Category Archives: indonesia


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:



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.]

End of Silence: the 1965 Genocide in Indonesia

During the rule of Indonesia’s inaugural president, Sukarno, a group of generals were plotting to remove him for being too left-wing. One morning in 1965, the bodies of five of these generals were found in a well and members of the Presidential Guard took over part of the capital, Jakarta. The head of special forces, Major-General Soeharto, promptly subdued the Guards, assumed control and effectively put Sukarno under house arrest.


Soeharto quickly promulgated a story that communists were responsible for the killings and unleashed a murderous witch-hunt: the final death toll was around the million mark. Many victims were not communist, merely members of student or worker organisations, or not activist at all. Any discussion of the initial murders and subsequent purge was actively suppressed and this applies today, despite the ousting of Soeharto in 1998.

The End of Silence: Accounts of the 1965 Genocide in Indonesia, by Soe Tjen Marching (Amsterdam University Press, 2017), presents first-hand accounts of victims and family members who suffered from the witch-hunt. [See

For her, the purge is very personal: “My mother’s trauma of witnessing her husband being dragged from our home by Soeharto’s troops… makes her believe that silence is a virtue. I am almost the complete opposite… I believe that I have the responsibility to reveal these stories so that more and more people find out about what happened…”

marching Marching wanted to reveal how the purge was perceived by surviving victims and their families, and how they have been affected since. Her book achieves that aim excellently, comprising an analysis of Soeharto’s campaign and its legacy, followed by chapters devoted to the stories of direct victims, their siblings, their children and grandchildren respectively, and a reflective epilogue.

The accounts she presents make gripping and sometimes harrowing reading. While often amazed at how resilient people could be, I was sobered by stories of brutality, families broken up, careers ruined, inner pain, and secrets kept fearfully for half a century. The difficulties of direct victims and their families did not end with release. Identity cards were stamped to show victims’ past status, employment became near-impossible to secure, and they were subject abuse and even violence, with lasting negative consequences.

Marching explains how Soeharto and his allies implanted widespread fear in Indonesian society so his troops’ actions could gain public approval and support. Soeharto’s anti-communist campaign permeated Indonesian life right down to his demise in 1998 and beyond, with the official line on the purge being replicated in school texts and propaganda films.

The author argues that the powerful in Indonesia (which still includes perpetrators and their cronies), by sustaining fear, have turned the victims and families into their agents in maintaining the silence, while themselves remaining demonised and stigmatised.

Marching hopes this collection of victims’ accounts will help prevent the destruction of memories of 1965-1966. Her closing words reflect exactly my own estimation of her work: “This book has given the space for the survivors and their families to challenge the chronic stigma maintained by the perpetrators and their cronies: it is time to end the silence.”

Postscript: Another book on the subject is Unmarked Graves by Vanessa Hearman. See this link for details: