Gerindra politician denies that Prabowo was involved 1998 abductions

Source – May 4, 2023
Gerindra Deputy Chairperson Fadli Zon speaking at parliament building – October 5, 2022 (Kompas)

Adhyasta Dirgantara, Jakarta – Greater Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) Deputy Chairperson Fadli Zon has given an explanation in response to an issue that is often used to "attack" Gerindra Chairperson Prabowo Subianto ahead of each election, namely the abduction of pro-democracy activists in 1998.

Zon emphasised that Prabowo was not involved in the abduction of the '98 activists. He said that his response is in line with the results of the trial (persidangan). Zon conveyed this during a Gaspol program broadcast on the YouTube channel on Wednesday evening, May 3.

"I think it has been clarified, and has been many times, so there is [no truth in it]. All of it was [revealed] in the trial proceedings and so on. So it's finished. Yes (it did not show Prabowo's involvement)", said Zon.

Zon explained that in the beginning the incident was not actually referred to as abductions, but as arrests. This is because there were a number of activists who were suspected of making bombs at the Tanah Tinggi Apartments in Central Jakarta.

One of the bombs exploded by accident on January 18, 1998. The Rose Team [Tim Mawar] moved to formulate a plan to arrest the activists suspected of being involved in the bomb that exploded unintentionally.

The nine activists who were arrested by the Rose Team were linked to the bomb. The nine activists however were "returned". Meanwhile there were 13 other activists whose whereabouts are still unknown until this day.

"There was information which came from the apartments at Tanah Tinggi, then the [nine] people were arrested. It was something like that", he explained.

Zon then emphasised that Prabowo was not involved in the May 1998 riots in Jakarta. He stated that Prabowo's lack of involvement is already clear. According to Zon, what occurred was not like the accusations made by several parties against Prabowo.

"In May '98, what happened? There was the shooting of the Trisakti [University] students, right, who were demonstrating peacefully. Then because of the shooting, four people died", said Zon.

"Then people became angry and in the end created a riot, unrest, there were fires everywhere until the morning of May 15, 1998", he added.

Following this, said Zon, Indonesia's second president Suharto decided to resign.

Zon again emphasised that Prabowo was not involved in the May 1998 riots. He believes that Prabowo in fact tried to help bring the riots under control.

The following are the activists abducted by the Rose Team but returned:

1. Desmond Junaidi Mahesa
2. Haryanto Taslam
3. Pius Lustrilanang
4. Faisol Reza
5. Rahardjo Walujo Djati
6. Nezar Patria
7. Aan Rusdianto
8. Mugianto
9. Andi Arief


Between 1997 and 1998 as many as 23 pro-democracy activists were abducted by members of the Army's Special Forces (Kopassus) Rose Team. 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 himself has admitted to ordering the abductions claiming he was under orders from his superiors and that the kidnappings were legal. "I carried out operations that were legal at the time. If a new government said I was at fault I was here to take full responsibility", he told Al Jazeera on July 18, 2014.

Retired General Wiranto however, who was the Armed Forces (ABRI) commander at the time, has said that Prabowo ordered the abductions on his own initiative. "I personally asked then Lt. Gen. Prabowo about who had given him the order [to abduct the activists], he admitted that it was not under the order of the armed forces commander but, rather, on his own initiative based on his analysis of the situation", Wiranto was quoted as saying by the July 20, 2014 Jakarta Post.

Although Prabowo has never been tried in public court over the case, a leaked document on the findings of a military tribunal's investigating into the case in 1998 – which resulted in Prabowo being dishonorably discharged from the military – states that he was found guilty of illegally instructing soldiers from the Team Rose and the Merpati Task Force to arrest and detain activists from the People's Democratic Party (PRD).

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Prabowo Dalang Penculikan Aktivis '98? Begini Penjelasan Fadli Zon".]