Tragedy at Night

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

Cover Story

Hundreds died in the Tanjung Priok tragedy, but the perpetrators were released by the court.

THE uproar started with a poster, which read “Women Should Wear Jilbab (Muslim Headscarf)”. It was hung on the wall of Mussola (house of worship) As-Sa’adah at Tanjung Priok, North Jakarta. It was not an unusual appeal, but in September 1984 it caused a tragedy.

The political temperature at that time had neared boiling point. The Suharto government was busy campaigning for the nation to adopt Pancasila (five philosophies) as its sole national ideology, which was sharply resisted by the Muslim community.

Then, one morning on September 7, 1984, First Sergeant Hermanu, a member of the Village Voluntary Security Group (Babinsa) of South Koja in North Jakarta asked local residents to pull down the posters in the mushola. They refused. The next morning Hermanu came back to clean up the posters himself, using newspapers dampened by sewer water.

Rumors spread that Hermanu entered the mushola without taking off his boots. The mushola became dirty. The angered residentswanted to teach the Babinsa member a lesson, but a community leader rescued him from harm. Instead, the residents set Hermanu’s motorcycle on fire.

The military from the Tanjung Priok District Military Command (Kodim) appeared in no time. Four youths who allegedly set fire to the motorcycle were taken to Kodim HQ. Residents asked Amir Biki, a community leader in Tanjung Priok, to help free the four youths. In vain.

The protesting residents then congregated at Sindang Raya, a street in Tanjung Priok. There, a number of prominent community leaders aired their views, including Amir Biki. Not only did they criticize the government’s campaign to adopt a single national ideology, they also demanded the release of the four youths, declaring a deadline of 11pm that day. Otherwise, the mass action would continue. The Kodim rejected the demand.

The protestors then moved to the Kodim HQ. On the way, in front of the North Jakarta Police Office, the protestors were blocked by the police. There were gunshots. Chaos broke out and spread. A number of shops owned by ethnic Chinese were looted.

According to the government official version, there were only 28 deaths, but according to family members of the victims, around 700 residents died in the tragedy. Amir Biki himself died, hit by a bullet. A number of prominent figures like Qodir Djaelani, Tony Ardi and Mawardi, were arrested.

Under Suharto’s rule, this incident was never investigated. Only after his resignation did authorities finally address the tragedy. The victims and their families called for the government to bring Suharto and members of the military involved in the tragedy to court.

The case was tried in an ad hoc human rights court. The perpetrators were made to account for their actions before the law. Among them was Maj. Gen. Sriyanto Muntasram, who at the trial was Commander of the Army Special Forces (Kopassus). Sriyanto, who at the time of the incident was Section Head of Kodim 0502 Operation II in North Jakarta, was accused of being involved in the incident. In August 2004, the court acquitted Sriyanto. The Supreme Court revalidated the ruling on September 2005.

Maj. Gen. (ret) Pranowo, who at the time of the incident was Military Police Chief of the Greater Jakarta Military Command, was also tried. He was accused of allowing his subordinates to torture the arrested demonstrators. The judge failed to find Pranowo guilty and he was acquitted.

A few other officers were found guilty in the lower court, but acquitted by a higher one. Maj. Gen. (ret) Rudolf Butar-Butar, who at the time of the incident was Kodim 0502 North Jakarta Commander, was sentenced to 10 years in jail at the first trial in June 2005. But the Jakarta High Court later acquitted him.Lower-ranked military personnel involved in the incident received differing sentences, ranging from two to three years.

The verdicts were criticized by the victims and their families. “There was no consideration for the feelings of the victims and their families. No sense of justice at all,” said Benny Biki, Amir Biki’s younger brother.

The victims’ families urged the government to take legal action against senior officials like Gen. (ret) Try Sutrisno, a former Vice President who was at the time commander of the Jakarta Garrison, Benny Moerdani (former Kopkamtib chief, now deceased), and Suharto as the President.

When the Attorney General’s Office stopped the legal process against Suharto because of his illness, victims of the Tanjung Priok tragedy and their families lodged a strong protest. “We feel devastated that the legal process was discontinued,” said Ratono, Chairman of the Tanjung Priok Victims Association. It was Suharto’s policies that caused them to lose their families and possessions. By their rationale, possessions can bereplaced. But what of the loss of loved ones?