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The crimes of Suharto

By James Balowski

The Suharto regime invaded East Timor on December 7, 1975. Thousands of East Timorese, mainly civilians, were killed. More than 200,000, almost one third of the population, died in the years following due to Indonesian military activity and disruption to agriculture. Arrest, torture and murder of independence activists have continued with more than 270 people killed in the Santa Cruz massacre in Dili on November 12, 1991. Many however forget or have chosen to ignore the fact Suharto's rise to power was accomplished at the cost of many more lives.

By late 1965, the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), had become the largest communist party outside of the Soviet Union and China with a membership of more than 3.5 million and an affiliated membership of between 10 and 20 million. Trade unions, women's, artist and peasant organisations had all experienced a spectacular rate of growth.

In the months leading up to October 1965, Jakarta was rife with rumours that a group of high-ranking anti-communist generals with links to the CIA, who were fearful of the growing strength and influence of the PKI and the left in general, were planning to move against the president of Indonesia, Sukarno. His international policies in particular, were moving closer to the PKI with Sukarno seeking to position himself as a leader of what he termed the "Newly Emerging Forces".

While Sukarno's strong anti-US and anti-imperialist rhetoric won broad support among the Indonesian masses, for western nations it appeared that Indonesia was on a headlong slide to the left. PKI-led land seizures were increasingly bringing the PKI and military who supported the large land owners into direct and often violent confrontation with each other.

Sukarno's announcement in January 1965 of the formation of a "Fifth Force" which would comprise some 21 million armed peasants and workers, independent of army control, led to a bitter rift between Sukarno and key military leaders such as Lieutenant General Achmad Yani, commander of the army and army minister (trained at Fort Leavenworth in the US) and defence minister General Nasution.

In this atmosphere of political confrontation and economic crisis brought on largely by military mismanagement and corruption, Sukarno fell ill in early August. With all sides wondering whether he would be able to continue in office, coup rumours abounded. The concentration of some 20,000 troops in Jakarta for Armed Forces Day held on October 5, only added to the tensions.

The initial blood bath

On the night of September 30, 1965, a group of middle ranking left-wing military officers, kidnapped six high ranking officers, whom they accused of being members of a "Council of Generals" allegedly organising a coup against Sukarno. Although statements and later trial transcripts by the plotters made it clear they intended to bring the generals to account before Sukarno, for reasons which are still unclear some died during the kidnapping attempt and the remainder were killed when the operation failed.

Later described by Sukarno, as nothing more than "a ripple in the mighty ocean of the revolution", the G30S/PKI affair, as it came to be known, was the precursor to one of the most brutal massacres in human history. It was also the beginning of Suharto's rise to power and the birth of the New Order regime.

By blaming the kidnappings on the PKI and referring to the incident as an attempt to overthrow the central government, Suharto and right-wing military officers were able to launch a bloody counter-revolution, one of the most organised slaughters in modern history. Within four months as many as 1 million people were killed, and hundreds of thousands were interned for long periods.

According to New Order mythology -- which even to this day is parroted by western supporters of the regime -- the massacres were a "spontaneous" expression of popular anger at the PKI. Although some aspects of the supposed coup remain unclear, most research suggests that the PKI was not directly involved. Rather it was an internal army affair of which Suharto had prior knowledge and may even have been directly involved.

Within days, military-backed Muslims and students were mobilised against the PKI and the military began training and arming Muslim gangs. Having seized the national radio station and closed down most of the country's newspapers, Suharto could manipulate events in his own interests -- overthrow Sukarno and obliterate the PKI.

The massacres

It was not just the PKI that were targeted. Worker and peasant leaders, writers, intellectuals, left-wing teachers and students -- the entire Indonesian left were rounded up and killed. It was a campaign of terror. Public executions and torture, victims being disembowelled and left to die, all designed to terrorise the population into submission. A massive purge was also carried out against communist "suspects" in the ministries, the armed forces, the press and enterprises playing a vital part in the economy. In its sheer scope, speed and ferocity, there have been few historical presidents. Bertrand Russell wrote in response to the events: "... in four months, five times as many people died in Indonesia as in Vietnam in twelve years".

