After 15 years of Kamisan, 15 years of lies, activists lose hope in Jokowi

Source – January 21, 2022
Activists hold 714th Thursday action in front of State Palace in Jakarta – January 20, 2022 (Antara)

Vitorio Mantalean, Jakarta – Fifteen years. In such a period of time, a mother can still remember the cute little child who she used to deliver to the primary school gates, and who is now struggling to graduate from university.

That same number of years has also been enough to place three different presidents in the State Place.

And during that same period of time, a panorama of all black has consistently been served up every Thursday in front of the State Palace.

Kamisan (Thursday) actions – the name of this panorama – are made up of gatherings of people wearing all black steadfastly demanding state responsibility for the loss of the people they loved.

People have come and gone from the ranks of the all black. Some choose to focus on their own lives. Others choose to join the circles of power that they once criticised.

Some however – and who knows how they maintain their stamina – choose to remain faithful even though almost all hope has sunk beneath the repeated waves of betrayal.

"The thing that maintains my spirit is love", says Sumarsih, one of the faithful. "I loved Wawan. I don't know exactly what Wawan did".

Bernardinus Realino Norma Irmawan alias Wawan was a student at the Atma Jaya Catholic University in Jakarta.

He was shot dead during an incident that would later be known as the Semanggi I tragedy, November 13, 1998.

Back then, in the basement of a Jakarta hospital, Maria Katarina Sumarsih, his mother, could only run her hands over his rigid body lying in a bier as a gesture of farewell.

"Wan, you're hungry..., oh, Wan, you were shot", said Sumarsih.

More than twenty years have since passed, but her feelings of loss have not faded.

It was because of this loss that Sumarsih along with other victims and families of victims of human rights violations formed an association in 1999.

The association was named the Association of Victims and Families of Victims of the Bloody May 13-15, 1998 Tragedies, Semanggi I (November 13, 1998), Semanggi II (September 24,1999) and the Volunteer Team for Humanity (TruK).

"Wawan often talked about the 1998 student movement. The struggle wasn't finished yet but many of his colleagues had already run from the struggle", recalled Sumarsih when speaking with on Friday January 21.

In January 2007, Sumarsih and her colleagues initiated the first Kamisan action. Fifteen years later and throughout this time it was as if the state was suffering amnesty and had forgotten its responsibilities.

"Those in power increasingly closed their eyes and ears [to us]", she said.

Sumarsih admits to once having hope that the state would take responsibility for past human rights violations.

She related how each time a general election approached; first former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and then President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, would start throwing promises around.

Moreover it was not just promises. Both of them invited Sumarsih and her colleagues to the State Palace to discuss the issue.

Yudhoyono met with them on March 26, 2008. The meeting occurred several days before the Attorney General announced that the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) investigation dossier on the Trisakti, Semanggi I and Semanggi II student shootings in 1997-98 had gone missing.

Following on from this, Widodo did the same thing on May 31, 2018. Sumarsih revealed that she was undecided about whether to accept the invitation because Widodo had recently brought former General Wiranto – the commander of the Indonesian Armed Forces or ABRI as they were known in 1998 – into his cabinet as chief security minister.

There was a common thread connecting Yudhoyono and Widodo in this issue.

First, both had invited victims and families of victims of gross human rights violations to meet with them in the lead up to presidential elections. Second, both made sweet promises.

"Black on white, Pak [Mr] Jokowi promised to resolve past gross human rights violations, the specific cases were even cited, he then promised to abolish impunity (legal immunity), but in reality, in the middle of Pak Jokowi's first term he promoted an alleged gross human rights violator (Wiranto)", said Sumarsih.

Yet Widodo was once a figure who was a pillar of home for Sumarsih and her colleagues. His promises when he first stepped into the national political chessboard in 2014 brought with it a fresh breath of air.

Moreover, at the time Widodo joined the contest as a candidate with a clean track record compared with his rival at the time, former Suharto era general Prabowo Subianto.

Under the Nawa Cita nine point priority program which Widodo promoted, the former Solo mayor also promised to resolved cases of gross human rights violations.

"Me, during the 1999, 2004 and 2009 elections, I golput-ed [to boycott or abstain from voting]. Then in 2014 I campaigned, come on vote for Pak Jokowi, because there was hope. I even said at a Kamisan action that I would stop coming to Kamisan actions because I am full of hope that Pak Jokowi will resolve gross human rights cases", she said.

"This hope actually did not exist".

Sumarsih was clearly disappointed because the figure in which she had pinned so much hope in turned out to be just the same as his predecessor Yudhoyono.

Widodo instead offered to resolved cases of gross human rights violations though non-judicial mechanism or outside judicial channels.

This offer was seen as negating the rights of the victims and ignoring impunity for the perpetrators of human rights violations. Sumarsih explicitly rejected such a discourse.

Under President Widodo's leadership a red carpet was also laid out for more than just one perpetrator of alleged gross human rights violations.

The most recent case being Major General Untung Budiharto – a former member of the Rose Team (Tim Mawar) which was involved in the forced disappearance of political activists in 1997-1998 – who was selected as the new Jakarta military commander. Intervention by Widodo over the polemic has yet to be seen.

Her hopes also evaporated because the people's representatives in Senayan – as the parliament is known – could also not be relied upon.

"Many people have said, such as [lawmakers] Pak Asrul Sani or Taufik Basari, who said several times that the political map in the DPR [House of Representatives]  is the same as the New Order era [of former President Suharto], that the DPR is not the people's representative but the parties' representative", said Sumarsih.

"Why don't I trust (the government), because at the moment alleged gross human rights violators, including people who were declared [guilty] by [military] courts – although in the end they appealed – have been given strategic policy making posts [in the government]", she said.

What then makes Sumarsih continue faithfully standing up every Thursday with the same demands, with the same sense of mourning, in front of the same State Palace?

"I don't actually have any hope [in the government], because we have been lied to repeatedly. My hope is that there will be young people who will come to Kamisan actions", she admitted.

"One of these might end up leading the country, become president, or a law enforcement official who is capable of and has the courage to resolve cases of gross human rights violations", added Sumarsih.

Now, with the political arena starting to fill with noise of politicians busy polishing their images as they welcome the 2024 presidential and legislative elections, Sumarsih and her colleagues will continue pursuing the path of silent Kamisan actions.

A silent path where they are truly alone in demanding responsibility from the state and the voices that they hear are only their own.

"Certainly there is still the 2024 elections. But will it not just be a third period like the New Order", said Sumarsih jokingly.

"If there is another election in 2024, I will campaign for golput: an affluent golput, a prosperous golput – like before with [former activist] Pak Fadjroel (Rachman) who later joined with Pak Jokowi [as his presidential spokesperson]", she said in closing.

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "15 Tahun Aksi Kamisan: Harapan Itu Sebetulnya Sudah Sirna, Kami Berkali-kali Dibohongi".]