Not a mere case of bad apples: Acts of state terrorism

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Thirteen years ago on Nov. 10 — Heroes’ Day — the Papuan leader Theys Eluay was found dead in the vicinity of Jayapura city after attending an event at the local headquarters of the Army’s Special Forces, Kopassus.

His body was left abandoned in a public place. His driver, Aristoteles Masoka, went missing, and remains unaccounted for.

On Feb. 5, 2002, as Papuan Christians celebrated the anniversary of the arrival of the first Christian missionaries in Papua, then president Megawati Soekarnoputri established a national investigation commission chaired by a retired police officer and commissioner of the national rights body, Koesparmono Irsan. The commission’s sole purpose was to investigate the case of Theys’ assassination.

As a result, Aristoteles’ fate has been ignored completely since the inception of the commission.

In its report to the president, the commission recommended the naming of six suspects from within Kopassus, but failed to offer any explanations as to why the crime was committed.

On April 21, 2003, the martial high court in Surabaya found the six Kopassus members guilty of murder and mistreatment and sentenced them to imprisonment.

Lt. Col. Hartomo, Pvt Ahmad Zulfahmi, Maj. Hutabarat and First Lt Agus were sentenced to three and a half years’ imprisonment and dismissed from the Indonesian Military (TNI), while Capt. Rionardo and Sgt Asrial were imprisoned for three years.

Nothing, however, was ever said about Aristoteles during the trial. Only his family remembers him. Later, the army chief of staff Gen. Ryamizard Ryacudu, now the defense minister, publicly praised the perpetrators as heroes.

Many inside and outside Papua may have forgotten the case. The marker of the site where Theys and Aristoteles were abducted along a hilly road outside Jayapura has been left abandoned.

Similarly, Theys’ grave, in a cemetery located across the road from Sentani airport, receives minimal public attention and respect. The story seems to be forgotten.

Meanwhile, public display of dead and or broken bodies is not novel in our history. Since the counter insurgency operation against the movements to establish an Islamic state, the DI/TII (Darul Islam / Tentara Islam Indonesia) in the 1950s, this has been a common method of state terror against Indonesia’s own citizens accused of being enemies of the state.

The tactic was used extensively during the massacre of suspected communists in 1965.

At least 500,000 people were killed that year; many of the killings were carried out in public. The method was again used during the killings of gangsters in the 1980s known as petrus (penembakan misterius/ mysterious shootings).

Many of their bodies were left abandoned in public spaces as a means of intimidation. Later, in front of the media and the public eyes, the state security apparatus did not hesitate to use the method to disperse the Papuan congress in 2011.

Hundreds of Papuans were rounded up and abused. The Papuan activist Mako Tabuni was shot in front of the public on the outskirts of Jayapura; he later died in the Bhayangkara police hospital in Jayapura.

Ironically, having been confronted with so many public atrocities, public memory has been normalized. We are no longer sensitive to or repulsed by the message of terror.

Terror is designed not only to communicate the message of state power but also to stigmatize the bodies, to make us unwilling to get any closer to them.

We do not want to get tainted. As a result, many of us have become bystanders who might believe that these people deserve such treatment because they were enemies of the state.

Is the Indonesian state responsible for such crimes? We almost always hear the standard answer from the authorities that it is all about bad apples who operate independently beyond the chain of command or misinterpret orders.

Such arguments are no longer valid. It was the Commission of Truth and Friendship for Timor Leste and Indonesia that concluded that the Indonesian state was responsible for crimes against humanity in Timor Leste in 1999.

Both Indonesia and Timor Leste came to a “conclusive” truth about the responsibility of the state for what happened in Timor Leste in 1999.

This was the first time in our history that a state body held the state responsible and accountable and thus set the precedent that the state and state institutions are not immune to justice.

Unfortunately, this investigation has had a minimal impact on our struggle to combat impunity. Just as Theys’ history has been forgotten, so too has the history of Timor Leste been erased from our consciousness.

Theys Eluay was not the only one and nor was he the last. He was only one piece of the large mosaic of silenced history of the forgotten.

Aristoteles Masoka is even more forgotten. Perhaps it is time for us to restore their dignity as a gesture of solidarity to those who have been silenced and forgotten in our history, in the wake of our commemoration of national heroes.