Indonesia’s Students Want Justice for Suharto

By Fitri Wulandari and Harry Suhartono

JAKARTA, Jan. 19 (Reuters) – As a student activist, Heri Akhmadi was
beaten and jailed. Unable to witness the birth of his son because he
was in prison, he named the boy Gempur Suharto, or “Attack Suharto”,
after the man he holds responsible for his suffering.

As Indonesia’s former president Suharto lies critically ill in a
Jakarta hospital, many of his victims regret that the former general
who ruled Indonesia with an iron fist for 32 years has not been
charged with crimes, even a decade after his ouster.

“Suharto took so many lives when he rose to power and he did the same
when he stepped down,” said Heri, who was jailed during university
demonstrations in 1978 demanding that the People’s Consultative
Assembly not reappoint Suharto to another presidential term.

Suharto, now 86, came to power after he crushed what was officially
described as an anti-communist coup in 1965.

Up to half a million people died in an army-backed purge in the
following months, while intellectuals, teachers and artists,
including the writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer and the painter Hendra
Gunawan, were among the thousands of Indonesians sent to jail or
labour camps for suspected left-wing sympathies.

During Suharto’s 32 years in power, the armed forces crushed dissent
in Aceh, Papua and East Timor, killed student activists, and were
linked to extrajudicial killings of criminals.

“I was one of those lucky enough to escape. But what about others who
were made to disappear or those who were killed?” said Heri, who in
1996 joined the political party headed by Megawati Sukarnoputri,
Indonesia’s president from 2001 to 2004.

BRUTAL REGIME

The Suharto regime’s suppression of student activists continued well
into the 1990s.

Budiman Sudjatmiko, also a member of Megawati’s political party, told
Reuters he was one of several students rounded up in 1996 and put on
trial on the grounds he had masterminded a riot in Jakarta in 1996.

“The court was steered by the government and they could not prove
that I was the mastermind of the event,” said Sudjatmiko, who was at
the office of Megawati’s party during the riot.

“After they could not prove that I was guilty, the trial shifted to
my political views and perspective and they charged me with subversion.”

He was sentenced to 13 years in prison, but was saved from that fate
when Suharto, who could no longer put a stop to widespread rioting,
resigned from office.

“Putting him (Suharto) on trial is about investing in this country’s
future, more than just doing justice, and has nothing to do with
revenge,” said Sudjatmiko, now 37.

“For those who fought for it and went to prison for it, democracy is
all the more sweet and wonderful.”

INTIMIDATION

While Heri and Sudjatmiko entered politics following Suharto’s fall,
student activist Nezar Patria, 37, said he chose to continue his
fight against the Suharto regime as a journalist.

As a student, Nezar went underground, cutting off contact with his
family in Aceh after they were visited by intelligence officers who
wanted to know his whereabouts.

“The Education and Culture Ministry branded me as a member of a
radical student movement which supported communism. During my two
years underground, I had to move from one place to another to escape
military intelligence. I wrote articles to support myself and I
managed to finish my thesis from my hideout,” he told Reuters.

But he and three friends were kidnapped in March 1998 by a group
called “Rose Team,” an anti-terrorism unit of the Special Forces
under the command of Suharto’s former son-in-law, Prabowo Subianto.

Nezar said he was blindfolded and tortured for three days, then
jailed for three months, and only released after Suharto’s ouster.
Months after his release, Nezar would break out in a sweat just
hearing a walky-talky like he ones he heard during his kidnapping.

Years later, he came face to face with Prabowo when he was working as
a reporter.

“I felt nothing while interviewing him because I had prepared. I had
to be professional, not emotional,” said Nezar.

As for Suharto, “he may be honoured, but he is also a coward who
doesn’t want to admit his wrongdoing.”

————————-

Condition of Indonesia’s Suharto ‘very good’: doctors

JAKARTA, Jan. 19 (AFP) – Doctors treating Indonesia’s elderly former
dictator Suharto said Saturday his condition was “very good” and that
he may soon be taken off a ventilator and allowed to return home.

The 86-year-old ex-president, who ruled Indonesia for more than three
decades, was first admitted to hospital on January 4 suffering heart,
lung and kidney problems.

He was connected to a ventilator a week later when he suffered
multiple organ failure but has amazed doctors by his tenacity in
clinging to life.

“We hope and we are working hard so that Pak Harto can return home
soon but I cannot predict when. Today’s (Saturday’s) condition is
very good,” Mardjo Soebiandono, the head of a specialist team
treating Suharto, told a briefing.

Pak Harto is how the former leader is referred to with a mixture of
respect and affection.

Soebiandono also said that Suharto’s blood pressure was stable, his
lung and heart functions were improving and signs of systemic
infection were decreasing.

Another team doctor, Christian Johannes, said medics had been closely
monitoring Suharto’s response to being slowly weaned off his
ventilator, which he has been on since January 11, for the past few days.

“Today we will check his respiratory muscles… Once they improve,
then we will take him off the ventilator,” he said.

Johannes told AFP after the briefing that Suharto was responding well.

“Of course he can only shake his head because he has a tube in his
mouth. He may be able to speak otherwise,” he said.

Suharto’s condition has been fluctuating almost daily and doctors
have warned repeatedly that despite occasionally upbeat reports he
could still deteriorate suddenly because of his age and the extent of
his ailments.

Suharto, who was among Asia’s most notorious strongmen of the 20th
century, stepped down in 1998 amid deadly riots and mass
pro-democracy protests that were sparked by the 1997 Asian economic crisis.

He dropped out of public view and avoided criminal trial for massive
corruption allegations by citing poor health. Doctors have said two
strokes left him with some permanent brain damage.

Half-hearted attempts to bring Suharto to justice for alleged human
rights atrocities in East Timor, which he invaded in 1975, and
far-flung Aceh and Papua, have also been stymied, by a lack of
collected evidence.

Opinion on Suharto remains divided in Indonesia, which also enjoyed
dramatic economic growth under his rule.

Around 200 orphans wearing white stopped in front of the hospital
treating Suharto on Saturday and prayed for his recovery. Small
protests outside the hospital have also taken place since he was admitted.

————————-

Joyo Indonesia News Service
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