Thursday, May 22, 2003

Black May 1998: 5th Commemoration (15 of 24)

May riot rally blocked by police
By Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak, Jakarta
City News - May 16, 2003

About 200 victims of the May 1998 riots were forced by police to change the route of their march on Tuesday to commemorate the fifth year of the tragedy.

Officers from the Central Jakarta Police blocked off Jl. Kramat Raya and dispersed the rally participants an hour after they left Atrium Plaza en route to the Megaria movie theater, one of the locations destroyed in the riots.

"The police said we were late in informing them about the event. They said they need to receive notice three days before an event takes place," the chairman of the march's organizing committee, Wignyo, a member of Solidaritas Nusa Bangsa, said.

Due to the police's actions, the rally participants -- victims of the May 13 to May 15 riots, activists from the New Order era and victims of the 1965 massacres -- had to end their march at the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute office on Jl. Diponegoro instead of at Proklmasi Monument on Jl. Proklamasi.

"We are here to demand the government resolve all past human rights abuses, which is the most substantial requirement of the reform process," Wignyo said.

The May riots, which followed the shooting deaths by the police of four Trisakti University students taking part in nationwide protests to demand the resignation of former president Soeharto, are regarded as a vital event in the country's reform movement.

The authoritarian Soeharto stepped down on May 21, but the riots -- which were fueled by anti-Chinese sentiment -- had already claimed 1,217 lives, according to the Volunteer Team for Humanity.

The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) only recently established an ad hoc team to investigate the riots. It will summon for questioning next week several high-ranking military officers who were in charge of security during the violence.

According to the initial findings of Komnas HAM, the state committed gross violations of the people's rights during the May riots. This finding is based on the fact that no security officers were present to prevent the looting, burning of shops and houses, and rape.

Many witnesses have said that smartly dressed men with walkie-talkies were seen in different locations of the city provoking people to burn shops, even providing jerry cans of gasoline.

Ori Rahman of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), who is also a member of Komnas HAM's ad hoc team, told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday the facts of the riots alone were sufficient to bring the case to a human rights tribunal, because they prove a conspiracy systematically to quash the people's movement.

Events and aftermath of the May 1998 riots
May 12, 1998: Four Trisakti University students are shot and killed by security forces.

May 13-15, 1998: Mass riots in Jakarta, Medan, Palembang, Lampung and Surakarta. A total of 1,217 people die in the riots.

May 21, 1998: Soeharto resigns as president, is replaced by vice president B.J. Habibie.

Nov. 13, 1998: Protesters opposed to a Special Session of the People's Consultative Assembly are fired on. A total of 17 people are killed and 456 injured

1999: A government-sanctioned fact-finding team is established to investigate the May riots. Its unpublished findings reveal that at least 66 women, mostly Chinese-Indonesians, were raped during the upheaval.

Sept. 22-24, 1999: Protesters opposed to the imposition of an emergency bill are fired on. Nine people are killed.

June 18, 2001: A military court is called to try 11 members of the police's Mobile Brigade for the Trisakti shootings. Only nine suspects appear.

July 9, 2001: The House of Representatives finds no human rights abuses occurred in the Trisakti shootings, the Nov. 13, 1998 shootings or the September 1999 shootings. The House refused to include the May riots in its inquiry because it said those events were not related to the shootings.

January 2003: The National Commission on Human Rights sets up an ad hoc team to investigate the May riots.

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