Indonesia's 1960s Coup Victims

Forty-six years have passed since the failed Sept. 30, 1965 coup that ended in the massacre and arrest of hundreds of thousands of people accused of communist affiliations.

Although huge improvements have been made in restoring the civic and political rights of the victims, some living with the stigma of being associated with the Indonesian Communist Party, (PKI) still struggle to regain what they lost.

Nurkholis Hidayat, director of the Jakarta Legal Aid Foundation, said a number of victims now sit in government offices or have been elected to the House of Representatives and that all of them can get identification cards that no longer categorize them as being related to the PKI.

But the fight is not yet over. “Recovering their economic rights is a big goal,” he said.

During the coup, an estimated 500,000 people were killed nationwide, while thousands more were forced into exile or given long prison sentences. Many of those who were jailed or exiled were civil servants, police officers or soldiers.

While they were barred from their homes, their land was taken by officials. The government also failed to honor their pension entitlements once the prisoners were released.

One of the people who lost his pension plan is Soekarno Hadiwibowo, who served almost 14 years at Cipinang prison, East Jakarta.

The 84-year old was a bureau head at the Education Ministry and secretary general of the Educators Union in 1965.

“I was arrested in December 1966 because, according to an emergency decree issued by Suharto, my union was listed as an affiliate of PKI,” Soekarno said.

For Soekarno and 22,000 other former civil servants dishonorably discharged after stating under duress that they were affiliated with the PKI, their right to receive pension and retirement funds was nullified. They are all part of an advocacy group Soekarno leads, but the actual number of victims like them are far more.

Like other worker unions in the country then, Soekarno’s organization was part of the trade union federation called the All-Indonesia Central Labor Organization (SOBSI).

“SOBSI was under the auspices of PKI but that’s as far our affiliation went,” he continued.

After he was arrested, he said officers tortured him for days to make him admit that he was member of the communist party.

“I was beaten and electrocuted. After maybe a week I finally agreed to whatever they were accusing me of,” he said. “I wanted to live.”

For Soekarno and others, the persecution wasn’t limited to just them. It included their families.

Yati Andriyani, an official with the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), said that the families of those stigmatised as communists lost not only their family members but also their property and livelihoods.

“Kontras has received numerous reports that during Suharto’s anticommunist program, military officers came to take away who families’ homes and land,” Yati said.

Other political prisoners had to struggle with the fact that their wives were raped by, or even forcibly married to, military officials, Yati said.

“Several nephews of mine had to face the fact that the military did not only take away their property, but also their wives,” Soekarno said. “It was already hard for us to find work after prison. On top of that we saw our families fall apart.”

Another victim of discrimination is 72 year-old Eva (who requested her real name not be used). Eva, whose father was fired from the Ministry of Home Affairs in 1966 after being accused of being sympathetic to the PKI, has been struggling for justice since 1978.

As the oldest child in the family, Eva’s life changed dramatically after her father’s death in 1968. She said she was a 29-year-old who had just started building a life with her new husband when she was suddenly forced to take care of her 10 younger siblings.

“I had to work harder, I did everything I could to support my mother and siblings,” Eva said. “At that time, a woman who could survive without becoming a sex worker was lucky.”

In 1978, Eva started to try to claim her father’s pension fund. She said she went through stacks of papers at the Ministry of Home Affairs’ office for three months, searching for her father’s legal documents to prove that he had worked there.

Eva said she found documents that showed her father worked for the government for 36 years without taking leave. “He was even declared a war hero. He received five medals of honor from the president,” she said.

So far, nothing has come of Eva’s efforts.

In 2005, LBH Jakarta helped the families of anti-PKI discrimination victims file a class action suit demanding the government provide seven forms of redress, including paying civil servants’ pension funds and restoring confiscated property.

However in 2009, the Supreme Court rejected the request, based on purely administrative issues.

LBH’s Nurkholis said because of that, the victims still have a good chance on winning their case in the future.

“There’s still a long way to go, and we are working through the legal process, although I can’t tell you our detailed plan,” he said.

But it may just get more difficult the longer it drags on.

Home Affairs Ministry spokesman Reydonnyzar Moenek said a decree from a “higher authority” was needed to release the pensions as they covered various government institutions. “And since the case is older than 30 years, most of the employment documents would now be stored in a warehouse somewhere,” he said.

(This was reprinted with permission from the Jakarta Globe, with which Asia Sentinel has a content-sharing agreement.)