Time Magazine carried the following report on December 17, 1966: "Communists, red sympathisers and their families are being massacred by the thousands. Backlands army units are reported to have executed thousands of communists after interrogation in remote goals. Armed with wide-bladed knives called parangs, Moslem bands crept at night into the homes of communists, killing entire families and burying their bodies in shallow graves. The murder campaign became so brazen in parts of rural East Java, that Moslem bands placed the heads of victims on poles and paraded them through villages. The killings have been on such a scale that the disposal of the corpses has created a serious sanitation problem in East Java and Northern Sumatra where the humid air bears the reek of decaying flesh. Travellers from those areas tell of small rivers and streams that have been literally clogged with bodies."

Most western nations and the US in particular, openly supported Suharto. Time for example, carried an article titled "The West's best news for years in Asia". Max Franel in an article carried in the New York Times in March, 1966, described the Johnson administrations delight with the situation and noted that Washington's expectations were finally being realised. US Secretary of State, Robert McNamara, before the Senate Foreign Relations, described the elimination of the PKI as "... a hopeful augury of a period in which democratic aspirations will regain ascendancy over an exacerbated nationalism".

Maintaining power

In the wake of these events, hundreds of thousands of others were accused of being involved and were detained in a vast number of prisons, hastily prepared detentions centres, work camps and military units. Known by the acronym Tapol (Tanahan Politik or political prisoner), official estimates on the numbers arrested vary between 600,000 and 750,000. The military hastily established the notorious intelligence body, KOPKAMTIB, to administer the arrest, interrogation and trials of Tapols. Although officially dissolved in the late '80s, its role has been taken over by an equally repressive body, Bakorstanas. KOPKAMTIB broadly classified Tapols into three categories: "A", prisoners awaiting trial for alleged involvement in the G30S/PKI affair; "B", those unable to be charged for lack of evidence and; "C", prisoners described as "awaiting release". Western researchers have pointed out that according to KOPKAMTIB's own guidelines, Suharto who had prior knowledge of the coup and had met a key plotter, Colonel Latief the night before, would have been placed in Category A! They even devised a fourth category, "X", for those yet to be classified.

Although most were released by the late 70s, many were never tried or even charged. Even today Tapols face a life of discrimination, harassment and their children and close relatives are stigmatised. Once described by a human rights lawyer as the "civil dead", there are around 1.3 million ex-Tapols in Indonesia today.

G30S/PKI Tapols were held under intolerable conditions with inadequate food, no bedding, no access to friends or relatives, overcrowding, no recreational activity (other than reading the Bible or Koran), no provision of reading or writing materials, radio or newspapers. They were also denied access to legal protection and left in complete ignorance of their status. Similar conditions exist in Indonesian prisons today. Tapols in particular, are often detained for long periods while they await trial in cramped, dirty and isolated cells even though the state has yet to prove a case against them.


Indonesia has signed, but not ratified, the 1987 UN Convention Against Torture. It is not party to other international treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The US State Department in its 1992 country report concluded that "torture and mistreatment of criminal suspects, detainees, and prisoners are common, and the legal protections are violated by the government". Torture is routinely used to elicit confessions for use at trials, to punish an uncooperative subject and in political cases, to obtain information of the activities of suspected government opponents. It is also used to intimidate and frighten prisoners and as an example to others who might consider opposing the regime.

A wide variety of forms of torture are employed including:

  • application of electric shocks to sensitive parts of the body including the genitals, using a wire either plugged into a wall socket or attached to a small generator;
  • burning the skin with lighted cigarettes;
  • placing the hand or foot under a chair or table leg which the interrogator then sits on;
  • rape, sexual assault and forcing prisoners to witness wives and daughters being raped;
  • food depravation or being forced to eat excrement, drink urine or liquids such as oil;
  • solitary confinement and being left tied in uncomfortable positions for long periods;
  • kicking and severe beating, sometimes with pieces of plywood, pipe or electric cable;
  • immersion in water; and;
  • threats and mock executions.
  • The dread of impending torture is also exploited. G30S/PKI Tapols have described dark rooms, jammed with people, where they are forced to wait while every so often, a prisoner would be taken away only to be returned hours later, battered, burned and often unconscious. They are also forced to listen to or witness the torture of other prisoners, their children or spouses. When brought to trial, "confessions" elicited under torture are invariably accepted as evidence by courts.

