Tag Archives: Human Rights

Op-Ed: Is the Press in Southeast Asia in Danger?

Op-Ed: Is the Press in Southeast Asia in Danger?

By Permata Adinda, from Asumsi.co

Repression is being experienced by journalists from Al Jazeera in Malaysia to Rappler in the Philippines.

Al Jazeera’s office in Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, was raided and two computers seized by police (4/8) after the media screened a documentary highlighting the Malaysian authorities’ arrests and inhuman treatment of migrants during the pandemic.

Authorities condemned the film, judging it to be inaccurate, unfair and misleading. Malaysia’s Minister of Communications and Multimedia, Saifuddin Abdullah, said the film did not have a shooting permit which according to Al Jazeera did not require permission because it was included in the category of latest news which was always aired every week.

This documentary entitled Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown is part of the 101 East Al Jazeera program. After the film was released, the editorial team members and the subjects interviewed in the film received many death threats, violence, and doxing of their personal data on social media.

One of the informants from Bangladesh, Mohamad Rayhan Kabir, was arrested on 24 July. Authorities said he would be deported and barred from entering Malaysia forever.

Responding to the repressive attitude of the government, Al Jazeera condemned the action, viewing it as an attack on press freedom. These raids are seen as a “disturbing escalation” of violent behavior by the authorities against the media, demonstrating the extent to which they can intimidate journalists.

“Al Jazeera sided with journalists and our coverage. Our staff did their job and they did nothing wrong to make them need to apologize or clarify. Journalism is not a crime,” said Al Jazeera managing editor Giles Trendle.

There has also been criticism from Amnesty International Malaysia which is urging Malaysian authorities to stop harassing Al Jazeera and to halt investigations against staff and media reporters. “Violence by the government against migrants, refugees and anyone who defends them is clearly an attempt at silencing and intimidation that must be condemned. Protect migrants. Protect freedom of expression.”

Press freedom in Southeast Asia has indeed been worrying in recent years. Reporters Without Borders reports in 2020 showed media freedom scores in all Southeast Asian countries had decreased compared to the previous year, with an average ranking of 138 out of 180 countries. Another report by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and Southeast Asia Journalist Unions (SEAJU) found that 61% of press workers in the region felt their jobs were unsafe, a figure that has increased by 11% from the previous year.

Prior to this journalist Tashny Sukumaran from the South China Morning Post in Malaysia also experienced criminalization and repressive behavior. Having also reported on the detention of refugees and illegal migrants in the red zone of COVID-19 in Malaysia, he was arrested on charges of “committing insults with the intention of provoking and destroying the peace” and was sentenced to a maximum of two years in prison.

Apart from Malaysia, journalist and CEO of Rappler Maria Ressa in the Philippines was also found guilty of “cyber slander” for her articles on drug and human trafficking cases involving the chairman of the Supreme Court and a number of businesspeople. Ressa was also ordered to pay a fine of P400,000, or equivalent to Rp. 119 million. There have also been the detention of Reuters journalists in Myanmar, the closure of several media companies in Malaysia and Cambodia, and the increasing censorship of news in Thailand.

This repressive behavior towards journalists also often acts on the pretext of “the need to fight misinformation”, and the COVID-19 pandemic has become an arena to strengthen the power of authority over the press. The Thai Prime Minister threatened to suspend or edit news deemed “untrue”. These governments also have the right to correct information which they think is problematic.

Singapore’s Protection Against Falsehood and Online Manipulation Act empowers the government to correct or release news stories. This occurred in the State Times Review after the media accused the government of covering up cases of COVID-19. Likewise, the Cambodian government has the power to prohibit the dissemination of information deemed to cause “riots, fear or chaos.”

“Journalism is a very dangerous profession today,” said Maria Ressa at Time.com. “But this profession is more important than ever. We have to survive or we will lose a lot. “

By Permata Adinda, Kebebasan Pers di Asia Tenggara dalam Bahaya?

Featured image credit: Mother’s Prayer by Mark Chaves

Op-Ed: Will Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission Be Paralyzed?

Op-Ed: Will Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission Be Paralyzed During the Term of President Jokowi?

By Budiman Tanuredjo, Kompas Daily,  4 July 2017

KOMPAS, Jakarta – The actions of the Indonesian House of Representatives Committee of Inquiry into the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) have become more and more absurd. The Committee of Inquiry is going on safari to Pondok Bambu and Sukamiskin prisons to meet with prisoners convicted of corruption offenses. The Committee hopes to find information on how the corruption convicts were treated inappropriately by the KPK.

