Martyr who helped free his country

WHEN HERI Hartanto's parents went to vote yesterday they were just two people among a multitude. But in all of Indonesia there could have been few others with quite such intense feelings of pride mixed with wretchedness.

The reason is apparent as soon as you walk into the Hartanto's bungalow in eastern Jakarta. A framed black-and-white photograph of their son, taken when he was still at school, hangs on the wall. I looked at it with a jolt of recognition, although I had seen Heri Hartanto only once, and only for a few moments. It was in a strip-lit hospital room, on a humid night in May last year. Three other young men, fellow students at Jakarta's Trisakti University, lay alongside him. They had been dead for about three hours.

It is no exaggeration to say that this historic election, the first truly free vote in Indonesia for 44 years, might never have taken place if Heri Hartanto and his fellow students had not died that night. Last May, like several thousand others, they took part in a noisy but peaceful demonstration at Trisakti University to demand the resignation of President Suharto after 32 years in power. They paraded an effigy of the dictator as Hitler, and burned it on the campus.

Late in the afternoon, without warning or provocation, riot police and soldiers opened fire on the unarmed students.

A single 5.56mm bullet, fired from an Indonesian SS-1 rifle, struck Heri in the back as he was fleeing across the campus. He died before he got to hospital. He was 22 years old.

For the next two days, Jakarta was convulsed with massive riots and looting which left 1,200 people dead. On the following Monday, students occupied the Indonesian parliament building. By the end of the week, President Suharto had resigned.

"When Suharto was president we could never have imagined that there would be democratic elections," says Heri's father, Syahrir Mulyo Utomo. "The shooting of the students, the killing of my son, was what forced Suharto to step down. If there had been no shooting he would still be there - he would have served out his term until 2003."

Indonesia's election is rightly being acclaimed as a triumph of peaceful democratic transition. Two months ago, with bitter local conflicts seething in half a dozen corners of the archipelago, the country seemed to be on the verge of disintegration. A tumultuous election campaign, with massed crowds of party activists rampaging through the streets, appeared inevitable. But with isolated exceptions, the three-week campaign was conducted with good humour and dignity. The Hartantos'story is a reminder of the sacrifices that made it all possible.

Heri was a late convert to student politics. "When the student demonstrations began, he started talking about corruption and how dirty the government was," his mother, Lasmiati, remembers. "Before that he just liked to play football."

Heri's death was not the end of their suffering. Two weeks after his burial, military officers came to them and asked to exhume his body to remove the bullet from it for forensic testing. They refused; the exhumation went ahead anyway, and the bullet was sent to Canada for analysis.

But even now, no one has been brought to justice for the boy's murder. His parents believe this is due to the continuing secretive power of the armed forces.

"When Indonesia became independent, the armed forces fought for the people," Syahrir says. "Now they just fight for those in power, and those in power protect them."

When yesterday's votes are finally totted up, the moment will belong to politicians. Last May, though, they played no more than a supporting role to the true movers of the moment - university students like Heri.

At Trisakti University, the Faculty for Mechanical Engineering, Heri's subject, has been named after him. "Every struggle has to have victims," Lasmiati says. "It's just hard to accept that it had to be him."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable