Amnesty demands Jakarta allow massacre discussion

Armed soldiers stand guard in Sarawak in 1965, as a group of Chinese villagers take a communal bath. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Amnesty International is calling on Jakarta to relax censorship and the freedom to assembly over its attempts to silence discussion about the large-scale anti-communist purges of the mid-1960s.

Amnesty condemned “continued attempts by the Indonesian authorities to silence public discussions, and disband events, related to serious human rights violations that occurred 50 years ago, the most recent at a writers festival in Bali”.

“These actions are a clear restriction of the rights to freedom of expression and assembly and must end immediately,” the NGO said.

The Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, which finishes tomorrow, cancelled a number of events after “scrutiny” from the authorities.

“Three panel sessions dedicated to discussing the 1965 communist repression and an art exhibition and book launch The Act of Living will no longer be taking place. In addition the film screening of Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence has also been cancelled,” a statement said.

“The festival has been involved in extensive negotiations with local authorities, but ultimately was advised that should certain sessions proceed, it would run the risk of the entire festival being cancelled.”

The human rights organisation said: “Although Indonesia has seen a marked increase in the space for freedom of speech and expression following the fall of Suharto in 1998, a culture of silence has prevailed in discussing the 1965 mass human rights violations.

“Victims and survivors of serious human rights abuses have a right to exercise their freedom of expression and discuss the past. In the absence of genuine measures by the government to date to establish the truth, Amnesty International believes that public events and discussions on the 1965 violations, such the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, play an important role in providing such spaces. These events can help victims and their families understand what happened to them, counter misinformation and highlight factors – such as discrimination – that led to the abuses. Such spaces, allow societies to understand why abuses were committed so that they are not repeated.”

Amnesty called on the archipelago’s government to “face the past and take long overdue measures required to provide the 1965 victims with truth, justice and full reparation”. It urged President Joko Widodo to “make a public call to end to all forms of restrictions against public discussions on 1965 and ensure that the government starts listening to victims and others, instead of suppressing their voices”.

Earlier this month, hundreds of copies of a Central Java university campus magazine were confiscated and burned by police because it featured an in-depth report covering the 1965-1966 anti-Communist purges, in which thousands of suspected party members and supporters in the area were murdered.

Lentera Magazine, run by the Satya Wacana University’s school of social studies and communications in Salatiga, was told by police to retract all 500 copies, chief editor Bima Satria Putra said.

“We produced 500 copies which is distributed not only inside the Satya Wacana campus but also to the people of Salatiga and various organisations in Solo, Semarang and Yogyakarta,” Bima was quoted saying.

The edition commemorated the 50th anniversary of what has been dubbed one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century.

Police also questioned magazine staff and campus officials.

The killings allowed Suharto to begin his 32-year rule when discussion of the military-led purges, which are believe to have killed between 500,000 and 1 million Indonesians, was suppressed.

The authorities in West Sumatra recently deported a survivor of the 1965 anti-communist purge after he tried to locate his father’s mass grave.

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