Crushed in Suharto's iron grip

Richard Lloyd Parry reports the first direct evidence of what has been mere rumour until now: five months ago, Indonesian security forces connived in the brutal murders of unarmed opposition demonstrators
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The Independent Online
The young man in the bandanna, like everyone else in the building, was highly excited. "Maybe they will attack," he said, "it's difficult to tell. But we believe in God here, and God will be our friend. I think everyone here is ready to die, they're ready to give their last drop of blood."

This was the headquarters of the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) in central Jakarta on the evening of 26 July. For the past month it had been the scene of an event unprecedented in modern Indonesia: a large-scale, pro-democracy demonstration, a peaceful, but thinly veiled, challenge to the 30-year rule of President Suharto.

The walls of the red-tiled bungalow were festooned with banners bearing slogans such as "Megawati Sukarnoputri is the Last Hope" and "A Democratic State for the Sovereignty of the People".

Well-wishers had turned out from all over the country, cars honked their horns in support as they drove past. The atmosphere was giddy and celebratory; none of these people, it was clear, really thought that they were going to die.

Twenty-four hours later the scene was very different. The PDI headquarters was a wreck, its banners torn down and burnt, its tables, chairs and even walls smashed by an armed mob under the protection of the police. Many of those present the night before had been beaten up and arrested. And, according to eyewitnesses interviewed by The Independent, unknown numbers had been beaten or stabbed to death, with the apparent connivance of their own armed forces.

The incident was the climax of weeks of gathering tension in Indonesia, focusing on the figure of Megawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of Sukarno, modern Indonesia's founding president. Sukarno was deposed in 1965 by the then General Suharto, who has maintained his authoritarian rule ever since under a veil of pseudo-democracy.

Parliamentary candidates must all be officially approved, and only three, government- licensed parties are permitted. Until recently, Suharto's Golkar party had gone undefeated, but it was facing an increasingly serious challenge from Mrs Megawati's PDI. In an attempt to deprive her of her power base, the government put its weight behind a rival PDI faction and had her deposed at a special party congress in June.

The reaction to this crude piece of political fixing exceeded all expectations. All over the country, Megawati supporters occupied the party offices. More worryingly, in Jakarta they established a "free-speech forum" in the courtyard in front of the headquarters. "We have to be very careful not to cross the line," said one of the forum's organisers. "We can never mention overthrowing the government, or the President, or the President's family. We talk about democracy and corruption. Corruption is code for the President and his family."

Spokesmen for the government and Abri, the powerful Indonesian armed forces, had made it clear that they regarded the occupation as illegal and police action had been anticipated for several weeks. At the end of July, however, Jakarta had important guests in town - the foreign ministers of the Association of South-East Asian Nations Regional Forum, an international conference which brought together foreign ministers from 19 governments, including the US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, and Ireland's Dick Spring, representing the European Union. At the closing press conference, the Indonesian Foreign Minister, Ali Alatas, dismissed speculation that force would be used to break up the PDI sit-in. "This government acts in a way that all governments act, to prevent this situation spilling over into - how do you call it? - general happenings," he said. "We're trying to make sure that a solution to this problem can be found in a situation of legality and public order."

Two days after the departure of the international VIPs, the "solution" began. At about 6.15am on 27 July, in the first of several acts of passive collaboration with the attackers, police - who had sealed off the street outside the PDI headquarters - let through several trucks. Some 200 young men got out, carrying sticks, and dressed in red T-shirts identifying them as supporters of Mrs Megawati's factional rival, Suryadi. The identity of these thugs remains a mystery, but several witnesses described their cropped hair and "military bearing".

Riot police appeared on the scene and looked on as the Suryadi supporters began throwing stones into the courtyard. "I saw the Suryadi people throwing Molotov cocktails, and the awning over the courtyard caught fire," says Efendi Makmur, who was inside the PDI compound. "We were under the burning awning and there was great panic. As the Suryadi people were attacking us, I saw Abri officers standing in the road opposite. They just watched. They did nothing."

After an hour and a half, there was a ceasefire. Two of the Megawati faction leaders went out to negotiate with the officers, and during the lull a retired doctor and member of the PDI, Djarot Hersamsi, was allowed in to treat the wounded. "When I entered the door I saw a body there," he says. "I don't know whether it was already dead and I had no time to check. I went to the first-aid room and many people were waiting for treatment. They had all been hurt on the head with stones and for about 45 minutes I could work in peace. Then the door of the room was hit by a stone."