    Torture is routinely used by the police and military throughout Indonesia. In the provinces where the military is suppressing separatist movements such as East Timor, human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch/Asia and Amnesty International refer to the practice as "endemic" saying torture is a standard method used to solicit illicit information about suspected guerrilla activity or to force confessions.

    Although torture can be politically costly in the case of internationally-known activists or prolonged political trials, for villagers who are in detention for only a short period, where information about torture only emerges some months later, the risk of diplomatic enquires or international attention is minimal.

    The presence of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the office of the National Commission on Human Rights, and the Catholic church's Commission on Justice and Peace offers little protection in East Timor. Even if access is allowed, this is only possible in Dili and not in the rural areas.

    Almost all branches of the military and police are routinely involved in the practice, the most feared interrogators are those from Kopassus, the army special forces and the various joint counterinsurgency teams they command, and the joint intelligence unit, Satuan Gabungan Ntelijen or SGI, also believed to be directed by Kopassus. The Australian military provides training for Kopassus.

    Rule of law

    Since seizing power, Suharto has gone to great lengths to convince people that his regime respects the rule of law. The reality however, has been quite the opposite.

    Indonesia's criminal code, KUHAP, enacted in 1981, formally established judicial independence and the concept of trias politica (separation of powers) and includes some mechanisms to prevent the unlawful arrest and ill-treatment of suspects. In practice however, obstacles such as the right to counsel, consultations between judges and the military and the control of the appointment of judges by the government ensures that Indonesian judges have a strong bias against defendants. Guilty until proved innocent is the rule. Those who do seek to exercise their legal rights are often subjected to harassment and threats of re-arrest and torture. Lawyers also have found themselves targets of intimidation. Direct military interference in the courts is particularly evident in political trials and in regions where there is a large military presence such as East Timor, Aceh and West Papua.

    Any of these provisions however, can easily be side-stepped by charging suspects under the anti-subversion laws which carry a maximum penalty of death and prohibit a wide and largely undefined array of political activity. These laws essentially allow the military to act as if there is a state of national emergency and to do whatever they like in political cases.

    After gaining independence from the Dutch, the Sukarno government adopted the colonial legal system in its entirety. In effect, colonial law remained in force with changes only to the names: des Konings (the king), became "the president" and Koningkrijk (the kingdom) became "the republic". Even the repressive Haatzaai-Artikelen, "hate-sowing articles", which were enacted ironically, during the rise of the nationalist movement, became part of newly independent Indonesian law.

    Suharto expanded these laws in 1969 to penalise any activity deemed to be inconsistent with, distort, undermine or deviate from the state ideology of Pancasila (as defined by the government). In a report on the Indonesian legal system, the Lawyers Committee For Human Rights described the law as a vague and broadly defined statute which can be used whenever the regime wishes to persecute someone for exercising their fundamental rights to freedom, assembly, association and religion. Amnesty International estimates that there are more than 150 prisoners of conscience who have been convicted and are being held under these and related laws.

    Violence and shock therapy

    Although killings on the scale of 1965 have not been repeated, violence against those exercising their fundamental rights to freedom, assembly, association and religion continued to be a feature of the Suharto regime. As with the Santa Cruz massacre, the regime has also sought to legitimise the use of violence by trying the survivors of massacres while the perpetrators -- usually the military -- are deemed to have acted in the interests of maintaining "national security". Even in rare cases when international pressure has forced the regime to try military officers accused of such killings -- as in the case of the Santa Cruz massacre -- they have only received minor reprimands or light sentences.

    Killing the urban poor

    On 12 September 1984, dozens of people were killed and injured when troops fired on Muslim demonstrators in the port district of Tanjung Priok, North Jakarta. This was the climax of a series of incidents which began on September 7, when a preacher held a sermon at a local mosque condemning government policy. Leaflets were also distributed and anti-government slogans painted on walls. When a local security officer entered the mosque and ordered that the slogans be painted over, he was ignored. He then soaked paper in drain water and used this to black out the signs. Feelings were further incensed because the officer entered the mosque in muddy boots (shoes must normally be removed before entering a mosque). As the angry crowed swelled, the officer made a hasty retreat. Police returned later and arrested four people.

