Reza Agustian, Jakarta – Trisakti University students held a commemoration of 24 years since the Trisakti tragedy on May 12, 1998, which was held near the Arjuna Wijaya or Horse Statue in Central Jakarta on Thursday May 12.
Trisakti student deputy president Niha Nihaya said that the spirt of reformasi – the political reform process that began in 1998 – is still held to by the younger generation today.
"Of course the spirit of May 12 can continue to bring youth together to continue being able to think creatively and give birth to positive ideas for the nation which is still advancing, as well as developing in all aspects", she said at the Horse Statue on Thursday.
Prior to protesting at the Horse Statue, the Trisakti students held an event at the 12 May Monument in Grogol, West Jakarta.
"Without the struggle by youths at that time (1998), we would not have anybody who speaks about reform and reformasi", she said.
Four Trisakti students were shot dead during a protest actin on May 12, 1998. The demonstration at the Trisakti University was one in a series of student actions since early 1998 demanding reformasi.
The four students who fell victim were Heri Hartanto, Hendriawan Sie, Elang Mulia Lesmana and Hafidin Royan.
At the time, the student movement was the main pillar in removing former president Suharto who had been in power for 32 years. The economic crisis which rocked Indonesia in early 1998 created widespread public dissatisfaction with Suharto's leadership.
The student actions had became more open and courageous after Suharto was appointed to be president for the seventh time during a People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) public session on March 10, 1998. Prior to this, student actions were limited to university campuses.
The campus' strategic position – close to the House of Representatives (DPR) and People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) complex – made the Trisakti University a gathering point for students from various other campuses.
Kompas reported at the time that the action began at 11 am. The agenda for the action included listening to a speech by the great general AH Nasution, although in the end he did not attend. Speeches were also given by university professors, lecturers and students.
At around 1 pm, the protesters began leaving the campus grounds and spilling out onto Jalan Jalan S. Parman in West Jakarta. They planned to hold a long-march to the DPR/MPR complex in Senayan.
The front ranks of the marchers was made up of students who handed out roses to police officers who had blocked the thousands of demonstrators. Negotiations were also held.
Student leader and Trisakti University Faculty of Law alumni Adi Andojo and the commander of the West Jakarta District Military Command (Kodim) Infantry Lieutenant Colonel A. Amril agreed that the action could only be held to as far as the West Java mayor's office, around 300 metres from the Trisakti University main entrance.
Based on this agreement, the students continued the action by holding a free speech forum demanding reformasi and that a special session of the MPR be held. The action continued until 5 pm without any significant tensions.
Around that time, a number of action participants had also begun to move back into the campus grounds. However when around 70 percent of the students had already returned to the campus, the sound of gunfire was heard from the direction of the security forces.
The protesters suddenly began to panic and scattered, running inside the campus. Others jumped over the toll road fence in order to save themselves.
Following this security personnel moved in and began attacking the students. The students fought back and began throwing any kind of objects they could find in the campus grounds at the security personnel.
The Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) says that as many as 681 people from various different higher education institutions were injured during the incident.
Following the bloody incident, a military tribunal was held to try the perpetrators in the field, but it did not involve any strategic policy holders from the central government.
[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Mahasiswa Peringati 24 Tahun Tragedi Trisakti 12 Mei 1998".]