The fear of communists is alive and well in Indonesia.
On Monday a violent mob of hundreds of “anti-communists” attacked the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute’s offices, after false reports claimed it was hosting a meeting of the long-outlawed Communist Party of Indonesia. The ensuing melee injured five police officers trying to disperse the demonstrators and 22 suspected rioters were arrested.
The attack comes in the long shadow of lingering impunity for the country’s anti-communist purge in 1965, when the Indonesian government gave its military and local militias free rein to kill “communists.” Over several months, at least 500,000 – possibly even one million – people were slaughtered. Victims included members of the Communist Party of Indonesia, ethnic Chinese, trade unionists, teachers, activists, and artists. In the 52 years since, Indonesian officials have justified the mass killings as a necessary defense against Communist Party inroads.
For decades, public discussion of the massacre has been officially banned, and police on Saturday had canceled a planned public seminar on the killings organized by the legal aid office ostensibly because they lacked a permit to do so. Last month, the Indonesian police and military forced the cancellation of a public workshop on financial compensation for victims of the mass killings.
Yet public discussion about the massacres has increased in recent years, aided by the release of the documentary films The Act of Killing in 2012 and The Look of Silence in 2014. In April 2016 the government sponsored a two-day symposium that allowed Indonesians to hear accounts from survivors and victims’ family members. That month, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo ordered an official effort to document the location of victims’ mass graves, and shortly thereafter the government committed to investigating a list of 122 alleged mass grave sites compiled by victims’ advocacy groups. That remains an empty promise.
The government’s acquiescence to violent thugs and abusive security forces who seek to stifle discussion of the 1965 massacres suggests that protecting the official version of events, as well as those responsible for atrocities, still has priority over justice for the victims. Jokowi should change this. He can start by delivering on his commitment toward accountability and appropriately punish those determined to derail them.