    Five days later, a well-respected Muslim leader, Amir Biki, set up a street podium repeating the criticisms before a large crowd and demanding the release of the four detainees. The authorities ignored requests for their release and by evening, a huge crowd had gathered and marched to the police station where their colleges were being held. Eyewitness reports say the demonstrators were stopped before they reached the police office by a company of air artillery troops which had barracks in the area and three truckloads of soldiers with automatic weapons. Without warning, troops began firing directly into the crowd. Some of the injured who rose to their feet were killed by bayonets and bystanders who tried to help the injured were also shot.

    Soon after the massacre, army trucks arrived to remove the bodies, the injured being taken to the Jakarta Army Hospital -- other hospitals were instructed not to accept casualties. Fire engines arrived soon afterwards to wash away the blood. Since all of the killed and wounded were taken away by the military, the exact number of victims is still unclear. The most comprehensive report, compiled by the Al Araf Mosque put the number at 63, with more than 100 seriously wounded.

    The following day, then Armed Forces Chief, General Benny Murdani, summoned editors of all of the Jakarta newspapers to give his version of events. Admitting that troops had fired "in the direction of the mob", he claimed that only nine people had died and 53 has been injured. Most reports in the Indonesian press supported Murdani's version of events.

    The following October, a spate of bombings and fires rocked Jakarta which many believed was motivated by widespread anger at Murdani's statements. The targets of the bombings and fires were businesses owned by either long-term business partners of Suharto such as Liem Sioe Liong or members of his family. Nine people were later tried and given heavy sentences for the bombings. In April 1985, sentences of one to three years were passed against 28 people accused of participating in the Tanjung Priok demonstrations who were charged with "waging resistance with violence" against the armed forces. Many of the accused were seriously wounded -- some crippled for life -- and calls for a public enquiry were ignored.

    In early 1983, bodies riddled with bullets began to appear in the streets of Yogyakarta, Central Java. The so-called "mysterious shootings" or Petrus, soon spread to Jakarta and other major cities in Java and Sumatra. Although it was well known that the killings were being carried out by a para-commando unit called Kopassandha, at the time Suharto publicly denied military involvement. Murdani claimed that they were a result of "inter-gang warfare".

    Most victims were "petty criminals" killed soon after release from jail. The director of the Cipinang Prison, stated that 95 percent of the Jakarta killings were those who had been released from prison, often within two or three days after release. Prisoners became so fearful, some pleaded to be allowed to stay past their term. Others committed crimes the moment they got out so as to be rearrested. Thousands of others fled to mountain villages and were forced to beg for food. Although authorities initially tried to round them up, eventually they stopped with one officer saying "just let them die of hunger".

    Then in June, Murdani publicly acknowledged that it was a national campaign to "combat crime" saying it was "good" because Indonesia is promoting tourism and that Indonesia would be a safer country. This was confirmed the following month by Ali Murtopo (who organised the invasion of East Timor) who said that the killings were ordered by the government because "conventional methods to combat crime have proved inappropriate in Indonesia".

    Although the exact number killed is unclear, one Indonesian journalist who had been monitoring the killings calculated that by the end of 1983, 8,500 people had been murdered in East Java alone. In Yogyakarta, bodies were dumped in wells leading to tunnels which go out to the ocean. Witnesses in Central Java said that they had seen army trucks arrive twice weekly to dump bodies in caves which they believed were being brought from Central as well as East Java.

    In his 1989 autobiography, Suharto confirmed he had personally authorised the killings giving orders to "shoot to kill", saying that "....we needed to have our own treatment, firm measures" and that it was done "....for the purpose of shock therapy".

    In 1994, another wave of Petrus occurred, this time far more blatantly with uniformed officers carrying out the shootings in Jakarta. According to police around 24 people were shot in the first two months of 1994. Police claimed that those killed were trying to escape or resisting arrest. In total 60 to 70 were shot, many repeatedly in the legs. In North Sumatra 74 were shot with 8 dead. Armed Forces Chief Faisal Tanjung said if "bandits" do not heed the first warning "there is nothing left but to exterminate them".

    In June 1996, fearful of Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) chairperson Megawati Sukarnoputri's rising popularity and worried that under her leadership the PDI could out-poll the state party Golkar, Suharto engineered her removal through a fake party conference. The participants, all hand-picked and brought in at the state's expense, performed as expected and "elected" Suharto's choice for the position, Suryadi.

