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Jakarta Post

Diro Sutomo: Accused PKI member who was 'banished' to Buru Island

  • Belseran Christ

    The Jakarta Post

Buru   /   Thu, October 1, 2020   /   02:46 pm
Diro Sutomo: Accused PKI member who was 'banished' to Buru Island Dark period: An illustration of accommodation for political prisoners on Buru Island in the book titled "Bertahan Hidup di Pulau Buru" (Surviving on Buru Island). (Mars Noersmono/File)

The sun was setting in the sky of Buru Island, Maluku, that Tuesday evening, yet Diro Sutopo seemed unbothered and continued to tend to his rice fields.

The 84-year-old, who has been transforming peatland into farmland on his own since the 1970s, currently owns up to 400 hectares of rice fields on the island.

Never in his wildest dreams did Diro think he would be a farmer working far from his hometown in Central Java, but the dark tragedy of Sept. 30, 1965, led to the then-33-year-old’s exile on the island.

The New Order regime under the leadership of military dictator Suharto banished about 11,000 individuals to the island following a key series of events in Indonesian history referred to as G30S, during which six high-ranking army generals were kidnapped and murdered.

The Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) was blamed for the “failed coup attempt”, leading the Army special battalion to quickly take control and capture its leaders.

What followed was the systematic killing of PKI members across the country from late 1965 until 1966, as well as the banishment of individuals accused of being affiliated with the party in the 1960s and 1970s. Among the political prisoners was Diro, who arrived in Buru in 1969.

“I did nothing wrong but was deemed guilty and banished here,” he said.

During his detainment, Diro and other detainees were forced to turn the island’s wilderness into farmland for growing crops. They occasionally received harsh treatment from camp guards.

Before being transported to the eastern part of the country, Diro was detained on the Nusakambangan prison island in Central Java.

He explained that there had been three groups of PKI political detainees at the time, namely Group A that comprised those to be put on trial, group B of those being charged and detained without trial and group C of those to be released. Most of the ones sent to Buru Island belonged in category B, including himself.

Diro had been forced to leave his pregnant wife, who died of depression not long after his capture. His first son was then raised by his parents in Boyolali, Central Java. 

Diro was discharged in 1978 but was too afraid to return home due to the stigma of being an ex-PKI political prisoner. 

“I feared I could not raise my son well if I returned [as a former political prisoner], so I chose to stay here,” said Diro, who eventually married a local woman and had four children with her.

He conceded that some people still looked down on him, so he hoped the government would admit its past crimes of accusing innocent people of wrongdoing.

“We, the accused ones, never committed a crime,” Diro said, insisting that the authorities “straighten the distorted history”.

No definite evidence was ever found that proved the PKI had killed the generals or that the group had attempted a coup. Scores of innocent people, estimated to be around 500,000 or even up to 2 million by some calculations, were murdered without a fair trial. 

More were tortured and jailed without trial for years. Even after their release, the ex-prisoners could not have a normal life as they had special marks on their ID cards.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo stated during his presidential campaign that he would work to settle past cases of human rights abuses, which he has failed to fulfill until today. (vny)