Jakarta – Greater Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) Chairperson Prabowo Subianto acknowledges that the issue of human rights violations in 1998 always come up and is linked to him every time a presidential election is held.
According to Prabowo, this is quite legitimate. In a democratic country, he says, people have the freedom to elect their leader.
"[People] always say this, say that, you wanted a coup, right? And so on, a kidnapper, a murderer, so what do you do? What can I do?", said Prabowo during a Mata Najwa talk show hosted by TV presenter Najwa Shihab on Thursday June 29.
"That this is democracy right, if the people believe in all these accusations, yes well the people don't have to vote for me, that's that, right", he added.
Prabowo explained that he has been linked to human rights violations since 2004. At the time, Prabowo was taking part in the Golkar Party convention.
He said that he continued to be linked to human rights issue when he stepped forward as a vice-presidential candidate in 2009 and as a presidential candidate in 2014 and 2019.
"Indeed, every time I take part, especially if my poll numbers are quite good, yes, it starts to come out, human rights and so on. I think in political life everywhere that's normal. Especially in a liberal democracy, we have to bring down the popularity of [our] political opponents", he said.
Prabowo considers the issue of human rights associated with him as a risk he has to accept because he used to be a TNI (Indonesian military) officer. Nevertheless, he stated that when he was a soldier he carried out the duties given to him as well as possible and in accordance with his oath.
"That's the risk of being a soldier, right? That was the risk I took, many of my colleagues, my subordinates lost their limbs, even died, yeah that was the risk I took, that I had to face", he said.
Prabowo also took the opportunity to respond to questions about his position on looking after former Rose Team (Tim Mawar) members by giving them positions in the Defense Ministry.
The Rose Team was part of the Army's Special Forces (Kopassus) Group IV that at the time was commanded by Prabowo. They are alleged to have been the masterminds behind the abduction of scores of activists in the lead up to the 1997 elections and the 1998 People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) General Session.
Prabowo says that the former Rose Team members who became officials in the Defense Ministry have already been tried through a legal process. According to Prabowo, they are still good soldiers.
"So we see that they have already been tried, already gone through a legal process, it was finished so many years ago, they are still soldiers, and they are the very best soldiers", he said.
Between 1997 and 1998 as many as 23 pro-democracy activists were abducted by members of the Army's Special Forces (Kopassus). After extended periods of detention – in many cases the victims were severely tortured – most were released although 13 remain missing and are presumed dead. Former Kopassus commander Lieutenant General Prabowo Subianto who was at the time President Suharto's son-in-law, has admitted to ordering the abductions but denies ordering their torture and claims they were all released alive and well. In April 1999, 11 low-ranking Kopassus officers were tried by a military court for the kidnappings and given sentences of between a year and 22 months in prison, although six of them were allowed to remain in the army. Prabowo himself was discharged from the military for ordering the abductions but has never been tried in court.
[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Prabowo soal Isu HAM Tiap Pemilu: Kalau Percaya, Tidak Usah Pilih Saya".]