    Megawati's followers resisted by occupying the party's headquarters in Central Jakarta and holding open air forums. As the days passed, they began to draw huge crowds who listened to speakers from a wide range of opposition groups who spoke in support of Megawati's leadership of the PDI, condemned Suharto and openly called for him to step down.

    In the early morning of July 27, soldiers and hired thugs masscarading as pro-Suryadi PDI supporters, retook the offices. Knifing and bludgeoning anyone who happened to be in and around the building, they killed an estimated 50 people and injured scores more. Video footage later used in an investigation into the incident, clearly showed government stooges leaving the PDI headquarters and being handed money as payment for the attack. In other scenes, bodies could be seen being rushed away and fire trucks brought in to wash away the blood. The government later insisted only five people had died in the attack.

    As rumours spread throughout the city, crowds gathered around the headquarters. Soldiers, deployed on every adjacent street, blocked their access. As the day wore on, the crowds grew larger and angrier, with protesters hurling rocks and petrol bombs at troops. Sporadic clashes continued until the afternoon when soldiers went on the offensive, chasing people through the streets, beating and arresting anyone who was unable to escape. Dozens of buildings including shopping centres, banks and other symbols of wealth were torched by the angry mobs.

    Although an investigation by the government's own human rights commission found that the attack was organised and carried out by the military and that they were responsible for the rioting which followed, Suharto needed a scapegoat. The People's Democratic Party (PRD), which the regime had been itching to rid itself of, was accused of masterminding the riots. At a press conference by the head of military socio-political affairs, General Syarwan Hamid announced that protesters would be "shot on sight" and ordered all PRD members to be hunted down and arrested. Fifteen members were later jailed for subversion including PRD chair Budiman Sudjatmiko and Indonesian Centre for Labour Centre chair Dita Indah Sari. During the trials, the charge that the PRD was behind the riots was dropped due to lack of evidence.

    Killing workers

    On May 8, 1993, three days after a leading a strike at the P.T. Catur Putra Surya watch factory in Surabaya, East Java, a women activist named Marsinah was found dead in a remote hut. The medical examination found that she had died as a result of injuries inflicted during torture. Wounds on her neck and wrists indicated that she had been severely beaten, had suffered internal hemorrhaging and been raped with a blunt instrument before being killed.

    Although there was considerable circumstantial evidence that she had been kidnapped and killed by the military, in 1994 nine managerial personal and security guards from the factory were tried and convicted of the murder. All of the defendants claimed they had been tortured in order to extract confessions. On May 5, 1995, all nine were released.

    In June 1998, Marsinah's case was re-opened on the admission of Captain Kusaeri that she was tortured and killed at Kodim (District Military Command) and not by the police.

    On October 27, 1994, Budi Santosa Surbakti, an activist with the Legal Aid Institute (LBH) in Bandung, West Java, died as a result of injuries allegedly sustained in a motor vehicle accident.

    There are a number of reasons to doubt the police version of events. Budi's only injuries were a deep wound to the back of his head. He had none of the injuries usually associated with a traffic accident. When his scooter was returned by police, there were no signs that it had been involved in an accident. No explanation has been given as to why he was detained for police for three hours, why he was not treated for his injuries or why an autopsy was not performed.

    A month before his death, he had brought the head of the East Bandung police to court on charges of illegally arresting three worker activists from a textile factory, P.T. Cramtex. Although the court found in favour of police and the workers were jailed, at the time of his death, Budi had allegedly uncovered new evidence implicating the police.

    On April 30, 1994, a worker activist at P.T. Kahatex, Bandung, Titie Sugiarti, was found dead in a waist pond near her quarters at the factory. Titie had been active in the worker movement since 1992 and friends said she was planning a strike at the end of May. On February 3, she had been involved in organising a strike at the Kahatex Factory in Cigonnewa, Cijerah, Bandung.

    On May 13, LBH Nusantara began an independent investigation into the case. In their May 24 report, the team cited a number of suspicious facts surrounding her death: evidence that the site had been damaged by company security personnel; the death was not reported to local police; the autopsy gave no explanation for blood which ran from her mouth, ears, nose and when pressure was applied to her stomach and; a number of people who testified they heard screams on the night of her death.

