Justice still eludes Indonesia torture victims

Despite pressure, government apathy means little hope of change
Justice still eludes Indonesia torture victims

Kidnapping and torture victim Mugiyanto speaks during a press conference in Jakarta on May 5. (Photo by Ryan Dagur)

In the turbulent final years of Suharto’s reign as strongman of Indonesia, Mugiyanto – like many in the country, he goes by only one name – took shelter in what he thought was a “safe house”. 

Mugiyanto and his colleagues from the Indonesian Students Solidarity for Democracy had used the house as a base of operations for their protests against Suharto.

On March 13, 1998, a group of soldiers raided the house in East Jakarta and took him into custody.

“I was blindfolded and taken to several places including the District Military Command in East Jakarta. Then I was taken to another place, which I learned years later was the headquarters of the Army Special Forces [Kopassus] in Cijantung,” Mugiyanto said.

“I just wore my underwear during interrogations. With blindfolded eyes, I was electrocuted and tortured again and again.”

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Mugiyanto, was one of nine activists abducted and tortured by a special Kopassus unit called the Rose Team, which was under the command of then Lt Gen Prabowo Subianto.

They were later released, but more than a dozen others who were also abducted between 1997-98 met a different fate. One was found dead, and the others remain missing.

After his release, Mugiyanto and several other victims of kidnapping and forced disappearance, along with some family members, established the Indonesian Association of Families of the Disappeared.

Under pressure from activists, a military court in 1999 found 11 members of the Rose Team guilty of kidnapping nine activists. Prabowo, who admitted to ordering the kidnapping, was dismissed from his position but never faced a civilian court.

Following the military trial, NGOs and rights groups including the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS) urged the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas) to investigate the kidnappings.

In 2003, Komnas reviewed the case and recommended a full investigation. Three years later, the commission issued a report stating that the abductions constituted a gross violation of human rights and that Prabowo was directly responsible for some of the human rights violations which occurred during the 1998 riots that preceded the fall of Suharto’s regime.

The pursuit of justice for the victims seemed to gain momentum after the report was submitted to the Attorney-General’s Office. In 2009, parliament recommended that an ad hoc court should be formed to further investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of the abductions.

But that is where the path to justice ended. The court has yet to be established.

“Recommendations are already there. Still, the government hasn’t moved yet. The government doesn’t have the political will,” Mugiyanto said.

In an April 2014 report titled “Setting the Agenda: Human Rights Priorities for the New Government”, Amnesty International said there had been a lack of progress during President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s administration in delivering justice for past human rights violations.

Specifically, the report stated that Yudhoyono failed to act on parliament’s recommendations to conduct an immediate search for activists who had disappeared and to provide rehabilitation and compensation to their families.

Widyo Pramono, a junior attorney-general for special crimes, said the commission’s report must be completed.

“The [case] papers must be complete. For example, information from certain witnesses needs to be collected. The Attorney General’s office won’t send the papers to court if they are not complete,” Pramono said.

Haris Azhar of KontraS said the ad hoc court recommended by parliament could be a good barometer for the government’s commitment to providing justice to human rights abuse victims.

“If the government remains silent, this means that the government allows impunity for perpetrators,” Azhar said.

The reluctance on the part of the government to seek justice for its past crimes has left Novridaniar Dinis Puspahati in limbo.

When she was two years old, soldiers abducted her father Yadin Muhidin, and his whereabouts remain a mystery.

“I don’t know whether my father is still alive or already dead. I have lived with this question for more than 16 years,” she said.

Earlier this month Kivlan Zen, the former chief of staff of the Army Strategic Reserves Command, said in a televised debate that he knew the whereabouts of the missing activists, though he did not say whether they were alive or dead.

In response, rights organizations and NGOs demanded the formation of a special court after a meeting with a presidential advisory board member with the aim of summoning Kivlan to testify formally. However, Kivlan refused to testify.

And so, Puspahati continues to wait for justice.

“Where is this state’s legal wisdom? Where is this state’s hard work and political will to get back my father and the other missing activists?” she said.

“I want this case to be dealt with properly. No families of the victims of kidnapping and forced disappearance want to live with a big question for more than 16 years.”

Compounding the pain of not knowing the fate of their family members or receiving justice for the suffering they endured is the fact that Prabowo, who had previously admitted to ordering the abductions, is currently a presidential candidate in elections scheduled for July 9.

Prabowo, who founded the Great Indonesia Movement, has gained widespread support from a coalition of other political parties in the run-up to the vote.

“If he becomes president, I’m sure our fight for justice will be harder,” said Mugiyanto.

In its report this year, Amnesty International recommended that the new president review all information currently in the possession of the Attorney General’s office about past violations of international law and ensure thorough investigations.

When sufficient admissible evidence exists, the report further notes, all suspects in such crimes should be prosecuted before national courts in proceedings that meet international standards for fair trials.

For the victims and their families, this is what they have been seeking for the better part of two decades.

“I can still feel the trauma. Perpetrators must tell us clearly why they did what they did. They must be taken to court,” Mugiyanto said.

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