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The Marsinah murder
By Benjamin Waters
"Bolomu wis matek, ...Marsinah wis matek...", your comrade is dead, ...Marsinah is dead..., shouted by a security agent at factory workers on May 8.
Marsinah age 25, a worker activist employed by PT Catur Putra Surya, a watch manufacturing company in the regency of Sidoarjo, East Java, was found dead on 8 May 1993. It is widely believed that her death was related to her participation in strike action at the factory.
In 1994 a number of management personnel from the factory were put on trial and convicted of the murder. However, many people thought the trials were a frame-up and that the loal military were responsible. The nine defendants all claimed that they had been tortured during their detention in order to extract confessions.
On April 4, 1994, even the government's own National Human Rights Commission was forced to issue a statement saying that it had found a number of irregularities in the way defendeants were arrested, detained and interrogated. The Commisison also said that the defendants had not been given access to lawyers and had been tortured to obtain confessions. The Commission even went so far as to suggest that "other people" were possibly involved in the murder.
On May 5 1995, the government could no longer defend the convictions and all the defendants were released. Two new investigative teams have been formed. Roesmanhadi, who was Deputy Provincial Police Chief at the time of Marsinah's murder in May 1993, and a leading member of one of these teams said in an interview he does not believe the previous accused were not guilty, and said they may well be accused again (although this may not allowed by law), and disagreed that the previous process was "engineered", and said there is no time limit on his investigations.
The following article, by Benjamin Waters, relates the events surrounding the murder, the early attempts at cover up and the campaign that started in order to seek the truth about Marsinah.
The next day, 13 of the workers' representatives (not including Marsinah) were ordered to Kodim (District Military Command) office, where they were forced to sign letters of resignation. The 13 workers then sent letters to a number of government agencies protesting their forced resignation.
After finishing work that evening, Marsinah went looking for her friends at the Kodim offices but was informed they had been released. She then visited the homes of two friends (workers who had earlier been ordered to Kodim) to obtain a copy of the agreement. At 9.30pm, Marsinah left, telling her friend that she would get something to eat on the way home.
In late May, a special investigation team was formed by members from Nganjuk and Polres Sidoarjo (Local Police, and East Java Polda (Regional Police, headed by Police Lieutenant Colonel Drs. Da'i Bachtiar. Despite statements to the press that the police would place the highest priority on the case, as the investigation has dragged on, complaints have mounted over the unexplained delays and the incompetence of the authorities.
On June 11, over a month after the murder, an unnamed source told the Surabaya Post that there was already sufficient evidence to name a suspect and that the results of the investigation would be released soon. "The way to revel the details of Marsinah's death is open, the vehicle suspected of being used has already been identified" they said. But when later asked by journalists to confirm the report, Police Lieutenant Colonel Drs. Suntanto said "We cannot confirm when the murderer will be arrested, I don't want to preempt the wishes of Allah."
On 14 June, the Jawa Post reported another source who mentioned several meetings by police in which it was indicated that they know who the guilty party was. "The person suspected of being involved in the murder has been identified. They're just waiting to collect stronger evidence before taking the suspect into custody." The source also mention a vehicle which it is believed was used to abduct Marsinah adding that blood stains had also been discovered in the vehicle. It was not until some time later that it was confirmed by a number of newspapers that the police had in fact seized a metallic white Daihatsu Hijet 1000 with Surabaya number plates L25.AW owned by a PT CPS official.
Then on June 14, only three days after the Surabaya Post article appeared, Police Major General Drs. Emon Rivia Arganta unexpectedly announced to journalists that the murderer would soon be arrested saying "...the supporting data to solve the case is sufficient". He refused however to confirm that her death was related to the PT CPS strike. (Surabaya Post 4.6.93) However the authorities' confidence was not shared by some 30 students from Soldaritas Mahsiswa Jember (Jember Student Solidarity) who held a demonstration in front of the Jember Central University on June 17 to express their concerns. Holding candles, the students marked forty days since Marsinah's death by reading poetry.
As well as attempting to underplay the possible link between the strike and Marsinah's murder, there also seemed to be a conscious effort to downplay her role in the strike itself and thereby make such a link seem less plausible. This is despite the fact that many statements by workers directly involved in the strike attest to the central role she played.
On 4 May when strikers attempted to present their demands to PT CPS's management, witnesses recalled that they were stopped by a company security officer and it was Marsinah who stepped foward and began arguing with the officer. The directory of PT CPS Yudi Astono director was also present during the argument and spoke with the delegation inviting them to resume work. He was also shouted down by Marsinah. Yet when the company coordinator of security, Suwono, was questioned about the incident, he contested the accuracy of the report saying that it was difficult to recall exactly who was involved in the strike or to know what role was played by particular people during the event. (Surabaya Post 15.6.93) A member of the security forces was more direct. He denied that there was any connection between the strike or Marsinah's role in it and her murder adding that "...Marsinah was not one of the key figures (tokoh)." (Memorandum 16.6.93) On May 15 workers at the factory told the independent fact finding team that one of Marsinah's fellow workers was also called to the company security offices and questioned about Marsinah by an intelligence officer. Fourteen other workers were later taken to Nganjuk on May 15 where they were also questioned about her role.