    The team concluded that she was taken from her bed by one or more assailants, tortured and/or beaten and thrown dead or near death into the pond. They also believe that assailants must have been known by security personnel as all people leaving and entering the factory grounds are checked and questioned the fact that nearby security staff failed to hear the screams.

    On March 11, Rusli, a worker activist, was found dead in the Deli river in Medan, North Sumatra two days after leading a strike at P.T. Industri Karet Deli. Official reports said that he tripped and fell into the river during the commotion when security forces attempted to break up the strike.

    Witnesses however, claim they saw Rusli being pursued and clubbed by security personnel on March 9 and that he jumped into the river in an attempt to escape. Furthermore, they pointed out that he had grown up near the Deli river and knew the area well, was an excellent swimmer and it is unlikely that he could have drowned in water only a metre or so deep. The failure by the police to release any official report into the incident one month after his death fueled speculations of an official cover up.

    Killing peasants

    As many as 100 people were killed on February 7, 1989, when troops surrounded the hamlet of Talangsari, in Lampung, South Sumatra, opening fire at the villagers and setting fire to their homes. Officials immediately imposed a clampdown on information and closed off the area. Only one journalist, an Asiaweek correspondent, succeeded in getting close to the village. In the February 24 issue of the magazine she wrote: "This week Talangsari lay in ruins. A child's foot poked out from under the ashes of what was once a house. This and eleven other piles of ashes and scorched beams are nearly all that remained of the hamlet of 300 people."

    According to the official version released on February 9, only 27 people were killed and troops were brought in after an unsuccessful attempt to summon the leader of a "deviant" Muslim group. It was alleged that when a group of officers drove to the hamlet, they were met with poisoned arrows and had to retreat leaving one officer behind, badly wounded. The next day troops were sent in to retrieve the body of the officer, who was by then dead, and again came under attack and "a close-range battle was unavoidable".

    According other sources however, the incident erupted after several people were arrested and tortured by the military in early January. Villagers retaliated by ambushing the officer responsible, taking him hostage and offering his release in exchange for their detained colleagues. Three days later, troops from Kopassus, attacked the village.

    The real reason behind the tensions in the region were never acknowledged by the government. Since 1977, residents in the area had been under pressure to make way for a reforestation project after the region was pronounced a conservation area. In January 1988, the inhabitants were told they must leave the area. No compensation was offered. Residents however believed that this was an excuse to clear the land for Jakarta speculators. One of the companies granted permission to implement the reforestation program was PT Citra Lamtoro-gung, owned by Suharto's oldest daughter, Tutut.

    Between November 19 and December 7, 1988, 476 houses were burnt down in more than a dozen villages. In other incidents, crops were burnt, rice stocks and other foodstuffs destroyed, vehicles smashed and money extorted from inhabitants. Calls for an independent inquiry by legal and human rights groups were ignored and scores were later tried for subversion and received long jail sentences.

    More recently, peasants resisting land evictions have also been killed by the military. In July 1993, two Muslim scholars were shot dead and a number of others badly wounded when police attack yet another alleged "religious sect" in Haur Koneng, West Java. In September 1993, four people were killed by troops in Nipah, on the Island of Madura, where they were demonstrating against land being cleared for a dam project.

    Suppressing national liberation struggles

    Although military suppression of national liberation struggles in East Timor and West Papua are well known, equally violent incidents have occurred in the province of Aceh, North Sumatra. Designated as a "semiautonomous zone", the region is devoutly Muslim, rich in oil, minerals and timber, and has long history of economic exploitation by Jakarta. Popular sentiment for Aceh to succeed from Indonesia has become widespread in recent years leading to a number of armed clashes between Indonesian troops and what the government terms Gerombolan Pengacau Keamanan (GPK), "security disturbance gangs".

    Since the early '90's, Aceh has been officially declared a wilayah operasi militer (military operational region), which gives the military almost unlimited powers to conduct house-to- house searches, roadblocks, ID checks and body searches.

