Anwar Congo, the former leader of an Indonesian death squad that killed thousands of suspected communists in the Sumatran city of Medan during the mid-1960s, has died.
The 78-year-old was a member of the youth organisation Pemuda Pancasila (PP).
Anwar is best known for his prominent role in The Act of Killing, a 2012 documentary movie by the US director Joshua Oppenheimer. It includes reenactments by Anwar of the violence against purported members of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) in the mid-1960s. It was made over eight years with the Indonesian perpetrators.
Anwar demonstrated his preferred method of killing using wire to strangle suspected communists, which avoided the mess of beating victims to death.
He was thought to have killed at least 1,000 people.
Between 1965 and 1966, at least 500,000 people were killed in Indonesia following a failed coup by suspected communists. Around 100,000 people were jailed without trial because of alleged communist sympathies.
The west largely ignored the slaughter and the international media carried few reports. During the Vietnam War, Washington did not wish to lose a key ally or jeopardise access to the vast Grasberg copper mine in Papua.
In his early years Anwar extorted protection cash from ethnic-Chinese traders and made money from smuggling and illegal gambling.
After the bungled 1965 coup, massacres were orchestrated by the military but carried out by gangsters and right-wing paramilitary groups. Anwar’s gang was recruited by the military and they tortured and murdered numerous alleged communists.
Anwar and other perpetrators never faced trial. He became a powerful head of the pro-regime PP, which grew out of the death squads.
Anwar and his associates joked about killing their ethnic-Chinese neighbours.
After the massacres, Anwar returned to his gangster life with an enhanced reputation.
Anwar was given ceremonial titles and celebrated for his role in the murders of the 1960s. The perpetrators were held up as role models and heroes for young paramilitaries.
Oppenheimer said when he met Anwar in 2005, the paramilitary chief was boastful about the killings and was happy to demonstrate his murder methods.
“I think the boasting was a way of insisting what they did was something worth boasting about,” the director told the BBC. “But Anwar was unusually honest in his openness about his feelings and the pain that he felt.”
Later in the film he admitted that he suffered from nightmares. “I’m disturbed in my sleep. Maybe because when I strangled people with wire I watched them die,” he says.
The Act of Killing is officially banned in Indonesia but private screenings were held after the release. Some underground screenings were violently broken up by pro-military organisations.
Anwar Congo in The Act of Killing. Picture credit: YouTube