The Indonesian Attorney General’s Office and Indonesian military (TNI) are planning a large-scale raid on books about communism and the 1965 purge, supposedly aimed at preventing revival of the Indonesian Communist Party (Jakarta Post, 26 Jan 2019). The raid would follow up similar raids last year in East Java, Sumatra and Kalimantan. The PKI is long dead but the RI government still touts it as a ‘latent danger’.

The Indonesian establishment’s fear of communism is perhaps genuine; nonetheless, it follows in the footsteps of former strong-man President Suharto in using the communist bogeyman as justification for repression of free speech and discomforting facts. Many in the TNI and other positions of power have self-serving reasons for suppressing the truth about the 1960s purge of suspected communists, which resulted in a million or more deaths across the country.

This is yet another disturbing anti free-speech move by the powers-that-be in recent times, running against what many had hoped would be a current of liberalization after Jokowi was elected President. But no – it seems the RI establishment is not yet ready to allow open inspection of the nation’s living past.

Here are some links may be of interest:

End of Silence: the 1965 Genocide in Indonesia

Blood in the East Indies

November 1st marks the day when, in 1945 after the cessation of the Pacific War, British warships carrying 1,500 troops arrived in Surabaya, the regional capital of East Java in the East Indies, to reinforce troops already there.

It was bad news for the resistance forces of the newly-declared Republic of Indonesia, who had begun fighting for their nation’s independence from Dutch colonial rule. The Japanese had occupied the Indies during the war but had formally surrendered just a week previously.

British ships arrived two days later, disgorging 3,000 troops under Brigadier Mallaby, who reached an uneasy truce with the Republican commander. Things went wrong and hostilities broke out. More troops arrived on November 1st as mentioned and three days later, a further 9,000 troops disembarked, setting the stage for a battle ten days later.

There were over 100,000 Indonesian combatants present but, by the end of it all, British dead numbered about six hundred while Indonesian deaths were more than ten times that number. The whole business was a tragedy, but the battle was seen by the nationalists as a sign of Indonesian grit and a symbol of the freedom struggle, and is commemorated even today.

You can read more about this battle at and


Jokowi’s anti-communist pledge

When Joko Widodo – known as Jokowi – was elected president of Indonesia as someone apparently outside the existing national political power structures, many people felt hopeful. Was he the new broom needed to sweep through Jakarta?

Since then, observers have felt a sinking feeling of disappointment. Jokowi seemed to have his heart in the right place but has lacked the strength to stand up to the powerful (if shifting) alliances and pressure groups that comprise Indonesian politics, such as Islamic hardliners.

Now it is reported (Jakarta Post, 6 Oct 2018) that he has exhorted the Indonesian Military (TNI) to fight against communism. At a commemoration of the founding of the TNI, Jokowi saw fit to pledge that, as Commander in Chief, he joined hands with the military in “eradicating communism and the legacy of the PKI”.

The PKI was blamed for a coup attempt in 1965 and was disbanded the following year, during a massive counter-communist purge that saw the execution of up to a million Indonesians accused of being left-wing. The new leader, Soeharto, and his allies ran an ongoing anti-communist campaign right down to his overthrow in 1998; foremost among those allies was the TNI. Since then, the witch-hunt has been off the boil, though anti-PKI paranoia has become ingrained into the Indonesian psyche.

Accused leftists being led to slaughter

When Jokowi ran for presidency four years ago, rumors were circulated that he was a PKI member, even though he’d been a mere toddler in the Sixties. Such rumours have resurfaced and a week ago Jokowi, a successful self-made businessman, felt it necessary to publicly dismiss them again, saying that fake news was being spread because of the upcoming presidential elections (Jakarta Post, 27 Sept 2018).

Clearly, the communist bogey-man is still being used by certain groups to put down anyone they see as a threat. The TNI has always loved to use it, partly through genuine belief and partly because they see a ‘red threat’ as justification for their repressive role in the national polity.