“We want to look for information about anything inappropriate experienced by the prisoners while they were either witnesses, suspects or prisoners convicted in corruption cases,” said Deputy Chairman of the Inquiry Committee, Rep. Risa Mariska (PDIP-West Java), the representative for the district that includes the cities of Bogor and Bekasi. She said the Inquiry Committee has received information about the prisoners being treated improperly when they were interrogated by the KPK.

There is little doubt the Inquiry Committee will have any trouble meeting any of the many corruption prisoners. Take the former Chief Justice of Indonesia’s Constitutional Court Akil Mochtar, for example, or former Democrat Party Representative and party treasurer Muhammad Nazaruddin, former Democrat Party Representative and party secretary-general Anas Urbaningrum, former Democrat Party Representative Angelina Sondakh, former Banten province governor Atut Chosiyah, or any number of others. It isn’t hard to guess that they will provide any amount of ammunition with which to damage the KPK as an ad hoc institution resulting eventually in the KPK being either abolished or neutralized.

Parahyangan University criminal law lecturer Agustinus Pohan believes that the effort of the Inquiry Committee is an attempt by politicians to take revenge on the KPK. “Now the fight against corruption has to contend with white-collar criminals who want to prove their ability to exact payback,” Pohan said.

Earlier, Deputy Chairman of the House Inquiry Committee into the KPK, Rep. Taufiqulhadi (Nasdem-East Java) planned to call constitutional law experts to prove the legality of the Inquiry. “Some say this inquiry isn’t appropriate. Different opinions are all normal, but we hope the debate stays balanced,” said the National Democrat Party politician according to Kompas Daily on 30 June 2017.

The Inquiry Committee action in calling constitutional law experts Professor Dr Yusril Ihza Mahendra and Professor Jimly Asshiddiqie to appear will be a priority before it summons Rep. Miryam S. Haryani (Hanura-West Java) who has been arrested by the KPK. Miryam was declared a suspect by the KPK over allegations she provided false information. Her case is to go to trial soon.

The origins of the House Inquiry Committee started with the KPK leadership rejecting requests from House of Representatives Commission III to make public recordings of the questioning of Miryam Haryani by KPK investigators. The KPK refused to make the recordings public before her trial. Up to now, recordings resulting from wiretaps have always been made public during the trials. Having previously appeared as a witness in the Criminal Corruption Court, Miryam retracted part of her testimony that was contained in the brief of evidence, giving as the reason that she had been coerced by KPK investigators.

In response to this retraction of her testimony in the brief of evidence, senior KPK investigator Novel Baswedan was examined as a witness in the trial. Novel testified there had been no intimidation or coercion. Novel went so far as to claim Miryam had been induced by certain fellow members of the House of Representatives to retract her testimony in the brief of evidence, mentioning several names, including Rep. Bambang Soesatyo (Golkar-Central Java) and Rep. Masinton Pasaribu (PDIP-Jakarta), as the members who had influenced Miryam. She denied having ever mentioned their names and from this House Commission III request that the KPK make the recordings public, which the KPK refused to do.

Whether it’s related or not is not known, however, several days after testifying, Novel Baswedan was the target of an acid attack by an unknown assailant. His eyesight was damaged. He was taken to hospital and is still receiving ongoing treatment. Police are still investigating the case, but so far the person who sprayed Novel with acid has not been identified.

After undergoing further questioning at the KPK’s Jakarta offices on Wednesday 21 June, Hanura Party politician Rep. Miryam S. Haryani’s brief of evidence was declared complete (that is, Form 21 was issued) and ready for trial in relation to the allegation she provided false testimony in the electronic identity card (e-KTP) project implementation corruption trial.

Strong Resistance

The House of Representatives Inquiry Committee into the KPK apparently needs to find political support from constitutional law experts. Earlier, 357 academics from a range of universities and disciplines published an open letter rejecting the House Inquiry Committee into the KPK on a number of grounds. The 357 academics included Professor Dr Mahfud MD, Professor Dr Denny Indrayana, Professor Dr Rhenald Kasali, and many other prominent academics.

