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Background to the Tanjung Priok Massacre

ASIET - June 24, 2000

James Balowski – On 12 September 1984, dozens of people were killed and injured when troops fired on Muslim demonstrators in the port district of Tanjung Priok, North Jakarta.

This was the climax of a series of incidents which began on September 7, when a preacher held a sermon at a local mosque condemning government policy. Leaflets were also distributed and anti-government slogans painted on walls.

When a local security officer entered the mosque and ordered that the slogans be painted over, he was ignored. He then soaked paper in drain water and used this to black out the signs. Feelings were further incensed because the officer entered the mosque in muddy boots (shoes must normally be removed before entering a mosque). As the angry crowed swelled, the officer made a hasty retreat. Police returned later and arrested four people.

Five days later, a well-respected Muslim leader, Amir Biki, set up a street podium repeating the criticisms before a large crowd and demanding the release of the four detainees. The authorities ignored requests for their release and by evening, a huge crowd had gathered and marched to the police station where their colleges were being held.

Eyewitness reports say the demonstrators were stopped before they reached the police office by a company of air artillery troops which had barracks in the area and three truckloads of soldiers with automatic weapons. Without warning, troops began firing directly into the crowd. Some of the injured who rose to their feet were killed by bayonets and bystanders who tried to help the injured were also shot.

Soon after the massacre, army trucks arrived to remove the bodies, the injured being taken to the Jakarta Army Hospital – other hospitals were instructed not to accept casualties. Fire engines arrived soon afterwards to wash away the blood. Since all of the killed and wounded were taken away by the military, the exact number of victims is still unclear. The most comprehensive report, compiled by the Al Araf Mosque put the number at 63, with more than 100 seriously wounded.

The following day, then Armed Forces Chief, General Benny Murdani, summoned editors of all of the Jakarta newspapers to give his version of events. Admitting that troops had fired "in the direction of the mob", he claimed that only nine people had died and 53 has been injured. Most reports in the Indonesian press supported Murdani's version of events.

The following October, a spate of bombings and fires rocked Jakarta which many believed was motivated by widespread anger at Murdani's statements. The targets of the bombings and fires were businesses owned by either long-term business partners of Suharto such as Liem Sioe Liong or members of his family.

Nine people were later tried and given heavy sentences for the bombings. In April 1985, sentences of one to three years were passed against 28 people accused of participating in the Tanjung Priok demonstrations who were charged with "waging resistance with violence" against the armed forces. Many of the accused were seriously wounded – some crippled for life – and calls for a public enquiry were ignored.

[This material was drawn from an article by the author titled "The Crimes of Suharto" which originally appeared in the ASIET pamphlet "No Australian military ties with Indonesia", first printed in July 1998. The full text of the pamphlet is available on the ASIET Web site at: www.asiet.org.au/military/index.htm.]