Friday, May 31, 2002

Black May 1998: 4th Commemoration (9 of 17)

Trisakti 4 remembered four years on
The Jakarta Post (May 12, 2002)

Jakarta (JP): Fresh roses and bouquets of flowers were carefully placed on Saturday upon the black gravestones belonging to former Trisakti University students Elang Mulya Lesmana and Heri Hartanto, who were buried side by side in Tanah Kusir cemetery in South Jakarta, as well as that of Hendrawan Sie in Kamal cemetery, East Jakarta.

Chants and prayers by the parents, relatives, university officials and several colleagues who could hardly hold back their tears highlighted the modest ceremony held to remember the deaths of the four students as a result of the 1998 shooting at their campus, an event that led to the resignation of Soeharto.

The remembrances began earlier this month as the university's extended family laid flowers on the grave of Hafhidin Royan in Bandung, West Java.

It was part of the commemoration of the Trisakti tragedy culminating at the university's campus on Sunday, as the university and other student groups planned to revive the people's memory of that gray, chaotic evening on May 12 four years ago, by holding a peaceful vigil in the capital.

The four were shot dead at their campus after military troops forced them and their fellow demonstrators to disperse from an antigovernment protest that turned violent.

They are not dubbed as "the reform heroes" for nothing since their deaths added the fuel to the fire which expanded into a nationwide movement protesting Soeharto's military-style regime. It also fueled hopes that the nation could become a more democratic republic without the existence of a repressive military regime.

But have their deaths been repaid in full?

"Not yet. We better take the Trisakti tragedy as the spirit of reform will roll on although there are still people who resist reform and even hamper it. This commemoration is an event for us to reaffirm our commitment to the development of a civilized society," Trisakti rector Thoby Mutis said during Saturday's ceremonies.

The Trisakti shooting was followed by widespread rioting, chaos and looting across the country on May 13 and May 14, with common criminals and thugs joining in to target Chinese-Indonesians' shops and homes. Many were killed, raped or had their houses or businesses burned to the ground.

It has not yet been made clear to the public as to why security officers seemingly made no attempt to stop the chaos. The Supreme Court is expected to give its legal opinion on this matter. But many people believe the security apparatus set out to "teach" the public a lesson to the public on how powerful the security institutions can be when they want to act, or in that case what occurs when they refuse to act to secure the country.

Within four years, the nation has had three presidents: bureaucrat B.J. Habibie, humanist and activist Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid and now the daughter of founding president Sukarno, Megawati Soekarnoputri. It has also seen six different Cabinets.

But none of the new leaders have taken the initiative to determine whether there were human rights abuses in the killings and the riots -- neither against the students or the Chinese-Indonesian victims. Instead, they preferred to see it merely as a part of history or the rebirth of the country.

Human rights activists have consistently called the targeting of Chinese-Indonesians genocide, and that the government should put a great number of military and police officials on trial.

According to some, the reform movement seems to have stagnated as very few serious political changes have been made to develop a strong democracy. Thousands of people throughout the archipelago are fighting against others for a variety of reasons while the military remain extremely powerful despite the phasing-out of their dual function in politics.

It was the Trisakti parents' unrelenting demands for investigations of the shooting of their children that persuaded Gus Dur's administration to bring the triggermen to a military court. But the court's decision was not seen as satisfactory as only low-ranking personnel, who were merely carrying out their superior's orders, were sent to jail.

Lasmiyati, mother of Heri, said that sentencing the troops did not solve the case because "their superiors should be held responsible for the shootings and brought before the court first".

Hafhidin's father, Enus Junus, said the efforts to bring the case to the human rights court was not revenge against the military. "But if we keep it quiet, then we give a bad precedence where in the future the state may use arms to repress their intellectual youths."

The human rights commission completed an investigation into the tragedy and two other incidents that took place at the Semanggi overpass on Nov. 13, 1998 and on Sept. 24, 1999, in which more students and residents were killed.

In the recommendation to the Attorney General's Office, the commission underlined that the three incidents are closely related to the riots that followed.

Also present at Saturday's commemoration was the Community of May Victims' Relatives, the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), Kalyanamitra and Nusa Bangsa Solidarity (SNB). They issued a joint declaration demanding the government to pay attention to the case.

Asmara Nababan, secretary-general of the National Commission of Human Rights, expressed his pessimism of the current Attorney General's Office, and said they would probably find another loophole to delay the probe of the Trisakti shooting.

"The law does not provide a timeline for the Attorney General's Office in looking at the investigation result from Komnas. That will serve as another excuse to delay the probe," Asmara said on Saturday.

But Komnas was not surprised as it had faced a lot of stumbling blocks in the last four years.

"We all knew when we started with this case that we would constantly be banging our heads against the wall as it involves a lot of political interests," he remarked. (tso/bby)

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