    A 1992 report by the US based human rights organisation Asia Watch, stated that "...as many as 1000 may have died since mid-1989 in a combination of separatist guerrilla attacks and army reprisals, disappearances remain unresolved, suspected guerrillas continue to be shot on the spot rather than taken into custody, large numbers of people are believed to remain in unacknowledged detention and trials which violate international norms of fairness continued to take place". Other sources have put the number of deaths at more than 2000 with hundreds being tried and jailed for being alleged members of the GPK. Thousands of others have been forced to flee to nearby Malaysia.

    Since open conflict broke out in the late 1980s, Indonesia has consistently refused to allow international human rights organisations into the region. Even the International Red Cross has been denied access.

    Although the level of violence seems to have diminished since its peak in 1992-93, human rights organisations such as Tapol describe the present situation as "grim" and say the situation has steadily worsening since June 1996. Soldiers in full combat uniforms are again harassing people in the streets, checking IDs and setting up roadblocks. People have been forced to participate in "fence of legs" operations in which they are forced to march in front of troops as a shield in field operations to flush out guerrillas. They have also been forced to participate in neighbourhood security systems. Night patrols are rigidly enforced; those who display "unwillingness" or "slackness" in carrying out their duties are subject to severe punishments. There have also been sporadic outbursts of violence between guerrillas and Indonesian troops and reports of arbitrary executions.

    The Balibo killings

    On October 16, 1967, five Australian and British reporters, Greg Shackleton, Tony Stewart, Gary Cunningham, Malcolm Rennie and Brian Peters, were killed during an attack by Kopassandah (secret warfare) troops on Balibo, a mountain outpost on the border between east and west Timor, held by a small force of Fretilin soldiers. The incident has been the subject of numerous unresolved inquires, but Jakarta has always insisted that they were caught in the crossfire and their deaths were accidental.

    More recent reports however, indicate that they were deliberately targeted to prevent them reporting on preparations for the launch of a full-scale invasion. In an interview aired on SBS's World View program on October 15, 1997, an officer of a Timorese faction aligned to Indonesia at the time said the attack on Balibo was conducted with the sole objective of killing the journalists.

    "Objectively, it was to hunt down the journalists so they wouldn't witness the invasion ...the objective was not to arrest them", said the unidentified officer, who had access to the Indonesian command.

    "It was a surprise attack. They surrounded them. They retreated but they couldn't escape. They stayed inside the house and there they were killed. Some were shot, others were beaten to death", he said.

    Despite the fact that the Australian Defence Department was monitoring radio communication at the time and often knew more about the situation than the generals in Jakarta, the Australian government made no protest whatsoever and accepted the official explanation of their deaths. Many commentators have suggested that Australia's silence gave Jakarta the "green light" to begin the full-scale invasion of East Timor several weeks later.

    Killing journalists

    Censorship, harassment, intimidation and imprisonment is nothing new to the media in Indonesia. In 1994, it was estimated that some 2000 books and publications had been banned by the Indonesian authorities since 1965.

    Journalists reporting on "taboo" issues such as questioning the official version of what happened in 1965, the Suharto family's business dealings or human rights issues, regularly have their stories censored. They are also prevented from publishing or are sacked by editors on government orders. Others have been arrested and sentenced to terms of imprisonment for writings which are considered to have " insulted" the president or undermined the authority of the state. But over the last two years, a number of journalists investigating sensitive issues such as corruption by high level government officials, have frequently found themselves targets of more direct state sponsored violence.

    On July 25, 1997, Naimullah, a reporter with the Jakarta daily Sinar Pagi was found dead in the back seat of his car in Pantai Peniungan, about 90 kilometres from Pontianak, the capital of West Kalimantan. He had suffered multiple stab wounds to his neck and bruises to his head and body.

    According to reports in the 28 July editions of the newspapers Media Indonesia and Akcaya, Naimullah was investigating a case of illegal logging and was last seen with four men, one of whom worked for a company suspected of being involved with case.

    On July 21, Andreas Harsono, a Jakarta-based journalist involved with the Independent Journalist Association (AJI), was attacked in his car by unidentified thugs while driving home. A number of AJI journalists been harassed, arrested and jailed since its formation following the banning of three major news weeklies in June 1994. At around 8.45pm, a car began driving slowly in front of Harsono's vehicle, preventing him from passing. About 20 metres from a toll bridge the car stopped and two others dismounted from a motorbike and ran towards his car armed with hammers shouting "here he is". They then smashed the windshield and tried to force the doors open, but Harsono was able escape in his car unhurt.

