Following praise for Prabowo, top spy reminded of former general's dark past

Source – March 24, 2023
Prabowo Subianto speaking to reporters at Lanud Halim Perdanakusuma Airport – March 8, 2023 (Kompas)

Singgih Wiryono, Jakarta – The Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) has again raised the issue of the involvement of Defense Minister (Menhan) Prabowo Subianto in past gross human rights violations.

Prabowo is said to have a dark track record related to the forced disappearance of 23 pro-democracy activists in 1997-98.

This was raised by Kontras Coordinator Fatia Maulidiyanti in response to a public endorsement by State Intelligence Agency (BIN) Chief Budi Gunawan, who said that President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's aura has begun to transfer to Prabowo.

"The BIN chief's statement could worsen the situation. Praising Prabowo could be misused as an instruction to mobilise state intelligence instruments to ensure a victory for him as a presidential candidate in the upcoming 2024 elections", said Maulidiyanti in a press release on Friday March 24.

"Aside from this, there are indications that Prabowo has a dark track record in cases of gross human rights violations", she added.

Maulidiyanti explained that in 1998 Prabowo held the post of Army Special Forces (Kopassus) commander. Prabowo is said to be the party that is responsible for the forced disappearance of pro-democracy activists.

The General Chairperson of the Greater Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) is said to have given the order to a special unit called the Rose Team (Tim Mawar) to carry out the abductions.

"[He gave] (the order) to carry out the forced disappearance of people, the whereabouts of 13 of which are still not known to this day", said Maulidiyanti.

As reported earlier, Gunawan said that president Widodo's aura had rubbed off on to Prabowo. This was conveyed when he was giving greetings to a formal gathering of the Papua Youth Creative Hub in Jayapura, Papua, on Tuesday March 21. When he greeted Prabowo, he alluded to his closeness to Widodo of late.

"My respected ministers of the Onward Indonesian Cabinet, Bapak [Mr] Defense Minister, Bapak Prabowo Subianto. We have all observed of late that Bapak Prabowo often travels together with Bapak President Jokowi", said Gunawan.

"Several times Pak Prabowo has also said that Pak Jokowi is his teacher, his mentor", he continued.

Gunawan also mentioned that Prabowo has often accompanied Widodo when he goes in to the field for working visits.

"Later today we will meet with them both here. Everyone will begin to see there is an aura, the aura of Pak Jokowi, some of which has already rubbed off on Pak Prabowo", said Gunawan.


Between 1997 and 1998 as many as 23 pro-democracy activists were abducted by members of the Army's Special Forces (Kopassus). After extended periods of detention – in many cases the victims were severely tortured – most were released although 13 remain missing and are presumed dead. Former Kopassus commander Lieutenant General Prabowo Subianto who was at the time President Suharto's son-in-law, has admitted to ordering the abductions but denies ordering their torture and claims they were all released alive and well. In April 1999, 11 low-ranking Kopassus officers were tried by a military court for the kidnappings and given sentences of between a year and 22 months in prison, although six of them were allowed to remain in the army. Prabowo himself was discharged from the military for ordering the abductions but has never been tried in court.

Gunawan is a close ally of Widodo's ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) Chairperson Megawati Sukarnoputri, who ensured Gunawan's appointment as State Intelligence Agency (BIN) chief in 2016. He is a powerful figure at the State Palace and was instrumental in brokering the appointment of Prabowo – Widodo's former presidential rival in 2014 and 2019 – as defense minister.

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Budi Gunawan Puja-puji Prabowo, Kontras Ingatkan Lagi Kasus Penculikan Aktivis".]