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IKOHI

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Agony of the Missing Persons' Families

DISAPPEARANCES - INDONESIA: The Agony of Missing Persons’ Families

Their loved ones have been missing for months, some for more than a year. The families of Indonesia’s missing persons rely on their vivid memories to help keep their hope alive. Some of these families live far from Jakarta, and not all have the energy or the means to keep going back and forth to the capital to inquire about their lost members. The following are a few accounts from families of missing persons:

D. Utomo Rahardjo, the father of Petrus Bima Anugerah, last communicated with his son over the phone. During the brief conversation, shortly before the young man disappeared on 31 March 1998, Utomo said his son only requested that the family pray for his safety. A relative requesting anonymity said Petrus had felt threatened because his calls to an apartment of his fellow student activists in Klender, East Jakarta, had gone unanswered.Petrus, 25, is one of the Indonesian political activists who disappeared at a time of crushing economic crisis and rising student protests against the government earlier this year.

The new government of President B. J. Habibie is trying to prove its commitment to reform by putting pressure on the military to investigate abuses. The government announced in August that it had ordered the release of 32 political prisoners, bringing to more than 200 the total number of such inmates freed under Habibie.However, nearly 100 more remain in jail. Andi Arief, who was abducted and recently released, has said that based on comments made by his captors he believes at least two of the missing men are dead.

Those who have been freed said that security forces beat them and tortured them with electric shocks to force them to reveal names of colleagues or plans they were suspected of having to disrupt the presidential election in March.Human rights groups say thousands of political activists disappeared during Suharto’s 32-year rule. Investigations are currently underway into reports of mass graves in the province of Aceh, which along with areas of East Timor and Irian Jaya have been the focus of military operations against government opponents.

Like many of the activists, Petrus began his political activities at university and soon joined the youth wing of the People’s Democratic Party (PRD), which was formed in 1994 to press for political reform and later banned by Suharto. The Suharto government viewed joining the PRD as tantamount to treason because its members were suspected of harbouring communist ideals. Petrus and other youths who worked in the new party resented Suharto, his children and their cronies for amassing fortunes worth an estimated US billion during his authoritarian rule. The activists now demand that Suharto be brought to justice and that the wealth be returned to help rehabilitate Indonesia’s economy.

‘My Life is Not for My Parents Only’
Petrus told his family nearly two years ago that he began to notice the potential for change in Indonesia. "My son said that in that organisation there is hope for change in Indonesia," said Petrus’ mother, Genoveva Misiati, describing a conversation she and her husband had with Petrus. "I said, ‘What kind of change do you want?’ He said, ‘I want to have a change in education, politics and the movement of the workers.’" "We said if you want to get involved in that organisation you are going to hit a steel wall," Misiati said. Petrus replied: "I know that, but if I don’t do this, the next generation will be ruined."

When Petrus failed to go home last December, Misiati wrote to him asking, "Don’t you love your mother anymore?" He replied: "It is not that I don’t love my parents. But my life is not for my parents only. I don’t want life to be a routine . . . I want to do something that other people need. If I don’t I would be very disappointed and regret it. I would even die."

Over the next three months, Petrus went deeper underground as student protests grew. A former Airlangga University student, Petrus was asked by his relatives to move to Jakarta after fellow activists - including Dita Sari who is still being detained in Tangerang - were arrested. He soon after continued his studies at the Driyarkara Theology Institute in Central Jakarta. A few days before Petrus was reported missing, fellow activists had warned him to be extra careful.His father, a paramedic in a mental hospital in Malang, last came to Jakarta to meet National Military Police Commander Major General Syamsu Djalal, the head of the Armed Forces’ (ABRI) fact-finding team on the disappearances, and to the Ministry of Defence and Security with families of other missing persons on 22 July. They had hoped to meet Minister of Defence and Security/ABRI Commander General Wiranto for news of their lost family members.

General Wiranto finally agreed to meet the group and acknowledged that he still knows "nothing of their whereabouts and whether they are still alive or not."Petrus’ father said General Wiranto should be held responsible for the disappearances:

"I just want clarity and certainty" about Petrus’ condition. He walked out of the meeting with Syamsu because he felt the answers to his questions were unsatisfactory. Utomo, speaking by phone from his home in Malang, East Java, said he was "democratic" and had never forbidden Petrus from joining potentially dangerous activities.

He added that Petrus had always been active in his community’s youth activities as well as in church.In the first weeks after Petrus was reported missing, Utomo said the family did not want neighbours to notice. "We still joined community activities and even had a neighbours’ gathering at home. Nobody knew."When their neighbours found out the news, many came to support the family. Petrus’ mother said of her recent retirement from a teaching post in school: "It seems that God has arranged this" so she could have more time to go back and forth to the offices of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) and government authorities to inquire about their son.