    On June 12, Mohamad Sayuti, a journalist from an Ujung Padang (South Sulawasi) weekly, Pos Makasar also died under mysterious circumstances. Sayuti had been researching allegations of official corruption in the Kaya sub-district shortly before he was killed. He is believed to have been seeking confirmation for the story from the Kaya sub-district head when witnesses said they heard screams soon after Sayuti entered the official's house.

    He was later found unconscious and bleeding, and died two days latter in hospital without regaining consciousness. The daily's editor, Harun Rasyid, told reporters that "his family and us, believe that there were strong indications that he was murdered". Family members have said that the day before his death, he had received a phone threat related to his investigation.

    In August 1996, a journalist with the Yogyakarta based newspaper Bernas, Fuad Muhammad Syafruddin, better known as Udin, died under mysterious circumstances. At the time he was investigating a corruption case involving the regent of Bantul, Central Java, Colonel Sri Rosa Sudarmo. It was alleged that Sudarmo had donated money to the Dharmais Foundation, headed by Suharto, to secure his reappointment.

    On a number of occasions prior to his death, he had been called into the local military headquarters for informal meetings with the local military commander. The day before he was attacked, there were also reports of unidentified men asking about Udin's whereabouts in the area where he lived.

    On August 13, around 10.30pm, two men came to Udin's house in Bantul. After a short time, Ny Marsiyem, Udin's wife, heard a noise and went outside and found him lying on the ground bleeding from his ears. Udin was rushed to hospital with head and internal injuries. He never regained consciousness and died on August 16.

    The following day, the police announced they had arrested Dwi Sumaji, an employee with an advertising company for the murder. They also claimed that they had found an iron bar, allegedly the murder weapon, and some clothing at the suspect's house. Later the police claimed that the iron-bar and a T-shirt were stained with Udin's blood. Despite the fact that Sudarmo was implicated in the murder, he was never questioned by police. It later transpired that Sumaji had been plied with drink, provided with a prostitute, and promised money by police in return for confessing to Udin's murder.

    Despite numerous irregularities in the investigation and courts rejecting the police case four times for lack of evidence, Sumaji's trial began on July 29. Speaking in court on August 5, Sumaji asserted he had been framed by the police saying, "I have been sacrificed for a political business and to protect a political Mafia". He also named Edy Wuryanto as the officer who tried to bribe him and force him to make the confessions. Wuryanto had already been found guilty of destroying evidence in the case.

    The Santa Cruz massacre

    On November 12, 1991, a memorial service was held in the Motael church in Dili for Sebastiao Gomes, a student killed by the military during an earlier raid on the church. Following the mass, mourners marched from the church to the Santa Cruz cemetery. According to resistance sources, the military was able to infiltrate the crowd and employed agents provocateurs who tried to take flags and banners from some of the marchers. In the ensuing scuffle, an East Timorese agent was injured, which Indonesia later claimed had resulted in the stabbing of a Javanese major.

    The military arrived at the southern end of the cemetery in trucks, dismounted and without warning, began firing into the crowd. Many were unable to escape and died on the spot, others who did manage to escape were pursued and killed. The wounded, including those being treated in a civilian hospital, were taken to a nearby military hospital. At least 270 died and were secretly buried in mass graves. Resistance reports assert that as many as 200 more were rounded up and killed in the days following the massacre.

    The day after, General Sutrisno, then armed forces commander and Indonesia's vice-president between 1993 and 1997, defended the shootings saying that the military intended to "exterminate anyone who disrupts stability". According to a report in the Indonesian daily Jayakarta on November 14, 1991, Sutrisno told a military seminar that the disruption in Dili was the work of "ill-bred people who have to be shot". He went on to say that troops showed great restraint but were goaded into anger. "In the end they had to be shot ... And we will shoot them".

    Following the international outcry, Jakarta was forced to carry out an "independent" investigation into the incident and despite earlier claims that only a small number had died, later admitted that 50 people had been killed. A number of soldiers were later tried by military courts but received only light sentences. Those accused of organising the demonstration, were later sentenced to long jail terms.

    James Balowski is ASIET's Information and Publications Officer. Some of this material appeared in Green Left Weekly Issue no. 247, dated September 18, 1996, written by the author.

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