Indonesian senior minister’s plan to visit political exiles abroad gets tepid response

Mahfud MD's trip will be part of the Jokowi administration’s renewed commitment to righting the wrongs of the past through nonjudicial acts.

Nur Janti

Nur Janti

The Jakarta Post


Activists of the Solidarity Network of Victims for Justice attend the 574th Kamisan, a weekly silent protest, in front of the Presidential Palace in Central Jakarta on February 14, 2019. At the rally the demonstrators expressed their opposition to the music bill, saying it could destroy freedom of expression. (The Jakarta Post/Dhoni Setiawan)

July 10, 2023

JAKARTA – Senior minister Mahfud MD will be visiting some European countries to reach out to political exiles who were left stateless after the 1965 tragedy. However, the plan has received a tepid response from political exiles residing overseas.

“I will visit some European countries [to reach out to political exiles] who want to return to the country and are willing to regain their citizenship,” the coordinating legal, political and security affairs minister said on Tuesday during a meeting at the Regional Representatives Council (DPD).

However, Mahfud did not mention when he would start the tour.

His trip will be part of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s administration’s renewed commitment to righting the wrongs of the past through nonjudicial acts, in a major policy shift for the country, which has long put human rights issues on the back burner.

For the past few months, the government has been devising a scheme to reinstate the rights of political exiles, mostly students on scholarships, who were rendered stateless due to their links, or alleged links, to the 1965 attempted coup d’état which was used as the pretext for a bloody communist purge.

While the government is focused primarily on restoring the constitutional and civil rights of political exiles, it is also committed to providing social and health reparations for victims of 11 other human rights violations that occurred between 1965 and 2003.

The government, Mahfud said, must step in for the sake of humanity, as 60 years have passed since the exiles were forced to stay overseas, and many of them have already died before getting the chance to come home.

According to the latest data from the government, at least 130 political exiles who were stripped of their Indonesian citizenship after the 1965 incident are currently living in 12 foreign countries. The number is higher than the government’s preliminary findings showed.

President Jokowi in January acknowledged and expressed regret over the 12 human rights violations, including the anti-communist purge of 1965-66, the Semanggi I and related Semanggi II tragedies and killings and torture that occurred during the Rumoh Geudong tragedy in Aceh.

Amid criticism that this would mean his administration would stop trying to bring the perpetrators to justice, the government has repeatedly insisted that in-court settlement and nonjudicial means could go hand in hand.

But political exiles residing overseas were not impressed with Mahfud’s plan to visit them nor with the government’s move to resolve past atrocities through nonjudicial means.

“I think Mahfud’s visit would only add salt to the wounds,” a political exile, Tom Ilyas, 85, told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

Tom was studying agriculture engineering at a university in China during the purge and could not return home after the Indonesian mission in Beijing confiscated his passport.

Tom, now a Swedish citizen, said the visit was unnecessary if the government did not reveal the truth behind his passport revocation in 1965 and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Sungkono, 84, who resides in the Dutch town of Amstelveen, also demanded the government reveal the truth behind the forced termination of his citizenship and bring the perpetrators to justice.

In 1962, Sungkono flew to Moscow, then part of the Soviet Union, to study mechanical engineering on a scholarship. In the middle of 1966, his passport was revoked by the Indonesian government.

Sungkono said that the offer from the government to have citizenship restored or to provide a special stay permit was not enough. He questioned how the government would guarantee his safety upon returning to his hometown in Langkat, North Sumatra, as anti-communist sentiment still lingers in Indonesia.

“For me, [these offers] are not substantial. The government must reveal the truth so the younger generations know what exactly happened during the 1965 tragedy,” he said.

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