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Indonesian Activist

August 26, 1998


Post Suharto —- as post Sani Abacha -—- are the people about to realize their dreams of participatory democracy, or see a democratic face painted on the same old military machine?

This week the Indonesian military discharged a general infamous even in the brutal Suharto regime. Lieutenant General Prabowo Subianto, the former chief of the special forces known as Kopassus, who is also the son-in-law of deposed dictator Suharto, has been charged with kidnapping and torturing political dissidents. In announcing General Prabowo’s discharge, the armed forces chief, General Wiranto, said Prabowo could face a court-martial as more evidence emerges about the abduction of more than two dozen political dissidents earlier this year. At least 14 are missing and feared dead.

But human rights groups say General Probowo is implicated in countless other acts of brutality, including the riots, arsons, and rapes last May that precipitated Suharto’s downfall, and the atrocities during his leadership of Kopassus. Kopassus was revealed recently as being the recipient of U.S. funds and training; Prabowo himself received training at Fort Bening, Georgia.

The announcement was criticized for not going far enough by a group representing the families of the missing dissidents. At the same time, others are wary that the focus on one individual’s culpability will distract from the number one demand of pro-democracy activists, which is for fundamental, institutional change.


  • Edwin Gozal, the International Representative of the People’s Democratic Party (PRD) and a member of Students in Solidarity for Democracy in Indonesia. The PRD was a leading opponent of the dictatorship of Suharto. It has been particularly active in student, peasant, and labor struggles and in supporting self-determination for East Timor. A court recently overturned a government ban on the PRD, and the government said it would not appeal. However, 9 PRD leaders, including its head Budiman Sudjatmiko, continue to serve prison sentences of up to 13 years for subversion.


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