Calling experts in constitutional law, or calling anyone else, is clearly completely valid. The Inquiry Committee obviously has statutory authority to do this. No one denies that the House of Representatives has a right of inquiry, the right of interpellation, and the right to express opinions. However, what has, in fact, become an issue is whether it is proper for the House to exercise the right of inquiry in relation to the KPK. The KPK is a law enforcement agency and an independent authority, not part of the government. Is the use of the right of inquiry by the House of Representatives consistent with the will of the people it represents?

Resistance to the use of the House of Representatives’ right of inquiry for the KPK has indeed been strong. The open letter of 357 academics from numerous universities and disciplines is one expression of this. These academics have very clearly framed the intention of the House of Representatives in using the right of inquiry as being intended to weaken the KPK. The academics have rejected the use of the House right of inquiry for the KPK.

At present, the KPK is investigating a case of alleged corruption involving the procurement of a national electronic identity card (e-KTP) involving a number of House members, including House Speaker Rep. Setya Novanto (Golkar-East Nusa Tenggara), now banned from traveling overseas. The alleged loss to the public purse is substantial.

A Kompas Daily poll of Monday 8 May 2017 also contained the same message. As many as 58.9 percent of respondents said the House decision to use the right of inquiry did not represent the interests of the community. While 35.6 percent thought it did represent the interests of the community. Most respondents (72.4 percent) believed the use of the House right of inquiry into the KPK was related to the KPK’s investigation into the electronic identity card project corruption case.

In the virtual world, internet user Virgo Sulianti Gohardi gathered support for a petition against the right of inquiry on the site Change.org. As of midday Friday 30 May 2017, the petition had been signed by 44,350 people. Virgo’s target for the petition had been 50,000 signatures.

In terms of representation theory, the formation of the House of Representative Committee of Inquiry into the KPK really does not have social legitimacy, or, it has a very low level of representation. Moreover, the Democrat Party (PD), Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and National Awakening Party (PKB) House factions have all refused to join the Committee of Inquiry.

“The Democrats are not responsible for anything in the Inquiry Committee,” said House Deputy Speaker from the Democrat Party Rep. Agus Hermanto (DP-Central Java) at the House of Representatives building, while stressing that the Democrat Party does not agree with the House Committee of Inquiry into the KPK.

“We reject the weakening of the KPK through the Inquiry. The Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) is being consistent by not sending any members, but the PKS is still critical of the KPK,” said the head of the PKS Advisory Council, Rep. Hidayat Nur Wahid (PKS-Jakarta). National Awakening Party (PKB) Chairman Rep. Muhaimin Iskandar (PKB-East Java) was also of the same opinion, rejecting the use of a House committee of inquiry into the KPK.

History of House Inquiries

The right of inquiry is a constitutional right of Indonesia’s House of Representatives. No one can deny this. Article 20A Paragraph 2 of the 1945 Constitution explicitly regulates the right of inquiry. During the period of parliamentary government in the 1950s, the right of inquiry was also regulated by statute by Public Law No. 6/1954 concerning the Right of Inquiry.

In Indonesia’s history, the House of Representatives’ right of inquiry was first used in 1959 in a resolution by RM Margono Djojohadikusumo that the House use the right to inquire into attempts by the government to obtain foreign exchange reserves and how the reserves were being used. As recorded by Subardjo in The Use of the Right of Inquiry by the Indonesian House of Representatives in Overseeing Government Policy, a committee of inquiry during the first cabinet of Prime Minister Ali Sastroamidjojo (30 July 1953 to 12 August 1955) was given six months. However, this was subsequently extended twice, and the committee completed its work in March 1956, during the administration of Prime Minister Burhanuddin Harahap (12 August 1955 to 24 March 1956). Unfortunately, the fate of this committee of inquiry and its results are unclear.

During the New Order period, the House of Representatives also used the right of inquiry several times in relation to the case of the state-owned oil company Pertamina. However, efforts to shake the New Order government failed and were rejected by a plenary session of the House. The New Order government was strong enough to prevent the use of the right of inquiry, initiated by Santoso Danuseputro (PDI) and HM Syarakwie Basri (FPP).

In the Reformasi (Reform) period, the right of inquiry has also been used. However, all the targets of the right of inquiry have been the government, and this is consistent with the legislation.

