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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine