Marking poet's birthday, activists say 'Good people don't vote for a kidnapper'

Media Indonesia – August 26, 2023
Event marking Wiji Thukul's 60th birthday at National Gallery in Jakarta – August 26, 2023 (MI)

Hundreds of activists who are members of the Coalition Against Forgetting held a thanksgiving event to mark missing poet Wiji Thukul's 60th anniversary titled "Happy Birthday Wiji Thukul, Where Are You?" at the Gambir National Gallery in Central Jakarta on Saturday August 26.

The activists all wore black T-shirts with a picture of Thukul and the words "Coalition Against Forgetting: Good People Don't Vote for a Kidnapper".

A series of activities were held during the event ranging from poetry to music, which was presented by fellow poets and musicians who once fought alongside Thukul. One of them was Usman Hamid, a former activist who currently serves as Amnesty International Indonesia executive director.

A former People's Democratic Party (PRD) activist who is also member of the Indonesian Association of the Families of Missing Persons (Ikohi) Advisory Board, Wilson, said the event was held to send a message to the authorities that the kidnapping case of Thukul and his comrades is not over yet.

"Actually, this is also the intention of the authorities, because there were recommendations made by the DPR [House of Representatives] in 2009, there were two important ones, one of which was forming an investigation team to search for the missing activists, but Pak [Mr] President SBY [then president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono] didn’t want to do any of that. That left Pak President Jokowi [Joko Widodo], who doesn't have the courage to implement the DPR's recommendation. Instead he embraced Prabowo Subianto", said Wilson in a statement received on Saturday.

Wilson also used the occasion to touch on the issue of support for Prabowo by former PRD Chairperson Budiman Sudjatmiko.

"Perhaps as a democrat I can respect this, but specifically Budiman Sudjatmiko is different as a former PRD chairperson. The first is that Prabowo was the mastermind behind the disappearance of the 98 activists and Budiman was the chairperson of the PRD at that time. So morally and politically, how can you embrace a presidential candidate who abducted your own comrades", he asserted.

Usman Hamid meanwhile said that the fight to find the truth about the comrades who disappeared must be agitated for. The mastermind behind the operation to disappear the activists must also be thoroughly investigated.

“I think many people have the same questions. For me, they (the abducted activists) are like flowers that are forced to wither. But the struggle to find them should not stop", he asserted.

Wiji Thukul's name is known to the public thanks to his poetry which loudly criticised the authoritarianism of former president Suharto's New Order regime and his determination to fight for the rights of marginalised groups.

Thukul's struggle ended in him being forcibly disappeared and to this day his whereabouts remain unknown. (RO/H-3)


In 1997-98 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 (including Thukul) 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 claims they were all released alive and well. He was subsequently discharged from the military over the abductions but has never been tried in court. Currently serving as Defense Minister, he is running as a presidential candidate in the 2024 elections.

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "HUT ke-60 Wiji Thukul, IKOHI: Orang Baik tidak Pilih Penculik".]