Legislation on the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR), House of Representatives (DPR), Regional Representatives Council (DPD) and regional legislative assemblies (DPRD) regulates the right of inquiry. Article 79 concerning the Rights of the House of Representatives provides among other things that the House of Representatives possesses the right of inquiry. The right of inquiry is the right of the House of Representatives to investigate the implementation of a law and/or government policy which is related to important, strategic matters, and which has a wide-spread impact on the life of the community, nation, and state which allegedly conflicts with the law. The legislation also provides that an inquiry committee must be joined by all House of Representatives’ factions.

From the standpoint of legality, the House of Representatives Committee of Inquiry into the KPK does not satisfy the requirements for legality. Historically, the right of inquiry was given to the House of Representatives to investigate government policies that conflict with the law. Whether it was the New Order government or post-Reform governments, it has only been the current 2014-2019 House of Representatives which has innovated by using the right of inquiry for a national commission, here the KPK. The KPK is not the government. The KPK is a law enforcement agency.

The law also requires that an inquiry committee draw members from all factions in the House of Representatives. Therefore, when the Democrat Party (DP), Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), and National Awakening Party (PKB) House factions each failed to send representatives, the jurisdictional legitimacy of the Committee of Inquiry became problematic.

Members of the public in the Healthy Indonesia Movement unfurled posters and banners in front of the offices of the KPK in Jakarta on Thursday 15 June. Consisting of writers, artists, and anti-corruption activists, the crowd declared that it rejected the inquiry currently being rolled out by the House of Representatives.

From a political perspective, those who initiated the use of the right of inquiry are overwhelmingly from the parties which support the government. They are the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) House faction, the main supporter of the government of President Joko Widodo, together with the National Democratic Party (Nasdem) and the People’s Conscience Party (Partai Hanura). This coalition of government supporters is the group that has been keen to urge the use of the House right of inquiry.

Then there is President Jokowi. He has been taken hostage by party officials of his own PDIP. President Jokowi has said he cannot interfere in the affairs of the House of Representatives because a committee of inquiry is the business of the House. President Jokowi hoped only that the KPK is further strengthened.

President Jokowi’s attitude towards the KPK feels different this time. When there was a conflict between the KPK and the Indonesian National Police, with the public supporting the KPK, President Jokowi took a firm political position in support of the KPK. Likewise, when the KPK investigator Novel Baswedan was to be arrested, President Jokowi called loudly for Novel not to be arrested. However, this time, President Jokowi is like a hostage, allowing the KPK to be de-legitimized by a coalition of his own supporters in the House of Representatives.

Will the KPK be paralyzed during the term of President Joko Widodo? History will record the answer.

 


Source: Akankah KPK Lumpuh di Era Presiden Jokowi? Kompas daily newspaper, 4 July 2017.

Also see Melunasi Janji Kemerdekaan, Melunasi Janji Kemerdekaan, Karya Muhammad Husnit, Serambi Ilmu Semesta, 2014.

Short Story: The Laughter of the Girl from the Garbage Dump

The Laughter of the Girl from the Garbage Dump

By Ahmad Tohari

Korep, Carmi, and Driver Dalim are three of the many people who frequently visit the garbage dump on the outskirts of town. Dalim is definitely an adult, the driver of one of the yellow garbage trucks, with a crew of two. He is a civil servant, and he likes to take his thick-framed glasses off, and then put back on again. Carmi is really still too young to be called a young lady. Korep is a boy with a scar from a past injury above his eye. Together they are the youngest of the garbage scavengers among the people at the dump.

Driver Dalim is actually a garbage scavenger too. He manages his two assistants so they scavenge the best second-hand goods while the garbage is still on the truck. The instruction is given especially when his truck is transporting the garbage from the mansions on What’s It Called Street. The leather belt that Driver Dalim is wearing is also scavenged. He says it’s made in France and was thrown away by its owner just because it had a small scratch. He also says that the majority of the people who live in those mansions only want to use the best goods, without the smallest mark whatsoever.

When Korep and Carmi arrive at the garbage dump, the stench isn’t so noticeable yet. The sun’s rays are still being blocked by the trees on the eastern side, so the garbage dump isn’t sizzling yet. Later around midday, the garbage dump will be boiling as the stench rises and fills the air. Driver Dalim often reminds Carmi and Korep not to hang around in the middle of the dump. “A lot of scavengers have died from sickness, their lungs diseased,” he says. Who knows why, but Driver Dalim feels the need to remind Carmi and Korep. He himself doesn’t know why he feels close to the two children. Maybe it’s because Korep and Carmi are the two youngest scavengers at the garbage dump.

