Wiji Thukul and the Search for Justice

By webadmin on 09:02 am Oct 05, 2011
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Abdul Qowi Bastian

On Sept. 30, 2009, the House of Representatives sent several recommendations regarding cases of abduction and disappearance of activists during the 1998 riots. But two years on, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has yet to respond to the recommendations.

There are four important points addressed in the recommendations:

  • The establishment an ad hoc court;
  • Discovering the whereabouts of 13 people declared missing by the National Commission for Human Rights (Komnas HAM);
  • Compensation for the victims’ families; and
  • Ratifying the UN International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

Family members of the missing persons attended a press conference held by the lawmakers and questioned the government on the recommendations. But one person stood out of the crowd — Siti Dyah Surijah, wife of the missing activist and a prominent poet, Wiji Thukul Wijaya.

Unsatisfied by government’s slow response, Siti, who also goes by the name Sipon, took off her red shirt  during press conference. Both lawmakers and press were taken by surprise. Since her husband went missing fourteen years ago, Sipon never stopped searching for answers. She sought help from the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) and Komnas HAM, but neither group knew whether her husband was alive or dead.

Wiji, son of a pedicab driver, was born on Aug. 24, 1963, in Solo. He spent a good deal of his life fighting against poverty and oppression. During the New Order, he was known as an outspoken, pro-democratic poet and activist. Perhaps he’s best known for the phrase, “Hanya satu kata: Lawan!” (“Just one word: Fight!”) from his poem “Peringatan” (“Warning”)

Wiji’s poems did not look like regular poems. They had no metaphors, no recognizable structure and the message was straight forward. The style was created from Wiji’s life. He grew up in a poor area in Central Java with a limited education. He worked as a day laborer, and his companions were factory workers and street hawkers.

Yet his struggle on behalf of the working class allowed him to produce honest poems. His work reflected to the lives of many and became critical observations of life during the New Order regime.

Through his poems, he defended the oppressed and he shared their struggle. In December 1995, he almost lost an eye after security forces bashed him in a large protest with textile workers in Solo. That incident alone proved how passionate he was about the plight of the people.

To further enhance his involvement against strongman Suharto’s leadership, he joined Jaringan Kerja Kesenian Rakyat (Working People’s Art Network), which was affiliated with the radical left-wing political party, Partai Rakyat Demokratik (People’s Democratic Party).

Then on July 27, 1996, tragedy struck. The truth behind the incident is still unclear until today, but it started with Wiji being accused of being involved in the riot. Wiji went into hiding after the accusation was made. He was still in contact with Sipon and several of his friends until 1998. Since he vanished, he has been classified as a missing person.

As Indonesian citizens, we expect our fundamental rights to be protected by the state. However, in our current political climate, this has not been the case. Human rights violations in Indonesia are still rampant. By not following up the recommendations regarding the disappearance of activists during the 1998, the government is basically ignoring our fundamental human rights.

Isn’t it ironic that Wiji fought for democracy, but now that we have adopted it, the system continues to ignore him?

Wiji was dreadfully silenced by the oppressor, but we should not forget his message.