Jokowi: Indonesia Should Solve ’98 Abuses to Move On

Indonesia should not be burdened by its dark history, it should be able to close the gloomy chapter in order to move on, presidential hopeful Joko Widodo said regarding the disappearance of prominent poet and political activist Wiji Thukul in 1998.

Jakarta. Indonesia should not be burdened by its dark history, it should be able to close the gloomy chapter in order to move on, presidential hopeful Joko Widodo said regarding the disappearance of prominent poet and political activist Wiji Thukul in 1998.

Joko said that cases of missing persons should be solved immediately so that the country can look to a better future.

“I knew Wiji Thukul very well. He was from Solo. I know his wife and children and that’s why Wiji Thukul has to be found in whatever condition,” said Joko in Jakarta on Monday.

Joko said that certainty is needed regarding the condition of 13 activists who went missing in 1998 amid protests for democratization. Joko promised he would solve the human rights cases from the end of Suharto’s New Order regime if he is elected president.

“Yes, they have to be found. They can be found alive, they can be found dead, but certainty is needed. Whether reconciliation takes place later doesn’t matter, most importantly the r e should be certainty. Why is the disappearance of the 13 people still not clear after so long?” said Joko.

The Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence, or Kontras, received a report about Wiji Thukul’s disappearance in March 1998 as the New Order regime stepped up its repression to curb political activists who opposed Suharto.

Kontras suspected that Wiji’s disappearance was related to his political activities.

Wiji disappeared at around the same time as other political activists who wanted to see Suharto step down after more than three decades in power.

Kontras has demanded the government find Wiji Thukul and reveal the motive behind his disappearance and the disappearance of other activists.

Joko has received the support of retired generals, including former chief of the National Intelligence Agency (BIN) A.M. Hendropriyono, for his presidential bid. But asked about the possibility of Hendropriyono’s involvement in the kidnapping of activists in 1998, Joko said he could not ask everyone who wanted to join his campaign team if they were involved in any kidnapping.

“This is a legal matter, it has to be clear, it needs to be explained,” he said.

The National Commission on Human Rights [Komnas HAM] has called the kidnapping of pro-democracy activists in 1998 gross human rights violations and recommended the government immediately solve the cases.

“We found gross human rights violations, we sent the findings to the Attorney General’s Office,” retired Army general Syamsoedin, a former Komnas HAM member, said during a discussion titled “Kidnapping of activists: Facts or slander?” held in Jakarta on Sunday.

Syamsoedin said that it was ironic that the government has not carried out Komnas HAM’s recommendation and he lamented that the administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has failed to form ad hoc human rights court.

Syamsoedin said that Komnas HAM has improved its investigation report upon request of the AGO and that AGO should have lifted the status of the case from questioning and investigation to prosecution. “The documents from Komnas HAM are already complete,” he said.

The kidnapping of activists in 1998 by the Army Special Forces (Kopassus) allegedly involved presidential hopeful Prabowo Subianto, a former chief of the elite unit.

Ita Fatia Nadia, a female activist and founder of the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan), praised Joko’s vision and mission related to human rights cases.

Ita said the points made in the vision and mission statements of Joko and his running mate Jusuf Kalla were interesting and not to be found in the program of Prabowo and his running mate Hatta Rajasa.

Ita pointed to one segment, which stated: “We are committed to solving in a fair manner past human rights cases which have become social political burden for Indonesia, such as the Trisakti May riots, Semanggi 1 and 2 [all involving student shootings], Talangsari in Lampung, Tanjung Priok [both massacres carried out by the military], and the 1965 tragedy [mass killings of alleged communists].”

Ita said that the point showed that Joko and Kalla are committed to solving various human rights violations from the New Order period. “Jokowi-JK’s vision and mission showed clear human rights commitment,” Ita said.

Wiji, the poet-cum-activist whose fate remains unclear, was an integral actor in the fight against strongman Suharto’s authoritarian regime. Now that the freedom he longed for has been realized, he is not around to experience it.

Through his poems, Wiji voiced the concerns of the poor and explicitly portrayed their struggle. Most of his works are about the lives of the oppressed and those living in poverty. As the son of a pedicab driver, poverty was never too far from Wiji’s life. Even today, his family still struggles to make a living.

His wife Siti Dyah Surijah, or Sipon, is a homemaker. Their daughter Fitri Nganti Wani was recently married while their youngest Fajar Merah plays music following his father’s artistry footsteps.

Wiji, born in Solo on Aug. 24, 1963, was named an Asean Literary Figure at this year’s inaugural Asean Literary Festival, the first literary award ever bestowed upon him. He received Yap Thiam Hien Award in 2002 for human rights advocation.

His most famous line “Hanya ada satu kata: Lawan!” (“There is only one word: Fight!”) from the poem “Peringatan” (“Warning”) has become a cry among student and labor demonstrators, resonating not only during the last days of the New Order era but even today.

Upon receiving Wiji’s award, Fitri said in her acceptance speech: “This award further convinces me that what my mother said was true: My father was a good man who was kidnapped by the authorities.”

Fajar Merah was only a toddler when his father went missing in 1998.

Fajar, now in his early 20s, has grown up to be a singer-songwriter in his hometown in Central Java.

Following his father’s footsteps, he strives to make a living from words, demanding justice and answers on his father’s whereabouts in his lyrics.