Tama Salim and Ganug Nugroho Adi, Jakarta/Surakarta – A misleading post by an infamous social media user has sparked outrage among family members and acquaintances of pro-democracy activist and poet Wiji Thukul, who many believe had been the victim of government-sanctioned abductions and whose whereabouts remains unknown to this day.
The editorial leader of online news portal beritagar.id, Wicaksono, who is better known by his online handle @ndorokakung, caused great commotion on Thursday evening after he linked Wiji's disappearance to the Timor Leste independence movement.
Quoting a local television outlet, Wicaksono's post mentioned how former Timorese statesman Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao heaped praise on Wiji for his role in aiding the struggle as a bomb expert, which allegedly led to his death at the hands of the Indonesian Armed Forces (ABRI) on the country's borders.
"This is new knowledge for us; let's see how Indonesia reacts," Wicaksono said in his status update.
In response to the post, Indonesian Ambassador to Timor Leste Primanto Hendrasmoro said the information being circulated was not completely true.
While at a civil society event on March 16, Primanto said that Gusmao was only involved as a pro-democracy figure and was not acting on behalf of the Timorese government. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Arrmanatha Nasir echoed the envoy's statement.
The social media post prompted impulsive fact-checking on Friday, which led Wiji's daughter Fitri Nganthi Wani to drive away journalists from her home in Surakarta, Central Java, moments after she arrived from Dili, Timor Leste, to accept an award on behalf of her missing father.
Wani stood in for Wiji, who was awarded special recognition by former Timor president Gusmao for his service in aiding the Timorese fight for independence through the Democratic People's Party (PRD).
A number of other PRD figures were given the same accolade, including fellow activists Wilson and Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) politician Budiman Sudjatmiko.
Wiji's wife Dyah Sujirah, otherwise known as Mbak Pon, refuted the rumors of Wiji's bomb-making expertise. She said she had never heard that story before and was shocked at what was circulating on social media. "I was shocked, but I didn't believe it – it was a lie," Mbak Pon told reporters at her home in Surakarta.
After the exchange, Wani urged her mother to go inside their home and asked the media to leave the premises. "There will be no interviews; my father was not a bombmaker," she cried.
At the height of the debate, Wicaksono indicated that he had expected the media frenzy, dismissing his previous post as bait. Wicaksono's post was also met with outrage from members of civil society, government officials and even the committee that organized the Dili event.
The Indonesian Association of Families of Missing Persons (IKOHI) published a statement condemning the circulation of misleading facts by the @ndorokakung handle, which brought into question the circumstances in which Wiji allegedly died and accused his daughter of accepting a cash prize from the event.
IKOHI chairman Wanmayetti said this information had hurt the family and friends of the poet, as well as the communities that continue to campaign the government to adhere to recommendations made by the House of Representatives' special committee on missing persons, since 2009.
Wanmayetti urged the owner of the @ndorokakung handle to retract his statement and apologize to the family of Wiji Thukul, as well as all family members of victims of human rights violations in the country, emphasizing that Wicaksono needed to be held responsible for any unintended consequences.
The chairman of the committee that organized the Dili event, Nuno Corvelo Laloran, also issued a statement in response to the media frenzy. Laloran denied all comments that Gusmao might have made that was quoted in @ndorokakung's post.
The statement explained that Gusmao had participated in the event in his capacity as chairman of the humanitarian aid organization, Associacao Dos Combatentes Da Brigada Negra (ACBN), which he established in 1995.
"We urge 'Ndoro' to take responsibility and retract his statements and apologize to Xanana Gusmao, the event committee and especially to the family of Wiji Thukul," Laloran said in his statement. Later in the day, @ndorokakung updated his statement, apologized and urged the media to seek out the whole truth behind his story.