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Indonesian activists mark 17th anniversary of rights protest

UCA News - January 19, 2024

Families of victims, rights activists, and young students held demonstrations across Indonesia to mark the 17th anniversary of a unique protest organized by a Catholic mother seeking the resolution of past human rights violations.

Maria Catharina Sumarsih, whose son, Bernardus Realino Norma Irawan, was killed in a crackdown on anti-Suharto protesters in 1998, has been holding Aksi Kamisan (Thursday Rally) in front of the state palace in Jakarta every Thursday since 2007.

The protest was inspired by Argentina's Mothers of Plaza de Mayo who led a peaceful resistance movement to find their "disappeared" children during the Dirty War (1976-1983).

40 years

This year, Sumarsih was joined by thousands of people in a show of solidarity in other cities like Semarang in Central Java province, Palangkaraya in Central Kalimantan province, and Medan in North Sumatra province.

The rally in Jakarta was attended by over 1,500 people. Sumarsih and other prominent activists carried black umbrellas, as a symbol of the death of justice.

Addressing the rally, Sumarsih said the families of victims in Indonesia remain persistent and resolved to "expose the truth, seek justice, fight forgetfulness, and fight impunity."

According to the National Commission on Human Rights, there are 12 unresolved cases of human rights violations recorded in the Southeast Asian nation since 1965.

They include the 1965-66 anti-communist massacres, the student clashes in 1998-99 in Jakarta, riots in May 1998, the 2004 murder of rights activist Munir Said Thalib, and shootings by security forces in 2014 in Papua province's Paniai district.

Suciwati, the wife of Thalib, was also present at the rally in Jakarta.

Sumarsih said they will continue to hold the Thursday Rally until the state provides justice to the victims' families. "As long as God grants me life and health, I will continue," she told UCA News.

Sumarsih said she was encouraged by the presence of thousands of young people across cities in various provinces. "It encourages me. If I die, many people will continue this struggle," she added.

Rights activist Haris Azhar said the victims' families and those standing with them in solidarity showed "more character and resolve" to defend constitutional rights than those elected to run the government.

Adetya Pramandira, coordinator of the rally in Semarang, Central Java, said human rights violations are still happening and the state must resolve to end them.

He pointed out that the pattern of violence was changing and pointed to the "silencing and criminalization of environmental activists" as an example of continued repression of human rights.

Source: https://www.ucanews.com/news/indonesian-activists-mark-17th-anniversary-of-rights-protest/10387