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Indonesian Massacre Anniversary Fuels Propaganda Offensive

Military Urges ‘Restrictions’ on ‘The Look of Silence’ Documentary

Promotional poster for 'The Look of Silence' documentary, released in 2014. © Joshua Oppenheimer

Censorship and propaganda.

Those are the marching orders from the commander of the Indonesian Armed Forces, General Gatot Nurmantyo, about how to observe the September 30th anniversary of the start to the mass killings in 1965-66. Nurmantyo issued a directive last week ordering military personnel to “restrict” any efforts to hold public screenings of Joshua Oppenheimer’s 2014 documentary film The Look of Silence, alleging that it “distorted history.”

Nurmantyo has good reason to be nervous about The Look of Silence. The groundbreaking film profiles anti-communist Indonesian paramilitary leaders who, along with the country’s military units, massacred up to 1 million fellow citizens in a nationwide slaughter of alleged communists – including ethnic Chinese, trade unionists, and civil society activists – in 1965 and 1966. In the film, some of the killers cheerfully boast about, and even re-enact, the murders, at times in the presence of current Indonesian government officials who express support for the bloodbath.

Nurmantyo’s solution to the awkward questions raised by The Look of SilenceInstruct military personnel to organize nationwide public screenings on September 30 of a luridly violent 1984 government propaganda film, Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI, which justifies the massacres as a necessary defense against an alleged coup attempt by the Communist Party of Indonesia. That order is a throwback to the annual September 30 state-owned television screenings of Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI from 1984 until the end of the authoritarian Suharto regime in 1998.

Nurmantyo’s initiative follows an incident last month in which Indonesian police and military personnel forced the cancellation of a public workshop on financial compensation for victims of the mass killings. And last week during the United Nation’s periodic review of Indonesia’s rights record, the Indonesian government rejected a recommendation to “thoroughly and transparently investigate past human rights abuses.” Taken together, these moves suggest an official backpedal on last year’s tentative official steps toward accountability for those deaths.

Unless the government of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo honors its pledges of accountability, Indonesians can expect censorship and propaganda to continue to define the official narrative of the mass killings of 1965-66.


An earlier version of this dispatch inaccurately stated the name of the documentary film targeted for restrictions by the Indonesian military. The dispatch has been changed to reflect this.

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