The Jakarta Post
A victim of the 1965 anticommunist purges in Medan, North Sumatra, Astaman Hasibuan, raised his voice in protest against the controversial film The Act of Killing, which tells the story of the massacre of Indonesian Communist Party ( PKI ) members in North Sumatra.
The film leaves out the role of the military, whereas in fact, said Astaman, most of the murders of PKI members in the province were committed by members of the military.
“The film did not involve the military, despite the fact that soldiers carried out the massacres. I voice my protest,” Astaman told The Jakarta Post on Friday.
The 72-year-old man said he was about to be killed by the military in 1965, but as he was riding on a truck to Labuhan Deli, he leapt off the truck and dove into a river to save his life. Ever since then, he added, he was hunted by soldiers.
“I was repeatedly caught but was able to escape. However, in 1968, I could no longer run and was locked up in a prison on Jl. Gandhi, Medan, until 1972. Then, I was moved to Sukamulia Prison until my release in December, 1977,” he said.
Asked what he had done wrong to be detained for nine years, Astaman said he was unaware of any wrongdoing, but added that perhaps he was detained because he was a member of the PKI’s Medan chapter of the People’s Cultural Institute ( LEKRA ). Astaman said LEKRA was not a PKI organization but many PKI members were involved in it.
He added all of the caretakers of LEKRA’s Medan chapter had passed away, except him. He said only around 15 victims of the 1965 violence in Medan were still alive today.
“We feel sad when we remember the past. We can’t stand recalling the incident. It’s enough. Everything is history. Now, we can live in peace,” said Astaman, who acknowledged he was once interviewed by Joshua Lincoln Oppenheimer for the making of the film.
Astaman, who acknowledged he had read the film’s synopsis, said he was disappointed with the film as directed by Oppenheimer because it was not objective and it tended to blame youths as the murderers of PKI members, although the massacres were carried out by soldiers.
Astaman urged the government to immediately investigate the incident truthfully and restore the good names of all victims.
The North Sumatra branch of the Indonesian Missing Persons Family Alliance ( IKOHI ) said The Act of Killing, starring Anwar Kongo, showed the killings were carried out without a legal basis.
Suwardi, the head of the North Sumatra branch of IKOHI, said the film demonstrated gross human rights violations had taken place during the 1965 purges.
“The film has indirectly told the world that Indonesia is currently behind in resolving cases of basic human rights violations,” said Suwardi, expressing the hope the state would no longer tolerate human rights violations.
The film was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 8. The film was shot in North Sumatra and was directed by Oppenheimer, an American citizen.
The leading actor is Anwar Kongo, 72, who was also present in 1965. The actor acknowledged a massacre against PKI members took place in North Sumatra, but added that PKI members also did the same against youths and Muslim clerics.
Anwar, who was then affiliated with the Pemuda Pancasila youth organization, described the situation during 1965 as quite tense because if Indonesian youths lacked the courage to kill PKI members, they would have been killed instead by the PKI.
Anwar acknowledged the tense situation in the film was dramatized by Oppenheimer and was no longer in line with the original script.
He said Oppenheimer had changed the title of the film from its original title Arsan and Aminah, in reference to the romance between two lovers when the violence broke out.
In the film, Anwar said he played the role of Arsan, a Pemuda Pancasila member who falls in love with a Gerwani member named Aminah.
“I felt cheated because I was never informed about the change in title. If I knew, I would not have acted in the film,” Anwar said, adding the film was made around nine years ago.