'Every Thursday they speak out' says activist refuting Prabowo's rights claim

Kompas.com – December 13, 2023
750th Thursday action in front of Presidential Palace in Central Jakarta – October 27, 2022 (CNN)

Novianti Setuningsih, Jakarta – Amnesty International Indonesia Executive Director Usman Hamid has refuted a statement by presidential candidate (capres) number 2, Greater Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) Chairperson and Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto.

Subianto said that the issue of the abduction and disappearance of pro-democracy activists in 1997-98 always surfaces every five years or when there is an election.

Hamid said that every Thursday the families of the victims of the abductions gather without fail in front of the State Palace demanding justice and truth for their family members.

Prabowo however, gives the impression of belittling the forced disappearances and claiming that the case is being politicised.

"In the earlier segment in the [presidential election] debate [on Tuesday] capres number 2 (Prabowo) said that this is an issue [that comes up every] five years, yet it isn't", said Hamid during the Capres Debate live program on Kompas TV on Tuesday December 12.

"Every Thursday the victims' [families] raise their voice, raise the issue of the missing people", he reiterated.

Hamid reiterated that the victims' families hold Kamisan (Thursday) actions every week articulating demands for justice. They usually wear black clothing and carry black umbrellas.

He also emphasised that those who are calling for justice for the victims of forced disappearances are the victims' families, not former 1998 activist Budiman Sudjatmiko.

"Every Thursday the victims' [families] speak out, not Budiman who only speaks up at each election, and Budiman was never abducted", said Hamid.

Hamid then underlined the importance of the victims' perspective that was raised by presidential candidate Ganjar Pranowo during the first debate session on dealing with cases of human rights violations.

Pranowo also read out the four recommendations made by the House of Representatives (DPR) in 2009 in relation to the 1997-98 abductions, namely forming an ad hoc Human Rights Court, finding the victims or where they are buried if they are already dead, the prosecution of the perpetrators and guarantees of rehabilitation.

"If the timses [election campaign team] says that when Prabowo was nominated (as then president Megawati Sukarnoputri's vice presidential running mate) in 2009 no one made an issue out of it, who says so? A great many people made an issue of it. Moreover the DPR made an issue out of it", said Hamid.

Yesterday, during the presidential election debate at the General Elections Commission (KPU) offices in Jakarta, Pranowo asked Prabowo about the graves of the 1997-98 abduction victims who remain missing.

The former Central Java governor asked if Prabowo would look for or identify the graves of the activists that disappeared during the last days of the New Order regime of former president Suharto so that their families could carry out a ziarah, or a devotional visit to a sacred place.

Pranowo also asked about Prabowo's commitment to resolving the 12 cases of past gross human rights violations that have been acknowledged by the government.

In response, Prabowo claimed that he is a figure who is hard on defending human rights. He also said that the issue of the abductions always comes up every five years when his electability rises.

"In fact, the people who were arrested, who it is said I abducted, are now on my side, defending me", said Prabowo pointing to Budiman Sudjatmiko who was seated in the audience.

Prabowo also claimed to have repeatedly answered questions about human rights issues and the 1997-98 forced disappearances.

"So, what else do you want to ask me. I have answered this many times, there's a digital record. I have answered many times, every five years when my poling goes up, I get asked again about it", he said.

Furthermore, Prabowo asked that the human rights issue not be politicised. "So, don't politicise human rights issues, Mas [Brother] Ganjar, that's what it think", said Prabowo.


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 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.

Following a widely reported meeting with Prabowo in July 2023, Former People's Democratic Party (PRD) Chairperson Budiman Sudjatmiko publically expressed his support for Prabowo Subianto's presidential bid and stated that the former Special Forces general should not be held hostage by past human rights abuses. In response dozens of former PRD activists held a press conference in Jakarta and accused Sudjatmiko of betraying the reform movement and called for perpetrators of past rights abuses to be arrested and tried. Sudjatmiko has since joined Prabowo's election campaign team and publically defended Prabowo rights record on several occasions.

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Bantah Prabowo soal Isu Penculikan Aktivis Muncul 5 Tahun Sekali, Usman Hamid: Tiap Kamis Korban Bersuara".]

Source: https://nasional.kompas.com/read/2023/12/13/05400021/bantah-prabowo-soal-isu-penculikan-aktivis-muncul-5-tahun-sekali-usman-hamid