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No closure for victims of Indonesia's anti-communist purge

Decades after hundreds of thousands were massacred, one man's fight for justice remains far from over
No closure for victims of Indonesia's anti-communist purge

Activists and victims show photos of human rights violation victims on a protest banner outside the Presidential Palace in Jakarta. (ucanews.com photo) 

Published: August 23, 2017 04:36 AM GMT
Updated: August 23, 2017 04:39 AM GMT

Every Thursday afternoon for 10 years, Bedjo Untung has stood for an hour across from the Presidential Palace in Jakarta carrying banners, wearing black clothes and holding a black umbrella.

His goal is to draw attention to the victims of Indonesia's bloody 1965-66 anti-communist purge and subsequent political repression that still goes on to this day, he says.

Others join Bedjo in the symbolic protest.

In 1970, in the wake of the mass killings, the then 17 year old was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment.

Bedjo was accused of being a "communist henchmen" because of his involvement in student activism. 

The Communist Party of Indonesia had been accused of being behind the murder of senior army officers. Hundreds of thousands of people — by some estimates more than a million — were killed for alleged links to the Communist Party. There were mass arrests and many reported cases of torture.

After being released from prison in 1979, Bedjo became a human rights' activist and was awarded for his work earlier this year by South Korea's Truth Foundation.

Bedjo, a Catholic and chairman of the 1965 Murder Victims' Research Foundation, dedicated the award to those who were persecuted.

"I appeal to my friends to not back down," he told ucanews.com.

Besides receiving a medal, Bedjo was given a US$10,000 prize, which he says is being used to support his organization.

Lukas Tumiso Danuasmoro, another victim of the 1960s purge, described Bedjo as a man committed to the cause.

"The award also encouraged us to be more active in helping other victims who are voiceless, neglected and forgotten by the government," he said. 

Yati Andriyani, coordinator of The Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence, appreciates Bedjo's struggle.

The Indonesian government, she said, should be ashamed because many other countries had paid attention to victims of past abuses.


Stigmatization and discrimination

According to Bedjo, victims still face stigmatization, particularly from the Indonesian military, which does not want the purge investigated further.

Many family members of the crackdown victims still can't join the nation's civil service, police or military.

Like many others, Bedjo's identity card labels him as a former prisoner, making it hard to find employment. He gives private music lessons to survive.

Military personnel and intelligence agents monitor victims' meetings, Bedjo said, and some participants are threatened as well as having their phones tapped. 

The plight of victims has been referred to the United Nations.

Bedjo said President Joko Widodo had not honored a 2014 pledge to deal with the injustice.

But Teten Masduki, the presidential chief of staff, said Widodo had maintained his commitment to address the historical grievances through judicial and non-judicial means.


Moral support from church

Bedjo said the church had been helping him since he was sentenced, including with medicines, clothing and food. 

"I am indebted to the church," he said.

However, he added that victims deserve more moral and financial assistance.

"We are counting on the Indonesian Bishops' Conference," he said.

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