Life

Loyal, outspoken, loved:
Mochtar's friends remember


A. Junaidi, The Jakarta Post/Jakarta

To the young people today, especially young reporters, the name of Mochtar Lubis does not carry much currency. This towering figure in Indonesia's journalism is indeed more appreciated abroad than in his own country, according to one of his friends.

Poet and environmental activist Eka Budianta said he first learned about Mochtar's international fame in a ceremony dedicated to him in the Philippines long time ago.

He said he was moved by a citation given to Mochtar as ""the true living hero"" of Asia following the recognition of Mochtar's works in Indonesia.

""As the audience gave him a long standing ovation, I burst into tears,"" said Eka in a night of friends' gathering in memory and tribute to the journalist-cum-novelist, painter, environmental and human rights activist, and orchid and ceramics lover at Taman Ismail Marzuki on Thursday.

Mochtar died on July 2 in Jakarta from lung disease. He was 82 years old. He was survived by three children and eight grandchildren. His wife, Halimah, died three years ago.

Mochtar received only jail terms from his country, Eka said. Indeed, Mochtar was jailed several times during both the Sukarno and Soeharto regimes.

The Megawati Soekarnoputri government, gave Mochtar the Bintang Mahaputra award on Saturday, 30 years after he won the Ramon Magasaysay award, for journalism and literature, from the Philippines.

Mochtar's vast range of interests continued to amaze his friends and admirers at Thursday's gathering.

Among his friends in attendance were lawyer Adnan Buyung Nasution, senior journalists Atmakusumah Astraatmadja and D.H. Assegaf, political scientist Mochtar Pabottingi, writer Ramadhan K.H. and short-story writer Hamsad Rangkuti.

Adnan who along with Mochtar and other activists founded the respected Indonesian Legal Aid Institute Foundation, said Mochtar was a true supporter of the Constitution due to his devotion to uphold the principles of a constitutional state.

At the ceremony at the Taman Ismail Marzuki Art Center in Central Jakarta on Thursday evening Buyung said his interest in the law was inspired when he read investigative reports in the Indonesia Raya daily, in which Mochtar Lubis was the chief editor, in the 1950s. Buyung was a student of Budi Utomo high school at the time.

He said the daily bravely reported corruption cases involving big businessmen and high-ranking officials, including foreign minister Roeslan Abdoelgani, the close aide of first president Sukarno.

Besides the corruption cases, the reports that angered the government most were on Sukarno's affair with Hartini, whom he eventually married. The reports led his wife, Fatmawati, the mother of President Megawati Soekarnoputri, to leave the presidential palace.

The Sukarno regime, backed by the military, banned the daily and jailed Mochtar for nine years until 1966 without trial.

""I was the one who held the key that unlocked Mochtar's cell. I was a prosecutor at that time and I was proud that I could meet Mochtar,"" Buyung said.

Mochtar's journalistic career started when he became a foreign news editor for the state news agency Antara in 1945 before he co-founded Indonesia Raya in 1948.

Mochtar's tribulations did not end with the passing of the Old Order. The New Order regime of Soeharto turned out to be no less repressive than its predecessor.

The daily, which resumed publication in 1968, was banned by Soeharto's regime in 1974 due to its reports on corruption in the state oil and gas mining company Pertamina.

Mochtar, was jailed for two and a half months but released by then attorney general Ali Said.

Eka, who along with Mochtar founded the Indonesian Green Foundation, said Mochtar was never afraid of anything, including the military, save from a possibility that his wife might fall ill.

""During my friendship, I never saw a noted writer as loyal as Mochtar was to his wife,"" he said.

Indonesia Raya's former journalist and novelist Hana Rambe once said to Mochtar that he could live abroad, get high respect and meet another woman.

""No, I don't want another woman. I just want my Hali,"" Mochtar replied as quoted by Hana in the ceremony. Hali was the nickname of Mochtar's late wife.

Daniel Dhakidae of Kompas daily called Mochtar a universal man who should have lived during the renaissance period in the 18 century. ""Many people did not realize that Mochtar was also an avid yoga practitioner,"" he said.

Among Mochtar's literary works are famous novels, such as Harimau! Harimau! (Tiger! Tiger !) Senja di Jakarta (Dusk in Jakarta) and Jalan Tak Ada Ujung (Endless Road). Mochtar also co-founded Horison cultural and literary magazine.

Mochtar, who was born in Padang, West Sumatra on March 7, 1922, was the sixth child among 12 children of a noble family. He was noted for his outspokenness and consistently campaigned for equality and human rights.

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