Dozens of scavengers are already gathered on the southern side. They’re waiting for the garbage truck to arrive. A female scavenger puts a cigarette butt between her lips then moves among the others asking for a light. A hand stretches out towards her mouth. A match lights and smoke starts to unfurl. But the woman then screams. Apparently the hand of the man holding out the match has then tweaked her cheek. She chases the man and pinched his back. They wrestle. All of a sudden there appears a happy spectacle. Korep and Carmi join in the shouting. There are bursts of cheering and boisterous shouting. It becomes so noisy that the sparrows foraging for food on the ground suddenly all fly away together into the air. A dog feels disturbed and disappears quickly behind a garbage excavator, long since broken down and now also garbage.

Driver Dalim wheels in his truck. And in an instant the atmosphere changes. The crowd of garbage scavengers scatters. They run behind until the truck stops. The moment the rubbish is tipped out there erupts a chaotic noisy scene. Dozens of scavengers including Korep and Carmi transform, like a pen full of hungry chickens tossed feed, they struggle, push past each other, shove and nudge past each other. They scramble to scavenge through the garbage for anything at all, except for diapers, pads or dead rats.

Korep finds two half-rotten mangoes. Carmi has a different story. Carmi’s eyes are struck when an object falls from the back of the truck onto her head. It’s the right-hand shoe of a good pair of shoes of a reasonable size. Carmi picks up the shoe straight away. Oh, she has often dreamed of wearing shoes like this. In her dream, Carmi sees her calves are clean and large, and more beautiful because of the shoes. Carmi is really excited She picks through the pile of garbage more excitedly with her hands to find the left shoe. Sweat runs down her forehead and cheeks, but Carmi fails. So she straightened her back looking around; maybe the other shoe is over there. Or maybe it’s been found by another scavenger. Fail again. So Carmi stops and leaves the rubbish heap. She even throws back the three used plastic bottled water glasses she has found.

At the edge of the garbage dump, she tries on the shoe on her right foot. Her heart flutters again because the shoe feels so comfortable on her foot. She takes it off again and cleans it with scrunched up newspaper. After it’s a little cleaner, she puts it back on again. Carmi stands up, turns, and lifts her right foot up so she can inspect carefully how the shoe looks on her foot. She really hopes that tomorrow or whenever the left shoe arrives at this garbage dump. Who knows. Yes, who knows. Can’t anything at all turn up here?

Korep comes over and straight away laughs at what his friend is doing. Carmi disapproves. She is offended but does not want to respond to Korep’s behavior. Or Carmi’s eyes are attracted more to the two mangoes in Korep’s hands. Carmi is relieved that Korep is responsive. What’s more, Korep does not continue to talk about the shoe on her right foot.

“Let’s just eat mangoes. Come on,” Carmi suggests as she places the single lone shoe into a yellow plastic bag. Korep grins, but he too is interested in Carmi’s idea. So Korep and Carmi move to the eastern side where there is a shady tropical almond tree. Korep takes out a small knife he was given by Driver Dalim. He has one mango in the left hand. In one smooth action, the mango is cut open right up to the part that is rotten. Carmi stares at the freshly-cut, bright yellow surface. Carmi salivates but then shudders as two maggots emerge from the surface of the cut. Korep laughs then makes another incision, deeper. This time the rotten part of the mango is completely gone. “Who says half-rotten mangoes aren’t tasty to eat, right?” says Korep as he offers a slice of the mango flesh that is not rotten to Carmi. “Yeah, right?” Carmi just laughs. Korep stares at the row of Carmi’s teeth that are indeed nice to look at.

***

Every day Carmi carries a yellow plastic sack containing the right shoe. Eventually, everyone finds out that the little girl is still waiting for the left shoe. They feel sorry for her. It’s almost impossible. But to Carmi all garbage scavengers promise they will help her. Driver Dalim even has an amazing idea. He is going to instruct his truck crew of two to go to every house on What’s It Called Street. He’s going to tell both to ask the maids, the drivers, or the gardeners there if they know where the left shoe is which Carmi is waiting for.

