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Jakarta Post

Anti-PKI death squad leader Anwar Congo dies at 78

  • News Desk

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sun, October 27, 2019   /   02:37 pm
Anti-PKI death squad leader Anwar Congo dies at 78 A scene from 'The Act of Killing', a documentary by American director Joshua Oppenheimer. Made from 2005 to 2011, the documentary tells the story of how death squad leader Anwar Congo killed thousands of suspected Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) members in North Sumatra in the 1960s. (Courtesy of/Joshua Oppenheimer)

Anwar Congo, the former leader of a death squad that is alleged to have killed thousands of suspected Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) members in Medan, North Sumatra, in the mid-1960s, passed away on Friday afternoon.

He died at the age of 78 in Madani General Hospital in Medan, as reported by Deputy North Sumatra Governor Musa Rajekshah was among the people who went to Anwar’s home to offer his condolences prior to his burial.

Anwar was known as a longtime member of the youth organization Pemuda Pancasila (PP), in which Musa was also active prior to serving as the province’s deputy governor

Anwar’s wife, Salma Miftah Salim, said her husband had been suffering from several illnesses, including a pinched nerve, he rarely complained about his health, however, she said.

“He didn’t mention anything about his illnesses a week before his death. He only said briefly that he was tired, after we returned from Jakarta to meet our grandchildren,” Salma said, as quoted by

Anwar gained international notoriety when he was featured in The Act of Killing by United States director Joshua Oppenheimer, a widely acclaimed documentary movie about the nation’s bloody communist purges in the mid-1960s. The director made the film over eight years with Indonesian collaborators.

The movie, released in 2012, followed Anwar and his colleagues, who claimed in the film to have killed thousands of suspected PKI members in Medan between 1965 and 1968. In the film, Anwar recounted his experience of killing his victims, including his techniques and celebrations after each killing, which included humming and dancing.

The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) says it has evidence about the systematic and widespread killing and persecution of PKI members and alleged sympathizers -- including government officials -- in the aftermath of an abortive coup in 1965.

According to Komnas HAM, upward of 1 million people were victims of extra-judicial killings, imprisonment or exile in the mid-1960s.

The film received dozens of international awards, including the Aung San Suu Kyi Award at the Human Rights Human Dignity International Film Festival. It was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2014.

The documentary also caught US media attention with a screening at the New York Film Festival, with articles appearing in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

Salma said she had contacted Oppenheimer’s office regarding Anwar’s passing, which was confirmed by Oppenheimer. The director said he wept after receiving the news of Anwar’s death.

“Not only because I lost somebody very important to me, someone for whom I feel real love, but especially because I remembered how funny he could be, how creative and innocently imaginative he often was,” the director told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

“Yet what an awful life he lived, what terrible choices he made, how many families he destroyed, and how his guilt destroyed him. [I also] cried because he could have been a good man – and what a waste,” he went on to say.

The director said he once tried to help Anwar by bringing him to a medical facility considered to be the best in Medan. This, however, did not come about as Anwar already had a doctor and therapist looking after him.

“I hope his mistakes and his virtues are part of Indonesia's national reckoning with its past,” Oppenheimer said.


Editor’s note: This article has been updated with a statement from Joshua Oppenheimer.