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Jakarta Post

Endless love, 21 years on: Mothers write letters to fallen sons who died in Semanggi Tragedy

  • Karina M. Tehusijarana
    Karina M. Tehusijarana

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, November 14, 2019   /   05:15 pm
Endless love, 21 years on: Mothers write letters to fallen sons who died in Semanggi Tragedy Maria Katarina Sumarsih participates in a weekly Thursday rally known as Kamisan in front of the State Palace, Jakarta, to pressure the government to deliver justice over human rights abuses. (The Jakarta Post/Seto Wardhana)

Two mothers whose sons were killed during prodemocracy protests in 1998 have marked the 21st anniversary of what became known as the Semanggi Tragedy by writing open letters to their late children, lamenting the fact that those responsible for their deaths have yet to be brought to justice.

Amnesty International Indonesia released videos of the letters, written by Maria Catarina Sumarsih and Martini Widodo, being read out by actresses, writers and content creators. 

In the letter to her son, Atma Jaya University student Bernardinus “Wawan” Realino Norma Irmawan, Sumarsih recounted the events immediately following Wawan’s death on Friday, Nov. 13, 1998. 

“In the requiem mass, the Archbishop of Jakarta said, ‘Wawan passed away because he was shot by security forces in the yard of his campus while he was helping another victim who was also shot by the security forces,’” Sumarsih wrote, as read out by writer Anya Rompas.

Sumarsih also wrote about how she found some unfinished poetry in one of Wawan’s college notebooks, which ended with the line “I must triumph. I long for reforms and democracy.”

The 67-year-old said that she had worked tirelessly for years to bring the perpetrators of the Semanggi Tragedy to justice, including by organizing the weekly Kamisan silent protest in front of the State Palace.

“Kamisan has gone on for 13 years, but the state continues to be silent, providing no answers,” she said. “Wawan, pray for us, hopefully reform and democracy bring about a just, thriving, prosperous society. Hugs and kisses, Mother.”

Martini opened her letter to her son, Indonesian Administration Foundation (YAI) student Sigit Prasetyo, with the hope that he still remembered her as well as she remembered him. 

She recalled how disciplined and hardworking he had been since his childhood, and how disappointed he would be if he did not get perfect grades. How as he grew older, he began organizing meetings with his fellow students about how to bring about democracy and a more just economic system.

“‘Soeharto has been in power for 30 years, it’s time to take turns, Mom! Everyone has the same rights.’ That is one of your sentences that I always remembered,” Martini wrote. “I am so proud of my Sigit.”

She said that the state and the government seemed to want to forget about Sigit’s death.

“The state seems to want to forget, Git,” she said. “The people who caused your death have never been tried, much less imprisoned. They are free to go everywhere without shame that their hands are stained with blood.”

Despite the setbacks, Martini said that she would continue Sigit’s struggle and refuse to forget about the past.

“My memory is for you Git, always,” she said.

Resolving past human rights abuse cases, including the 1998 Semanggi Tragedy, has been among President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's promises since his first presidential campaign in 2014. Families of victims and human rights activists, however, have criticized Jokowi's administration's sluggish efforts over the years.

Asked about the issue, presidential spokesman Fadjroel Rachman said that Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD had recommended that Jokowi reestablish the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to settle past cases of human rights violations.

The commission was canceled after the Constitutional Court revoked in 2006 the 2004 Law on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

"The President seems to have thoroughly listened to the recommendations," Fadjroel said, without revealing whether or not the commission would ever be revived.