But Driver Dalim’s brilliant idea does not need to be carried out. A few days after Carmi discovers the right shoe, Driver Dalim is tricked by his two assistants. At the time he is driving the truck along the highway. Suddenly before his eyes, outside the cabin window, there is a left shoe bobbing up and down. Obviously, the shoe is tied to a long rope with the end being held by his assistants on the back of the truck. Driver Dalim immediately steps on the brake. The tires screech on the surface of the asphalt road. On the back of the truck, his two helpers sway and tumble forward.

Driver Dalim jumps down, immediately takes off his glasses. The truck’s crew of two also climb down. One of them handed the left shoe to Driver Dalim who then smiles broadly. Holding the handle of his glasses, he gives praise to God as many as three times.

“Where did you find it?”

“Yes, in the garbage bin in front of the houses on What’s It Called Street. Forget what number it is.”

“No matter. Where you found the left shoe isn’t important.”

Driver Dalim stops talking because he wants to take off his glasses and put them back one again. Now he rubs his brow, obviously thinking hard. Driver Dalim’s behavior makes his two helpers wonder. What’s he thinking about now? Isn’t there only one thing left, to deliver the left shoe to Carmi?

“Later you give the shoe to Carmi.” This is Driver Dalim’s instruction to the helper who is wearing short pants. The person appointed glances up because he’s a bit surprised.
“It would be better for you to do it, Mr. Dalim.”

“Yes, that’s right. It would be better if it were you, Mr. Dalim,” says the helper wearing trousers, backing up his friend. Driver Dalim sighed then takes of his glasses. Before replacing them again, he speaks in a hushed voice.

“Ah, you don’t know. The thing is, I didn’t have the heart to see Carmi the moment she receives the shoe. Carmi might jump up and down, laugh, or even scream with excitement. Her eyes might sparkle, or on the other hand, she might become teary. Ah, just because of a second-hand shoe taken from a trash can, Carmi’s heart will glow. I wouldn’t have the heart to watch it. It will be very bitter. Do you two have the heart? ”

Without waiting for the answer, Driver Dalim changes his mind. The left shoe will be placed under the tropical almond tree on the eastern side of the garbage dump. Carmi and Korep often rest there in the middle of the day. Everyone agrees so Driver Dalim jumps up into the cabin holding the left shoe. The two helpers climb onto the back and the truck heads off towards the garbage dump.

When the sun is right over the garbage dump, all the scavengers move to the four sides to arrange the results of their scavenging, placing it all into sacks or tying it up with nylon rope. Carmi also moves to the side. She has found dozens of used plastic drinking water glasses, arranging them neatly so that they are easy to carry. In her left hand, there is still a yellow plastic sack containing the right shoe. Along with Korep, who is carrying a bunch of half-rotten mangoes, Carmi moves toward the eastern side headed for the shade of the tropical almond tree.

When the air at the garbage dump is extremely hot and there is no wind, a foul odor spreads out everywhere. The sparrows flock in and the dogs too. Who then is there to hear Carmi laugh out loud then scream hooray over and over again? Her loud laughter feels like an outpouring of overflowing happiness that moves the heart.

Those who hear Carmi’s laughter are the dozens of garbage scavengers in the rubbish dump. And it is only them who are able to truly understand and fully appreciate the laughter of the scavenger girl. So behold, the scavengers stand and smile as they watch Carmi and Korep leave the garbage dump. Carmi laughs, of course, because there is a pair of shoes on her feet. But where could the two garbage scavengers want to go? Every person at the garbage dump knows that Carmi and Korep do not have a home to go to. (*)


The Laughter of the Girl from the Garbage Dump (Tawa Gadis Padang Sampah) by Ahmad Tohari was published in the daily newspaper Kompas on 21 Agustus 2016. [Retrieved from https://lakonhidup.com/2016/08/21/tawa-gadis-padang-sampah/.] Ahmad Tohari was born in Banyumas on 13  June 1948. He now lives in the village of Tinggarjaya, Jatilawang, Purwokerto in Central Java province. His most popular work is the novel trilogy The Ronggeng Dancer of Paruk Hamlet (Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk). His collections of short stories include Karyamin’s Smile (Senyum Karyamin), Night Song (Nyanyian Malam), and Eyes Lovely to Behold (Mata yang Enak Dipandang). Other works include the novels Kubah (1982), Di Kaki Bakit Cibalak (1977), Bekisar Merah (1993), Lingkar Tanah Lingkar Air (1995), Belantik (2001), and Orang-orang Proyek (2002). The short story They Spelt The Begging Ban (Mereka Mengeja Larangan Mengemis) was published in Kompas daily on 15 September 2019.