Family’s Breadwinner Disappeared
In Jakarta, Taj-Biby, 49, spoke affectionately about her son, Noval S. Alkatiri, whom she has not seen since 29 May 1997. Noval, 31, the second child of five, had been the family’s breadwinner."He is a really devoted son, and worked hard to support us and was the main financial contributor to his father’s diabetic treatment," Taj-Biby said. She insisted that her son was not politically active. Noval and a family friend, Deddy Hamdun, 43, went missing with Noval’s driver, Ismail, 31, on the same day.

Deddy and the family had a remote business relationship in the past, she said. Noval and his daughter, Nafilah, lived with his parents following his divorce. Nafilah, 8, is one of the last people to see her father.On the day Noval was reported missing, Nafilah accompanied her father to his office upon her grandmother’s request. "It was (general) election day, and I asked Noval to bring Nafilah to his office so that she wouldn’t be lonely at home.A couple of hours later, my son dropped his daughter at home. Without getting out of the car, he told her to change clothes. We were planning to go out together after he came back from picking up Deddy," recalled Taj-Biby.

Nafilah was ready at the time promised, but her father never returned. Pictures of missing people on television and newspapers have brought reality closer to home. "Nafilah always points to the TV (when Noval’s picture is aired) and says, ‘That’s Abah (father)! He’s going to take me around when he comes back.’," Taj-Biby added.The family said that Taj-Biby’s health had deteriorated since her son was reported missing. Yet the family has not lost hope. "We have been waiting patiently for a year. We are willing to continue waiting for months as long as the military can assure Noval’s safety and whereabouts," said Erie Alkatiri, Noval’s sister.

Similar uncertainty and hope was voiced by the family of Yani Afri, who live in a modest apartment in Tanah Abang. His mother, Tuti, remembers the first days that began the family’s long wait. "That afternoon (26 April 1997), Yani was sleeping after a long working night. A man whom I have never seen before, who introduced himself as Sonny, came and woke my son up, and that was the last time I saw him," Tuti said.

Three days later, upon hearing news that her son was being detained by the military, Tuti went to the North Jakarta Military District to find that her son had been released but was missing again. ‘I Only Want My Son to Come Home Safely’ Since then she has lived in uncertainty. The family has even gone to see a soothsayer, but has found no solace except for some news from Kontras that another missing person since released by his captors reported that he had met Yani. "I only want my son to come home safely. I don’t care whether there is a trial of those military personnel (alleged captors)," Tuti said.

She joined with other families to meet General Wiranto. "I was totally unsatisfied with his answers." A young man with a strong will, Tuti said, Yani, 27, closely resembled the character and physical features of his late father, a decorated soldier of the Siliwangi Army division. Yani and Yusuf, his younger brother, had worked together for years as public transport drivers. "He usually worked as the driver, while I was his assistant. We were really close. People never guessed we were brothers," said Yusuf, 25.Yusuf said that it was Yani who pulled him from a life on the street after he graduated from high school. He said he would have known if his brother was politically active. "I have always been together with him."Meanwhile, news broke out that one missing person on the Kontras’ list was found:

Hendra Hendrawan, but it was yet to be confirmed. Hendrawan’s close friend, Nurhikmah, had said he told her his dream: "One day, when we succeed in achieving our aim (democracy), I would like to bring all underprivileged children of Jakarta to Ancol (beach resort), and let them have a taste of freedom."Nurhikmah, also an activist, described Hendrawan, 28, as coming from a disciplined Muslim family "with a fixed commitment towards the democratic movement."

Activists Being Released
Those who have been reunited with their families are Pius Lustrilanang, 30, the secretary-general of Aldera (the People’s Democratic Alliance) and a student at Parahyangan University, Bandung;

Desmon J. Mahesa, the director of the Nusantara Legal Aid Office in Jakarta;

Rahardjo Waluyo Djati, 29, an activist of the National Committee for Democracy Struggle (KNPD) and a student at Gadjah Mada University (UGM) who disappeared with Faisol Riza, 25, KNPD activist and UGM student who has also returned, and Hendrawan, who is still missing;

Nezar Patria, 28, also a UGM student and secretary-general of the Association of Indonesian Students for Democracy (SMID);

Mugianto, 25, SMID activist and UGM student, captured together with Nezar and Aan Rusdianto at a Klender apartment, East Jakarta, who has also returned;

Andi Arief, 28, the chairman of SMID;

and Haryanto Taslam, an executive in Megawati Soekarnoputri’s wing of the Indonesian Democratic Party.

(Source: This article is complied from news reports of the Jakarta Post, 2 August 1998, and the Washington Post, 16 September 1998.)

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IKOHI was set up on September 17, 1998 by the parents and surfaced victims of disappearances. Since then, IKOHI was assisted by KONTRAS, until October 2002 when finally IKOHI carried out it first congress to complete its organizational structure. In the Congress, IKOHI decided its two priority of programs. They are (1) the empowerment of the social, economic, social and cultural potential of the members as well as mental and physical, and (2) the campaign for solving of the cases and preventing the cases from happening again. The solving of the cases means the reveal of the truth, the justice for the perpetrators, the reparation and rehabilitation of the victims and the guarantee that such gross violation of human right will never be repeated again in the future.

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