Jakarta: First they ripped out Lukas Tumiso’s toenails. Then they jammed his mangled toes under a table leg. “I was badly tortured,” Tumiso says. “They hit my nose with an iron bar until it was deformed.”
It was December 1965 and Tumiso had been arrested by a military officer on his way home from university in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city. He was suspected of leftist leanings because he was a member of a student association affiliated with the Indonesian Communist Party PKI, and had participated in anti-Malaysia and anti-Hollywood protests.
Suharto (right) and Sukarno during an Independence Day parade in Jakarta in 1967.
Tumiso was also suspect because he had previously been a primary school teacher in Ujung Pangkah, a remote village 50 kilometres from Surabaya.
“At that time teachers were considered intellectuals,” Tumiso says. “Communications were so remote – there were only two transistor radios in the area, including one in my village. People would go to the teacher to ask how to name their baby, what is the best time to plant rice?”
Every night Tumiso would meet the farmers in their rice fields at night and discuss agrarian law.
Former government official Marzuki, 80, will go to The Hague to watch the trial.
Photo: Tatan Syuflana
“Farmers who lived in urban areas were able to keep 50 per cent of their crops but in remote areas like mine landlords were taking 80 per cent. This created a tense situation and clashes between them. This upset landlords and they [farmers] were accused of being communists.”
As the village guru – the Indonesian word for teacher – Tumiso says he was also an easy target.
This year is the 50th anniversary of Indonesia’s bloody October. It marked the beginning of a communist purge led by Major-General Suharto’s army, which annihilated the political left in Indonesia.
Lukas Tumiso, pictured last month at a nursing home in Jakarta, Indonesia, was tortured in 1965.
Photo: Tatan Syuflana
The pogrom was triggered by the assassination of six army generals on September 30, 1965, in a coup blamed on the now-defunct PKI. An estimated 500,000 to 1 million people labelled “communists” were massacred in what the CIA described as “one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century”.
“The nation dissolved into terror – people even stopped eating fish for fear that fish were eating corpses,” writes documentary filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer, who spent 12 years investigating the genocide.
Sexual violence was rampant. Hundreds of thousands of people were detained without trial, including about 12,000 who were sent to the Buru Island gulag.
Major-General Suharto in 1966.
“I have abnormal vision because they hit us with whatever they found on the ground,” says Tumiso, who was imprisoned for more than 10 years on the island. His wife remarried while he was in jail.
Now 75, Tumiso is wearing a T-shirt with a print based on Djoko Pekik’s famous painting Indonesia 1998 Berburu Celeng (Indonesia hunts wild boar). The artwork, painted when Suharto stepped down in 1998 after his 32-year dictatorship, features thousands celebrating the capture of a fat wild boar.
But Tumiso is still not celebrating. “I don’t want to talk about my life on Buru Island, I will tell you about the impact. I still have dreams I’m in prison and I had a mental breakdown. What happened in 1965 should be resolved by the government.”
This week Indonesia has publicly wrestled with what one commentator described as its “political amnesia”. In 2012, the Indonesian national human rights commission Komnas HAM released a damning report into the killings. The four-year investigation found security forces and civilian squads had committed crimes against humanity. It recommended a criminal inquiry and the establishment of an ad hoc human rights court to try the perpetrators.
None of this has happened. Hopes were raised during the election campaign last year when Joko Widodo – now the president of Indonesia – promised to address past human rights abuses including the 1965 massacre.
“President Widodo has a golden opportunity to use his mandate to ensure that the past is no longer forgotten in Indonesia,” says Amnesty International’s Indonesia researcher, Papang Hidayat.
However there appears to be little political appetite. Progress on the establishment of a joint team to settle past human rights abuses has stalled. Muhammadiyah – the second biggest Islamic organisation in Indonesia – announced, following a meeting with Joko Widodo this month, that the president had no intention of issuing an apology to the victims and families of the 1965 purge.
“‘Let bygones be bygones’ has been the national mantra to address the cry for justice by survivors, as well as the victims’ families since Suharto fell from power in 1998,” Jakarta-based journalist Prodita Sabarini writes in the Asia Literary Review.
She says this mantra has been used by everyone from the Indonesian government to Indonesia’s largest Islamic organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama, whose units were involved in the killing squads.
Sabarini writes that her own parents – who lived through the massacres – are among those averse to the idea of a national apology or reconciliation. They argue that those responsible have died and the president should focus on tackling poverty and natural disasters.
Children schooled during the Suharto regime were fed a diet of communism fear and loathing. Most were exposed to annual screenings of the bloody government-sponsored propaganda film, Pemberontakan G30S/PKI (the September 30 Rebellion by the Indonesian Communist Party). The Pengkhianatan PKI (Communist Betrayal) Museum in East Jakarta remains a bizarre shrine to the New Order version of history. Suharto is portrayed as the “sensible” saviour of the nation. Gory dioramas depict the torture of the army generals at the hands of the communists, even though their autopsy reports did not indicate this.
“The museum is built as one of (the) means to remind people of Indonesia that there is a danger of latent communism whose ideology is infirm,” reads a sign near the exit.
There is still a stigma surrounding communism in Indonesia. The first principle of Pancasila, the philosophical foundation of the Indonesian state, is a belief in the one and only God. Six religions are recognised by Indonesia – Islam, Catholicism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Protestantism and Hinduism. This has been criticised for enabling a culture of repression against atheists and, ipso facto, communists.
“It’s still such a heavy burden to carry – that idea of being communist in Indonesia,” says Monash University research fellow Dr Jemma Purdey, who has helped co-ordinate the translation of three accounts of the 1965-66 mass violence in Indonesia. (Until now few have been available in English.) “Part of the silence in Indonesia … is bound up in that.”
Amnesty International warns that victims “continue to face discrimination in law and practice”. Earlier this year a mob targeted 200 victims gathered to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the advocacy group YPKP 65 in West Sumatra. A few days later police cancelled a meeting to discuss the health needs of victims in Solo following protests from some Islamic groups.
However journalist Sabarini believes the eyes of the post-1965 generation have been opened by documentary films such as Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence.
“We are asking questions of our elders and the answers reveal that we were not only lied to by the state, but have also been deprived of our families’ histories,” she writes. “Unburdened by ideological wars, we see the massacre in simple terms – a slaughter of helpless civilians.”
It was also Oppenheimer who galvanised a group of human rights activists to establish the International People’s Tribunal on Genocide and Crimes against Humanity.
Lawyer Nursyahbani Katjasungkana was in the audience of a screening of The Act of Killing at the Matter Festival in The Hague in 2013. In a speech after the screening Oppenheimer said: “I have done my job as filmmaker. How will you fight for the dignity of your nation?”
“We were shocked at what he said, I thought it was such a provocative question,” Nursyahbani recalls. “On that day, March 23, 2013, we really felt it was time to fight for justice. In the end we decided to bring the 1965 case to the International Tribunal in The Hague.”
The tribunal hearing will be held on November 10 to 13 before an international panel of judges.
“The verdict will be in the form of a recommendation and is not binding,” says Nursyahbani.
But the activists point to similar special courts, such as the Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery, which issued its final statement in The Hague in 2001. They say the experiences of other International People’s Tribunals is that they create a climate of respect for human rights and the healing process of victims and their families.
They also hope the verdict will be used as a basis for changing school history textbooks and “countering the hate propaganda” produced by the Suharto regime.
“We will take the verdict to the UN office in Geneva,” says Nursyahbani. “We want to ask them to come to Indonesia and ask the Indonesian government to carry out an investigation. We understand that the big fish have passed away. But there are still victims who are alive and can tell what they have gone through.”
Former government official Marzuki, 80, wants one thing more than anything else: “I am not a communist, I want my name to be cleared”.
In 1965 Marzuki was blindfolded, beaten up and then frog marched to a burial ground and ordered to dig a hole. He was interrogated inside the hole. Finally, a man Marzuki describes as a “subordinate of Suharto” forced him to confess he was a communist. His crime? He had joined a labour union that was affiliated with an umbrella organisation that was affiliated with the PKI. This tenuous association was sufficient grounds for Marzuki to be jailed for 14 years, including 10 in the infamous Buru Island prison.
Despite his frailty, Marzuki will fly to The Hague next month to testify. He says Joko Widodo should issue a presidential decree restoring his name and the names of all others falsely accused of being communists.
“I want my money back. I was a civil servant at the time,” Marzuki says. “I want my salary, I want my rights, I want a pension. Of course I want the government to apologise. I want rehabilitation, reconciliation and compensation. It should be written in a presidential decree that shows what happened to us is reality. It’s not just empty words, empty air.”
with Karuni Rompies
The series of three translated accounts of the 1965-66 Mass Violence in Indonesia co-ordinated by Dr Kate McGregor and Dr Jemma Purdey will be launched at Bar Luna in Ubud at 6.30pm on October 27 as part of the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival.
Source The Age Australia, October 2 2015