Trisakti’s Testimony

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

Cover Story

The death of four Trisakti University students triggered the reform movement. But the legal action against the killers seems never-ending.

May 12, 1998

THE parking lot at Trisakti University was filled with people at 11am. Professors, lecturers, students, employees and alumni had gathered to hear a speech by ex-Army Chief, General Abdul Haris Nasution.

By noon, more people had come. It was getting quite hot when about 5,000 students shouted in unison, “Lower the prices of basic necessities! Political Reform! Suharto, step down!”

The senior general, Abdul Haris, failed to make an appearance but the students refused to cancel their big rally to the parliament (DPR) building at Senayan, Central Jakarta, over 10 kilometers from the university.

Around 12pm, about 100 meters out of the campus, a cordon of security forces comprising the West Jakarta Military Command, the Police Mobile Brigade and ‘riot-control’ police stood blocking the roads, ready to intercept the Trisakti students.

Student representative, Trisakti Law School Dean Adi Andojo, and West Jakarta Military Command chief Lt. Col. Amril Amin began negotiations. The result: the peaceful protest march was to reach in front of the old office building of the West Jakarta Mayor’s Office, which was some 300 meters away from the campus.

Adi met the students after the negotiation. “I ask all of you to promise there will be no violence at this place,” he said, whereupon the students applauded. The rally was orderly. Occasionally the students exchanged friendly remarks with the security apparatus, giving them drinks, candies and roses.

At about 4:30pm the security troops asked that the rally be disbanded and the students retreat to the campus. A tense argument ensued. According to witnesses, while they were moving toward the campus, some of the security men made insulting remarks. “It looked as if the police deliberately provoked the students to anger,” said a witness.

Suddenly rifle shots shattered the afternoon air. The students scurried about for shelter since many had not yet entered the campus, even though it was later discovered that even the campus was no longer a “sanctuary,” safe from the violence.

For almost an hour shots were fired at the campus. Hundreds of people were injured. Four students died-Elang Mulia Lesmana, Hafidin Royan, Heri Hartanto and Hendriawan Sie.

Much later, the military prosecutor would accuse the commander of Police Mobile Brigade Unit II, Chief Inspector Erick Kadir Sully of firing the shots. He and 10 of his men were assigned to West Jakarta that day. At about 1:30pm-as stated in the military prosecutor’s indictment-an order came from the West Jakarta Deputy Police Chief, Major Herman Hamid, deploying them to the mayor’s office, to intercept the students who were heading towards the DPR complex.

At that moment, Erick-again according to the military prosecutor’s charges-ordered his men, who were armed with 5.56-caliber Steyr guns, to shoot into the crowd.

This type of bullet was later found inside the bodies of thedead students, following a ballistic test done in Montreal, Canada, and Belfast, Northern Ireland.

The commission investigating human rights violations at Trisakti University, Semanggi I and Semanggi II, has its version of the tragic events that unfolded that day. According to the commission, the combined security forces had attacked, beaten, kicked and shot live bullets and thrown tear gas canisters at students taking cover at the old office building of the West Jakarta Mayor, as well as at those who had returned to the campus.

This incident at Trisakti triggered riots in various places in Jakarta. Student demonstrations were rampant everywhere, and culminated with students occupying the DPR/MPR building for four days until Suharto stepped down on May 21.

We know that the legal process on this case only went so far as to involve a few perpetrators who were on the ground. Details:  May 12, 1998

Four Trisakti students are shot dead.

August 12, 1998

Two police Brimob members are sentenced to 34 months in prison March 31 1999

Four other Brimob members receive a similar punishment.

So, where is the accountability of the generals who gave the order for the troops-who were convicted-to shoot? They remain at large, untouched by the law.

There are plans to try them at a human rights court later on. But the fact is that they are only “remembered” during the May 12 annual commemoration, when students call for justice for four
youths who died an early death.