Bloody Dawn at Talangsari

Tempo Magazine
No. 23/VIII
February 05-11, 2008

Cover Story

Members of a Qu’ran reading group were shot. They were accused of planning to create an Islamic state.

IT was dawn and drizzling at Talangsari, 19 years ago on Monday, February 7. Muslims were preparing for their prayers. The sounds of gunshots were suddenly heard. The noise made by bullets whizzing by could be heard by Warsidi’s followers in a hamlet within the district of Way Jepara, Central Lampung. The cries of people broke the silence.

Four Mobile Brigade platoons of the Black Garuda Military Area Command of Central Lampung were charging as if seeking revenge. They were under Col, A.M. Hendropriyono. The followers of Warsidi were known as a religious learning group. But the military accused them of conspiring to form an Islamic state.

Members of Warsidi’s group had quarreled with the local police force several times. Way Jepara Military Precinct Commander, Captain Sutiman once summoned Anwar, one of the group’s leaders. Anwar refused to comply, asking instead, that Sutiman come to his home. Way Jepara district chief, Zulkifli, later sent anorder for him to appear at the police station.

Anwar still failed to comply.

Accompanied by a few security men, Sutiman and Zulkifli then drove to Anwar’s house. According to the military’s version, this team was attacked with bows and arrows and slingshots. Sutiman died. The bloody fighting continued at dawn the following day.

The total number of victims is confusing. The military version listed 27 people dead. But several non-governmental organizations recorded 246 people killed. The government hunted down the group’s leaders in Jakarta and Central Java. Some of its supporters were arrested and jailed.

Like other human tragedies, the voice of Talangsari victims could be heard when Suharto fell on May 21, 1998. The victims and human rights activists demanded that the government bring those who took part in the shooting to trial.

In June 2001, the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM)set up an ad hoc team to investigate the case. The outcome was unclear. Later Komnas HAM formed a team of inquiry. It visited the scene and interviewed the victims, their families and others involved. The investigation ended in the middle of May 2006.

The settlement of this case will likely be full of ups and downs. The team’s findings are yet to be subjected to legalanalysis. It will be further examined, depending on the’serious’ classification of the human rights violation in the Talangsari tragedy. The results will again be discussed at a Komnas HAM plenary meeting.

If the plenary session finds no serious rights were infringed, the case needs only to be settled through the general court. Butif any serious rights violation is discovered, there would be two options; one is through Law No. 26/2000 on the human rightstribunal, but others say that the proper agency to settle suchcases should be the Truth & Reconciliation Commission.

The path faced by the rights activists and victims of the Talangsari incident is long and winding. Ahmad Fauzi Isnan,sentenced to 20 years in prison, hoped that Komnas HAM could resolve the case. The soldiers involved, he said, had now become high-ranking officials, even striving for power. “They are trying hard with all possible means, not to be called war criminals,” he remarked.

Other victims expect the government to come up with a comprehensive solution. “We urge that the government promptly bring the case to court. Avoid unnecessary delay,” said Azwir Kaili, head of families of Talangsari victims.

Hendropriyono himself preferred the peaceful path. In February 2000, as head of the State Intelligence Agency (BIN), he invited 80 victims and their families to his residence in Jakarta to discuss an islah (peaceful settlement). This choice was opposed by some of the victims.

Later, many who joined the islah, chose to withdraw. Now the case is being analyzed at Komnas HAM.