Outside in the street, negotiations had broken down. "I looked outside and saw the police up against the fence and gates, saying `One-two-three, push!'" says Dr Djarot. "The fifth time the door fell down, and the police and the Suryadi people were running together, entering the building. It was bedlam. You could hear shouts of `Kill the Communists!' "

The police kicked in the door of Dr Djarot's first-aid room and he was threatened with a stone. But an officer intervened and he was allowed to leave the compound. All the injuries which he treated had been caused by flying stones and pieces of pavement, but as the police and Suryadi supporters entered the headquarters they engaged the defenders with batons, rattan canes and, according to some witnesses, bayonet-style knives.

Sentot Maryono, a 39-year-old chauffeur from East Java, was running into the building when he saw one of the defenders being stabbed by a Suryadi supporter. Just inside the door of the headquarters, Mr Maryono himself was gashed on the head with a knife. A second blow, with a stick or cane, knocked him out.

He came round in the Gatot Subroto Central Army Hospital at about 3pm with 16 stitches and a bandage on his head. As he walked around the emergency ward, he saw 15 stretchers being carried in.

He recognised some of the victims, all unconscious and bleeding, as fellow PDI defenders.

Three other witnesses, who insisted on remaining anonymous, told The Independent that they had seen knives being used; two of them claimed they had witnessed multiple murder.

Mr Makmur and Mr Maryono were among the witnesses who testified under oath at the trials last month of 124 Megawati supporters arrested on 27 July. Another witness, Sandra Putasari Putri, told the court that a man had died in her arms from a head injury. The PDI official in charge of the defence of the headquarters, Susilo Muslim, claims he saw five knife attacks, including one man whose throat was cut as he was held down in a chair.

Even the witnesses themselves have no clear idea of how many people might have died. Nobody, it is clear, had more than a partial view of what happened, and the official figures for the dead and missing are confused and contradictory.

According to the Indonesian government, there were no fatalities during the assault, although four people died accidentally in the confusion.

A report on the affair published in October by the National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR), a government-sponsored body which has won respect for its investigations, put the number of dead at five, but also listed 23 people who had gone missing on the day. NCHR officials have told diplomats that this is a conservative figure and they expect to see it rise as more families come forward. PDI officials say that they believe 40 people are missing, presumed dead.

What exactly happened that morning remains confused, with many unanswered questions.

Foreign journalists and diplomats were kept 250 yards away from the headquarters during the assault, and saw bodies being stretchered away, but no obvious fatalities. The Independent entered the courtyard an hour and a half after the last of the Megawati faction had been removed. The area was awash with water from fire hoses, but there was no visible blood.

Apart from the NCHR,lawyers, doctors and journalists investigating the affair have encountered a wall of silence from official sources.

When The Independent visited the hospital where Mr Maryono was treated, it was told by doctors that none of them had been on duty on 27 July and that in any case they could not comment as it was a "national problem".

At the instigation of Mrs Megawati, senior PDI officials are conducting their own investigation. "People are afraid, but slowly they are overcoming their fear," says Dr Djarot. "Eventually we believe we will get to the truth."

Diary of dissidence

JUNE: Megawati Sukarnoputri, head of the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI), isousted at a government-backed congress. Her supporters occupy the party's headquarters and establish a "free-speech forum" in Jakarta.

25 JULY: Asean Regional Forum of international foreign ministers ends.

27 JULY: 6.15am. Youths attack PDI HQ. 8.30am: Police break into the HQ with stone-throwing youths. Witnesses allege sticks and knives used to attack and kill followers of Megawati. 8.30 to 9am: Police arrest injured Megawati followers. Noon: Thousands gather near PDI HQ, stoning police, chanting: "Military murderers". Afternoon: About 10,000 people riot. Five die - accidentally.

29 JULY: NGOs express fears for missing PDI supporters. 30 JULY: Armed forces announce rioters will be shot on sight. 31 JULY: Military blames riots on Communists. Trade unionist Muchtar Pakpahan tells Independent that PDI members were killed, but is arrested soon after.

1 AUGUST: Legal case brought by Megawati halted after judge goes down with "toothache". AUGUST: Left-wing activists arrested. 11 OCTOBER: Bishop Carlos Belo and Jose Ramos-Horta are awarded Nobel Peace Prize for work in East Timor. 12 OCTOBER: National Commission on Human Rights criticises government complicity in violence and lists 5 killed and 23 missing. NOVEMBER: 124 supporters of Megawati convicted of obstructing the police on 27 July. All are released. DECEMBER: Subversion trials begin in Jakarta of Muchtar Pakpahan and others. Charges make no mention of riot conspiracy.