The author Soe Tjen Marching (The End of Silence, 2017) has argued that the powerful in Indonesia – including purge perpetrators and their cronies – have a vested interest in sustaining fear of the bogey-man, since it serves to thwart investigation of what really happened in 1965 and who was involved in the purge.

Wittingly or otherwise, Jokowi has become part of this repression.

For more on The End of Silence, see

For more on Soeharto’s part in the purge, see:



Asia Pacific Youth Exchange 2019

Applications are now open for the 7th Asia Pacific Youth Exchange. The program will run 8 – 19 January 2019. According to the organisers, participants will:

“EXPERIENCE the Filipino culture
GROW in an engaging learning environment
EMPOWER and be empowered”

and take an active role in the achievement of sustainable development goals.

Kartini Day: Indonesia’s proto-feminist heroine

Raden Ajeng Kartini was cloistered in an aristocratic family, but managed to befriend some progressive Dutch and Indonesian individuals who stimulated her thinking. She was determined to improve the lot of Indies women, even though her father made her the fourth wife of an older man. She poured her heart and hopes into letters to liberal-minded friends but died following childbirth at 25.

A collection of her letters was published posthumously, in English called “Through Darkness to Light” and later “Letters of a Javanese Princess”. These spread her ideas and are still republished today. For more, see:

Indonesia: freedom of speech?

There were two pieces of disturbing news from Indonesia last week regarding freedom of speech.

The South Jakarta District Court found political activist Asma Dewi guilty of ‘insulting those in power or legal institutions’, in violation of Article 207 of the Criminal Code. In a Facebook post, she had used slang words meaning stupid and crazy when criticizing the government. The court said Asma’s comments were ‘not constructive’, as the words ‘could be construed as insulting’.

Asma was sentenced to over five month’s jail but she’ll probably walk free, as her detention since her arrest last September was taken into account. The prosecution had requested two years’ jail and an extremely hefty fine.

Indonesians have never enjoyed freedom of expression as it is understood in liberal democracies but, since an era of reformasi was heralded after the demise of quasi-dictator Suharto two decades ago, there have been gradual advancements on that front. More recently, however, it seems Indonesian politicians are becoming more thin-skinned.

Witness to this trend is last weeks’ new Legislative Institutions Law, empowering the House of Representatives’ ethics council to press charges against anyone ‘disrespecting’ the House or its members. The law shields members themselves from investigation by law enforcement authorities without the approval of the president and the council.

Civil rights groups are worried the law could be used to silence critics (who would have guessed?) but parliamentarians claim they distinguish legitimate criticism from insults. To his credit, President Joko Widodo refused to sign the law but that doesn’t stop it coming into effect. He suggested the public should challenge the law in the Constitutional Court.

Let’s hope some brave souls are prepared to try.

[Sources: Articles in The Jakarta Post, 15 March 2018.]

Indonesian Heroes Day – the eve of Armistice

We all know 11 November is Armistice Day, when we remember those fallen in battle, especially in major wars that everyone knows about. But few people other than Indonesians are familiar with the Battle of Surabaya, celebrated on 10 November as Heroes Day in Indonesia.

This is despite the fact that one the main protagonists, apart from Indonesian nationalists, were the British armed forces (including many Indians), with numbers of Dutch personnel. It was a battle for independence for Indonesians and for reassertion of colonial power by the Dutch, with the Brits caught in between.

British armor in Surabaya

During the battle, there were propaganda broadcasts by ‘Surabaya Sue’, a Scots woman whose life included many moves, name changes, adventures and delusions (for more, see If she is to be believed, at least two Australians present crossed over to the Republican side, as did significant numbers of Indians.

BersiapinSurabayaTo see how the battle worked out, click  DUTCH EAST INDIES October 1945: the Battle of Surabaya part 1 and DUTCH EAST INDIES November 1945: the Battle of Surabaya part 2.

Happy Heroes Day to Indonesia, and respectful remembrance to all Commonwealth forces who did their duty.