The apparent lack of knowledge about Marsinah's role in the strike action by the management, company security and police is surprising. Not only were members of the management present during the dispute with the company security officer but representatives from Danramil (Regional Military Command), Dansek (Sector Commander), and Sospol, were present during the negotiations. According to a number of statements by workers who were present at the meeting, Marsinah was again the most vocal and outspoken individual. (Memorandum 14.6.93)
Teten Masduki, coordinator of Forum Solidaritas Untuk Buruh (Workers Solidarity Forum, FORSOL, told the writer that there were a number of other factors which would have lead the military to believe that Marsinah was the leader the strike. "As well as her prominent involvement in the strike and her outspoken position during the negotiations, she was also the one who made enquiries about her fellow workers at the Kodim offices and the one who attempted to find the agreement between workers and the company on the evening she disappeared. These actions would have been more than enough to attract the military's attention" he said.
Items such as Marsinah's skirt, bra, underpants and other garments were burnt by hospital staff two weeks after her body was handed over to her family. Shortly after the items had been destroyed, the police suddenly announced that the investigation would be reintensified, but when Nganjuk Police Lieutenant Colonel Drs. Indrajid was asked to confirm the disappearance of the clothing he refused to make any comment. A "standard" medical examination was carried out on the body on May 10 but no autopsy was ever conducted -- no tests were made for evidence such as the presence of semen or the skin from the victim's attackers were under the fingernails. A doctor cannot initiate a more complete examination or autopsy without a request from the police, no such request has been made. The police also failed to protect the site where her body was found.
Items had been moved and fresh earth had been spread over the floor of the hut. (Surya 5.6.93)
It was also rumored that Polda East Java had actually requested that the investigation to begin again from scratch because the handling of the case by Polres Sidoarjo and Nganjr has diverged from the procedures laid down for murder investigations. ( Surya 15.6.93)
By mid-June, the authorities were already beginning to express concern over media coverage and the recurring theme of military intervention. Without exception, every article on the case included background information of the PT CPS strike and journalist repeatedly questioned the authorities about the link.
In a press statement on 14 June, Arganta asked reporters not to be "hasty" in linking the murder to the PT CPS strike. "Don't link it with the previous events, ...we don't intend this issue to become controversial." (Kompas 17.6.93) The following day he reiterated his concerns, saying that not only the security forces, but all employees of PT CPS should be on guard so that the strike is not exploited by outside elements. "If it is exploited by other groups, it can be dangerous" he said. (Surabaya Post 15.6.93) On the same day he also told reporters that if there were too many incidents like the PT CPS strike it would upset national security. "What if they continue to occur and even develop to a national level, what will happen? This could definitely be considered upsetting to national security." (Memorandum 15.6.93)
In late July the case abruptly disappeared from the media. Many believed that the "telephone culture" had put an end to what was becoming an increasingly embarrassing and controversial issue.
On August 12 the authorities acted more directly. Just three hours before the opening of an art exhibition titled "Waiting (menenang) 100 days after the fall of Marsinah", at the Dewan Kesenian Surabaya (Cultural Council of Surabaya, DKS) the police ordered that the exhibition be canceled. It was to display work by community artist Moeljono from Yayasan Seni Rupa Komunitas (Community Arts Foundation, YSRK) and KSUM. Police Lieutenant Colonel Ahmad Rifai from Polda Jatim said "It was not an ordinary exhibition. Clearly there is an attempt to politicise the Marsinah case through the exhibition." In response to comments that the centre had been operating for more than 21 years without a single instance of this kind, he replied: "Previous exhibitions at DKS were not banned, because there motivation was clear, namely, pure art".
The following week on August 21 at a meeting between the Minister of Education and Culture and a number of artists and authors to discuss lifting the ban on Pramoedya Anata Toer's books, the minister also chose to question the motives of the exhibition suggesting there are better ways of expressing art.
"Marsinah's murder has caused considerable concern among workers at the factory who are afraid that if they become involved in strike action, they too will suffer the same fate. It is therefore imperative that we discover the truth behind the matter as soon as possible. The military have threatened other workers involved in the strike with dismissal and has accused them of being Indonesian Communist Party members (orang PKI). This is frequently used as a way of intimidating people and are equivalent to being accused of subversion which gives the military a free hand to take whatever action they like, including arrest and detention, even murder" said Masduki.
Masduki said that FORSOL had sent an official letter of complaint to Soedarwo on June 15 in protesting SPSI's lack of support. "SPSI not only did nothing to assist the campaign in any way, but the recommendation by the head of the local branch of SPSI legitimised the military's action in forcing the 13 workers to resignation" he said. "It was not until 23 August, three months after the murder, that SPSI showed any interest in the case -- and they still haven't taken any action to get the dismissed workers reinstated" He also queried Soedarwo's motives for expressing concern over the case becoming a human rights issue. "If Marsinah's murder and the issue of military intervention is not a human rights issue, what kind of issue is it?"
Kusuma told ASIET that one of KSUM's main goals is to raise public awareness of the political reality of military intervention. "Military intervention has been a key factor in limiting workers' rights to organise, to bargain collectively and to take industrial action. If the rights of workers are to be realised, it is essential that the Indonesian public and the international community are informed of the role played by the military in containing workers demands" he said.
On Friday June 4, representatives of KSUM together with Marsinah's friends and relatives attended her burial at the Nglundo village cemetery in the Sukomoro regency of Nganjuk. Police and members of the local and regional military command were present but they did not attempt to disperse the mourners as expected.
(An earlier version of this article appeared in Inside Indonesia, No. 36, 1993.)