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Indonesia's Jokowi slammed for honoring ‘tainted’ successor

Prabowo Subianto, an ex-military officer who is accused of rights abuses, was presented with the title of an honorary general
Indonesian President Joko Widodo congratulates Prabowo Subianto after giving him an honorary title on Feb. 28.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo congratulates Prabowo Subianto after giving him an honorary title on Feb. 28. (Photo: Cabinet Secretariat)

Published: February 28, 2024 12:21 PM GMT
Updated: February 29, 2024 04:24 AM GMT

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has come under fire from advocacy groups and families of victims of rights violations after he presented a top military rank to his successor Prabowo Subianto, an ex-military officer who is accused of rights abuses.

Widodo presented the “Honorary Indonesian National Army General” title to Subianto at a Feb. 28 ceremony in Jakarta, attended by retired army officials and former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

"I would like to convey a special promotion in the form of an honorary general to Mr. Prabowo Subianto," he said during the award ceremony.

Widodo further said the award is "a form of appreciation and confirmation to give full service to the people, to the nation, to the state."

Advocacy group Civil Society Coalition said the "inappropriate" move violated "the feelings of victims" and "betrayed the 1998 Reformation,” when the authoritarian regime under Suharto collapsed.

The honor is inappropriate considering Subianto's "bad track record in his military career, especially regarding his involvement in past serious human rights violations," the group said.

Subianto was discharged from service in 1998 following allegations of rights violations. He was accused of playing a role in kidnapping activists in 1997 during the rule of Suharto, who was his father-in-law.

Rights groups including Amnesty International Indonesia said that granting the title was a political move.

Despite Subianto's involvement in serious human rights violations, Widodo openly backed him ahead of the Feb. 14 general election, the rights group said.

"The freedom we enjoy today is the fruit of the struggle of the martyrs of the 1998 reform movement. How is it possible that those who were overthrown by the 1998 reform want to be rewarded today," said the coalition.

Subianto had never been tried for the crimes he committed, so he was still on the blacklist of suspected perpetrators of crimes against humanity, the groups alleged.

Paian Siahaan, father of Ucok Munandar Siahaan, an activist who disappeared in 1998, said he was "very disappointed." 

"How are people who have been fired from the military given honors?" he said.

Paian said the honoring Subianto shows the breakdown of democracy in Indonesia under Widodo.

Petrus Selestinus, a Catholic and coordinator of the Indonesian Democracy Defense Team said that Widodo "does not at all take into account the sense of justice of the victims of the 1998 riots who rally every Thursday in front of the palace in Jakarta.

He told UCA News that the committee that proposed this award must take responsibility.

Military spokesperson Nugraha Gumelar said the proposal to honor Subianto was first sent to the National Army and then to Widodo.

Official results of the Feb 14. elections are yet to be released, but preliminary calculations suggest that Subianto was certain to become the next president.

Widodo’s son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, is also expected to become the vice president.

Widodo reportedly backed Subianto to secure a political position for his son.

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