On Monday, the police arrested the owner and an employee of a store in Blok M, a major business and shopping quarter in South Jakarta for selling a t-shirt featuring the hammer-and-sickle symbol that resembles by the long-disbanded and prohibited Indonesian Communist Party, known as PKI. The t-shirt is a memorabilia of metal band KREATOR. (Photo courtesy of Humas Polda Metro Jaya)

Anticommunist Crackdown a Setback to Settling Past Cases of Gross Rights Abuses: Rights Activists

BY :ALIN ALMANAR & DONNY ANDHIKA MONONIMBAR

MAY 13, 2016

Jakarta. Calls are mounting for authorities to put an end to a massive crackdown on any public activities they fear could resurrect communism in Indonesia, with activists saying such moves are a setback to years of strive to resolve past cases of gross human rights abuses.

Military and police officers have confiscated a range of merchandise, including books and t-shirts, in a crackdown this week, claiming the merchandise spreads the teachings of the long-banned ideology. Dozens have been arrested across several regions.

Authorities have defended the move, saying prompt action should be taken against the circulation of the symbolism, so it does not spark conflict.

The crackdown comes alongside an instruction from President Joko Widodo to law enforcement and security officials to take action against the phenomenon, while warning against excessive force which could undermine the freedom of speech and expression.

Rights defenders have since questioned the move.

Imdadun Rahmat, commisioner of the National Commission on Human Rights, said the response from authorities is part of an "exaggerated" fear that communism could reemerge in Indonesia.

"This is a step backward in the advanced efforts to resolve the 1965-66 case," Imdadun said on Friday (13/05)

The government had previously promised to settle past cases of human rights violations, including the anticommunist purges of 1965 and 1966, with a government-backed national symposium last month addressing what some observers have called among the worst mass killings of the 20th century.

Last month's event gathered hundreds of senior government officials, retired generals, human rights activists, academics and survivors of the massacres.

The government-sponsored and military-backed killings resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of alleged sympathizers of the now-defunct Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) and saw millions more imprisoned without trial.

Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), a rights group based in Jakarta, said the current operations are clearly intentionally aimed at suppressing growing social movements to uncover many past crimes committed by the state.

"This is a form of fear from those who took advantage of the militaristic New Order regime," Kontras Coordinator Haris Azhar said.

Rights activists have demanded the government provide a clarification over the ongoing anticommunist crackdown.

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