Sunday, May 01, 2005

Witnessing the violent face of Indonesia


The Jakarta Post
February 16, 2005

Thang D. Nguyen, Jakarta

As 2004 came to an end, Western intelligence forces issued a warning of a potential terrorist attack at a Hilton hotel in Indonesia during the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Fortunately, no terrorist attacks happened. Unfortunately, however, a killing took place at Jakarta's Hotel Hilton on New Year's Eve.

The suspect of the killing is tycoon Adiguna Sutowo, who shot a bartender at Hilton's Fluid Club named Yohannes Haerudy Natong, better known as Rudy, dead after the bartender told him that his female companion's credit card had been rejected.

The police arrested Adiguna after the shooting, and he remains in custody while an investigation takes place.

Meanwhile, Rudy's death went almost unnoticed. For the most part, it was overshadowed by the news of the tsunami that hit Indonesia and several other Asian countries on Boxing Day.

But the killing of Rudy has not been covered well by the Indonesian media because the suspect is a member of Jakarta's elite. After all, Adiguna is the brother of Pontjo Sutowo, the owner of the Jakarta Hilton, and the son of the late Ibnu Sutowo, a former president of state oil and gas company Pertamina.

In other words, the Indonesian media has been burned because of its coverage of scandals involving Indonesia's elite.

For instance, last year, Bambang Harymurti, the chief editor of the weekly news magazine Tempo, was found guilty of libel against tycoon Tommy Winata, one of Indonesia's most powerful businessmen.

Violence serves not only the Indonesian business world. In fact, the culture of violence in Indonesia has started among, and remains with, Indonesian political elite, namely, top members of the Indonesian military (TNI).

Examples are aplenty. In the Soeharto years, the TNI served him well as a handy tool to silence the Indonesian media, non-governmental organizations and student activists.

At the same time, it has committed atrocities and human rights violations in pre-independence East Timor and other parts of Indonesia.

Today, violence remains a strong part of TNI culture. A case in point is the recent beating of antigraft activist Farid Faqih by Indonesian soldiers in Banda Aceh, the area worst hit by the tsunami. The soldiers' alleged grounds for the beating was that Farid, who is the coordinator of the Government Watch (GOWA), had stolen two truckloads of aid supplies donated by the military wives' association (Dharma Pertiwi).

Did Farid deserve the beating? No! Whatever the cause of his act, Farid should have been handed over to the Indonesian police for investigation. Whatever their crimes may be, suspects, or criminals for that matter, are human beings and should, therefore, be treated with dignity and humanity. And what if Farid took the aid supplies to give to tsunami victims? Or did he get beaten up because he is an anti-corruption activist?

Likewise, Rudy did not deserve to die just because his customer's credit card did not work. For one thing, it happens all the time that, either because of billing problems or over-the-limit issues, credit cards are rejected.

Furthermore, Rudy was just doing his job. In other words, the bartender did not insult Adiguna by telling him that his companion's credit card had been rejected.

But worst of all, Rudy died just a few weeks before his wedding. A 25-year-old college student, Rudy had taken on extra work as a bartender to save up for the happiest day of his life.

It will not happen now, and nothing can bring him back to his fiance, family, and friends. They can only hope that justice will be done.

"[Adiguna] has taken the life of the child [Rudy]. It's vital that he must be punished as severely and appropriately as possible," said Frumens da Gomez, Rudy's uncle.

And what about the murder of human rights activist Munir, who was poisoned with arsenic on Sept. 7 last year on a Garuda flight to the Netherlands? It has been five months since President Susilo Bambang ordered an investigation into Munir's death. Alas, nothing has been found thus far.

Together, Munir's murder, Rudy's death and Farid's beating remind us that violence remains strong in Indonesian society; that injustice is what the poor and the weak get; and that activists who make Indonesia a better place are in constant danger.

As President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has just celebrated his 100th day in office, his people wish him well in the months to come. He cannot go wrong by focusing on such priorities as Aceh's tsunami recovery, the economy, fighting corruption, infrastructures and education.

He would be wise, however, to make sure that justice is served in the cases of Munir, Rudy, and Farid. If not, these cases may harm his presidency.

Most importantly, if justice is not served in these cases, they will damage Indonesia's international image as a young, promising democracy.

Mr. President, progress awaits you. So does justice!

The writer is a Jakarta-based columnist. His new book is The Indonesian Dream: Unity, Diversity, and Democracy in Times of Distrust.

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