violations. I am not involved in torture cases in recent torture cases so I don’t know exactly because there are many torture cases in the police detention, I don’t know exactly in terms of remedy.

Danilo: Do you think after 1998 after Suharto left torture remains a widespread and systematic practice? In the past, it is more on political threats;
but these days what do you think are the reason for using torture?

Mugi: It still happens. In the media torture happens in many police detention centres during interrogation. When I was detained back in March 1998 the torture was so bad against the drug abuse suspect. Before as they were taken to the police they first have to pass this torture chamber. They were interrogated before being sent to the cell. I heard that it is still happening these days. Although not as bad as before, and it happens also Indonesia. It is only in big cities where there is media coverage the police is careful. But this kind of detaining people, interrogating people, torturing people happens in small police offices related to plantations, for example mining, nobody knows because no one is able to have access there. And the reason is I think there is a problem anywhere is the law enforcement.

On the other hand the police and military said that: no we cannot be repressive like before because we are afraid of human rights. That’s what they said. The police are using the double standard in the case, for example now the biggest issue in Indonesia is religious intolerance.

Danilo: I’m curious Mugi the person who helped you while you were in detention was it Munir?

Mugi: Yes.

Danilo: He represented you and the other persons whom you worked with now, Daud, his father was also a torture victim. And you are working with them in terms of advocacy protection of rights demanding for remedy but in you none of those who abducted, tortured you was prosecuted with criminal liability. So how do you address this kind of questions dealing with victims? How do you explained that to them? Do you ask question?

Mugi: Yeah, Of course. That is the difficult part. In the context that as if what we have been doing is useless for example because we have been struggling for 15 years since Soeharto no single person persecuted and the victim is not even the right to remedy. Yes it is a big challenge for me personally and also for us because it looks like giving a false hope to the victims. Example, if we call for justice this perpetrator should be persecuted that our call. But on the other hand the Tanjung Priok case has been brought to court but the result was that the victims got nothing. The perpetrators are free. So, do we want to have same court decision again?

This is difficult part but what we talk to the victims what we shared with them is that the good thing in among the victims community is they are not individuals. For example they are not only thinking of themselves and this is reflected with statement of the victims. They go to the mother of the victims saying I have been struggling for years and what I believe is Indonesia is the State that abides by the law, so the law should be upheld. And so what happened to my son, to myself, I don't want other generations to experience the same. Not only herself, but for the future generation of our nation. That's why I personally in my writing and also in my conversation my speech for example, I gave identify to the victory of the victims. That what we are doing is not useless, it is rather symbolic one. In the history of Indonesia, it never happened that the generals were brought to a court room for prosecution. Although they were not convicted as guilty, but they were indeed taken to court, as it happens in the case of Tanjung Priok.

Danilo: What you’re discussing is very important as it strikes you.

Mugi: Exactly. We have said be free to organize but this is not all because of the victims, the biggest challenge is ahat about the daily needs of the victim? Because justice for victim struggling for 15 years is like abstract. They have their own definition of justice. What is important for me is I can continue life but not in this way. Because my son supposed to be breadwinner and he was taken I have bad economic life and so on and so on the government should provide for me.

Danilo: So after 1998 reforms in terms of law, new laws, some of those were have reforms but not all and there have been ratification of the CAT Convention. So this contributes to the development of the norms and the legal framework of Indonesian legal system. But do you think Indonesia today, with these developments of normative standards, does the legal system protects the rights or defeats?

Mugi: Of course, it protects the rights formally. It protects the right in terms of norms, but the problem is in Indonesia we have many good laws, good regulations but they are not enforced. So it is meaningless. Without enforcement it is meaningless like a paper tiger. We understand this because of the fact that Indonesians, for so many years, at least for last three decades and the authoritarian regimes, we have been under such repressive situation. No government officials, specially the security apparatus, were held accountable.

There is such a kind of Culture of impunity, a long history of impunity and you could go to Philippines yes, ok and also the other aspect is because of the fact that the reform that we have in Indonesia in 1998 does not really change. The culture, the system is still there.

Danilo: When you say the system what is it still there? Can you give an example.

Mugi: For example the military is still the problem in Indonesia up until today. Although they don’t have their automatic representation, like in the New Order regime, but they are still given many strategic positions by political parties. They were powerful in the past and they were still powerful and very influential today.

So the political party wants them. That is why they recruit the military men in different political parties, like Prabowo, and also the other generals in different political parties. They are the ones who have the agenda to be immune from any accountability, and so on.

Danilo: What do you think now Prabowo was the commander by the group who tortured you and your friends? Prabowo remain an influential person in Indonesia, so how do you articulate this kind of obstacle and lack of punishments and absence of those who are perpetrating gross violation of rights in the Indonesian society these days? How do you articulate?

Mugi: Yes, it is very difficult for us to bring people, like Prabowo in judicial process to get the formal judicial punishment. We do this ‘social punishment’. Even if our actions is not official punishment, we are doing this is to tell public about who these persons are. The big challenge in the human rights community is that human rights are not attractive issue in Indonesia in comparison to the issue of corruption. And when we are talking of corruption many people should talk out of Human Rights.

Danilo: Why?

Mugi: Because I think it’s not directly related to them. They are not victims. Maybe for them its abstract that’s why Prabowo is popular and also they don’t know (about the violations he committed in the past). The people don’t know the human rights community. We are still in the secret room, still isolated. Those who talk about justice and human rights, like Kontras, are small in numbers; and the others, they don’t see the importance of bringing perpetrators to justice is public discourse.

Danilo: Thank you Mugi.

Source: Article 2 of AHRC Publication,
Posted on 2013-09-03

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