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Jakarta Post

Activists, historians seek freedom to uncover 1965 putsch

  • Galih Gumelar

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, October 1, 2020   /   09:12 am
Activists, historians seek freedom to uncover 1965 putsch A man tidies the Pancasila Sakti (Sacred Pancasila) monument complex in Lubang Buaya, East Jakarta, on Sept. 28, 2013. (The Jakarta Post/P.J. Leo)

Several years ago, during a meeting with a group of women at an undisclosed location, former National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) commissioner Yuniyanti Chuzaifah had an experience she would never forget.

The women were victims and relatives of victims of alleged violence against civilians between 1965 and 1966, which occurred after the assassination of six military generals in an alleged coup attempt on Sept. 30, 1965, that was blamed on the now-defunct Indonesian Communist Party (PKI).

The meeting with the victims was part of Yuniyanti’s efforts to help them receive continued medical rehabilitation support from the Witness and Victim Protection Agency (LPSK).

However, she said the meeting was interrupted by a group of unidentified people who raided the building and dispersed the attendees after accusing them of discussing communism.

“We saw several people raid the building carrying machetes in their hands, while others carried bamboo sticks,” Yuniyanti said during a webinar on Wednesday. “We were perplexed by the incident as we had only talked about health care in the meeting, not even a single word about communism.”

“The raid shows that the public still holds resentment against the PKI and those who are allegedly related to the party,” she added.

Two decades after the fall of the Soeharto regime, fears of communism remain entrenched in Indonesia, where the ideology has been banned since 1966.

Amnesty International Indonesia executive director Usman Hamid said the fear of communism in Indonesia stemmed from anti-PKI propaganda and the “manipulation of history” under president Soeharto’s 32-year tenure from 1967 to 1998. Those included, he said, the use of a movie called Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI (Betrayal of the Communist) which depicted vicious PKI members assassinating generals.

Historians are still trying to get better access to materials to understand the violence and examine the historicity of the government’s G30S accounts – or lack thereof. They say the public has the right to know the truth behind what happened in 1965 and therefore historians should be able to publish their findings openly and without intimidation.

One such historian is Grace Leksana. She obtained her doctorate in history from Leiden University in the Netherlands in May. Her thesis focuses on a 1965 tragedy in a neighborhood in southern Malang, East Java, a city she believes to be one of the main locations of violence against civilians in the period.

“The government always promotes a narrative that the G30S was initiated by the PKI, but it never mentions anything about the violence against civilians that followed the incident,” Grace said in a discussion hosted by history magazine on Tuesday.

In her research, she interviewed villagers to determine the sequence of violence against civilians, the forms of violence and the alleged perpetrators.

She came to the conclusion that violence had occurred in the village and that several residents had helped the military screen civilians allegedly affiliated with the communist party. These residents, she said, had done so because the regime had promised them prominent positions in local administrations if they assisted.

John Roosa of British Columbia University in Canada discussed violence against civilians in his 2020 book Buried histories: The anticommunist massacres of 1965-1966 in Indonesia. The book follows his previous publication, Pretext for mass murder: The September 30th movement and Suharto’s coup d’etat in Indonesia, which was banned by the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) in 2009.

His research found that many civilians were subject to forced disappearances and killings.

He said at the Tuesday discussion that many civilians in places such as Riau, Lampung, West Java and Central Java were arrested and placed in detention camps in 1965 and 1966 before being murdered.

In a TV appearance on Tuesday evening, Coordinating Social, Political and Legal Affairs Minister Mahfud MD said the government had never forced the public to believe the propaganda in the movie.

He said the government had never determined which version of the 1965 tragedy the public should believe. “The history of the tragedy is still debatable, and we’ll leave it to the historians.”

He said in a video statement earlier on Tuesday that the government did not oblige people to screen the G30S/PKI movie or prohibit them from screening it. But he noted one condition; everyone should refrain from hosting crowded events to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) concluded in 2012 an investigation into the 1965 communist purge. The commission found that the purge had constituted a gross human rights violation and recommended that military officials be brought to trial. But AGO prosecutors maintained that they were unable to build a case because of insufficient evidence.