Thursday, May 20, 2004

Black May 1998: 6th Commemoration (18 of 40)

May 1998 Riot Victims Still Waiting for Justice to Come
By Muninggar Sri Saraswati and Bambang Nurbianto, Jakarta
The Jakarta Post (Thursday, May 13, 2004)

For the last six years, Mey Ling (not her real name) has never missed a prayer, asking God to punish the group of men who gang-raped her on a street in West Jakarta as riots swept the capital in May 1998.

"I am not a saint, I will never forgive those men. I hope they all are condemned to hell. This is the only thing I can do," she told The Jakarta Post during an interview on Monday evening.

She added that she had lost hope of ever seeing the rapists being brought to justice.

Mey Ling, now 28, was a final year student at a private university in West Jakarta when the incident occurred. She was on her way from the campus to her home in the Jembatan Lima area when a number of men stopped the bus she was riding on.

"They shouted, where are Chinese, where are Chinese, and they pulled me and other bus passengers of Chinese descent off. The driver and his assistant tried to stop them but they were outnumbered," she said.

The male Chinese passengers were beaten up by the men, all of whom were wearing black long-sleeved shirts and carrying wooden sticks. About four or five female passengers were gang-raped, Mey Ling recalled.

"What's did I do? I never asked to be borne Chinese. Why did they do that?" she cried.

The interview had to be stopped several times as Mey Ling found herself unable to hold back the tears as she recounted the worst moments of her life.

"I don't care about politics. I don't care who becomes the president or vice president as long as he or she punishes those who did this to me," she said.

Mey Ling failed to finish her studies. Her family is not wealthy enough to emigrate, so now she prefers to stay at home where she feels safe. She now helps her parents, who sell plastic domestic goods.

Since the incident, Mey Ling, who has decided not to marry, says she hates native Indonesians as they remind her of the rapists.

Another victim, Andi Kusuma, said he could only hope the Indonesia people would elect leaders who were capable of maintaining security in the country. But he also hoped the next president would investigate the May riots and bring the perpetrators to justice.

"We don't seek revenge. We only want justice to prevail," said Andi, whose house and computer shop in Glodok were burnt down by a group of unidentified men.

Andi, whose arms were burnt during the incident, said he was lucky that his wife and their two children had not been harmed as they were visiting his parents-in-law in Yogyakarta at the time.

"Frankly speaking, we placed a lot of hope in the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM). But, their investigation means nothing without the political will on the part of the government. I was a little bit disappointed when Pak Solahuddin decided to team up with Pak Wiranto," he said.

The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) investigated the riots and held a number of military and police officers responsible, including former military commander Gen. (ret) Wiranto.

The Komnas HAM team was led by its deputy chairman Solahuddin Wahid, who eventually stepped down after he decided to pair up with Wiranto for the upcoming presidential election.

Muntaris, 47, and his 41-year-old wife, Nurhayati, will never forget the flames that razed the Yogya Department Store in Klender subdistrict, East Jakarta, on May 13, 1998, an incident that resulted in the death of their eldest son, Achmad Zakir, then 18.

They now prohibit their three remaining children from visiting the shopping center, which is located only around 100 meters away from their home, even though the department store now has a new name -- Central Klender Plaza.

"I've told my children that I'll cut off their legs if they go there," Muntaris told the Post.

On the eve of the riot, Zakir wrote in his diary: "Thank you, heroes of reform. You have gone for good. You dared to sacrifice your lives. My prayers will always be with you. Your names will be remembered forever. I hope your good deeds will be accepted by Allah the Almighty. Amen."

Muntaris recalled that his son had just finished his final exams in his vocational school. He was waiting for graduation day when he lost his life to the flames in the mall, together with hundreds of other people.

"I do not know who was responsible for what happened, but I believe that someone must be punished," said Muntaris, who works as a polisher with a furniture company.

Indeed, six years is not enough to heal the wounds suffered by the victims of the riots and their families. Neither can they forget their individual nightmares, let alone forgive those responsible.

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