Featured image credit: Life Must Go On! by Ubay Amri Nur.

Short Story: Letter For Wai Tsz

Letter For Wai Tsz

By Leila L. Chudori

The weather in Jakarta seems to be reflecting the state of the nation, hot and sticky, not a tree anywhere to shade under. As for myself, I don’t know why I suddenly thought of writing you a letter. I know all too well that in our graduate newsletter Keep In Touch they’re always mentioning that you’re one of the graduates who hasn’t been seen since Tiananmen. But I live in hope because I will always believe that God will stretch out his hand and protect you. Your last letter, the one smelling of rotten vegetables and dried fish, the one you seemed to have sent from somewhere in the outskirts of Beijing, just before your escape – so heroic, so inspiring – more and more makes me feel so small, so insignificant.

Dear Wai Tsz,

It’s been exactly fourteen years since the four of us were gazing up at the stars, since you, Finn, Maria, and I made that promise. We promised that we would not get married until we had reached those stars.

Our roommate Finn, with her long Snow White blonde hair and blue eyes, told us that her life’s mission was located in the constellation of Andromeda.

“What I want is for men and women to have the same rights. And I think that’s an ideal we all share,” she said in her romantic way.

Our Danish roommate’s idealism was really extremely annoying, and because of that I couldn’t be bothered talking about the problem of the completely rampant poverty and corruption in my own country. It would have been very hard to make her understand. Could you just see it, with her own country so rich and peaceful, how could she have begun to imagine?

Then I remember that Maria from the Philippines said with her firm, self-confident voice, “I long for change in my country, and I hope that I can be a part of that change.” And straight away you and I yelled out trying to be first, “I wanted to say that too!”

“Come on! How could Indonesia have any problems? Your economy is wonderful compared to ours,” Maria replied. “And you, Wai Tsz, China is a sleeping giant that’s just beginning to wake up. When she’s standing up on her own feet, Western countries will be lapped up in one gulp. The Philippines is the only one with such an uncertain future under a president like Marcos…”

But as it transpired the first country to see the smoldering embers of democracy burst into flame was her own country, the Philippines. And just as she had wanted, Maria was a part of the process of bringing democracy to her country. I remember when she sent a newspaper clipping showing her and a group of friends from the University of the Philippines in the middle of that historic demonstration in Edsa Road. It was like a movie. I imagined our roommate, Maria, the one who couldn’t even get up in the morning, now part of such momentous change in her country. Image. She became part of the Philippines’ peaceful revolution in February 1986 when Marcos was finally forced to flee to Hawaii, and a widow finally moved into the presidential office. As all this was going on, for me her neighbor, nothing had changed. I was working for the largest news magazine in my country naively thinking that here everything was nice and peaceful and prosperous. I thought, well, at least it wasn’t as bad as some of the countries that some of our campus friends had come from where there were several coups every year.

Wai Tsz, after we graduated, I came home again to breathe our pollution-filled air and I became a journalist. You went home to breathe your own pollution-filled air in Beijing and you transformed into a human rights activist.

The interesting thing about your country was that as soon as your country opened up and allowed in a handful of American companies, everyone began to say that this was Deng’s great breakthrough. When Chinese students were allowed to read translations of Milan Kundera and watch James Bond movies, it was as if democracy had started to arrive in China. One of your spirited letters related how interesting Fang Lizhi’s lectures were, how he had no hesitation at all using words like “democracy” and “freedom”. But it was only after Tiananmen happened that we realized that the so-called breakthrough talked about by Western experts was just an immensely simplified view of the problem.

Meanwhile, Wai Tsz, in my own country, new economic policies were being implemented which produced hundreds of new banks, new buildings, new companies, new television stations, new rich people, new cars, still more new policies, even more new buildings, more highways, ever more even richer people, and other, oh, absolutely astonishing, truly astounding…

All of this, Wai Tsz, in fact turned us into journalists. Supposedly professional, agile, flexible, competitive, head in the clouds. It made us forget a lot about humanity. For example, yeah, for example, in planning meetings to talk about a war in some country somewhere, we would sit around like a bunch of know-all football commentators abusing one of the “stupid” players as we ate fried chicken and laughed. And, really what we were talking about was the fate of thousands of women and children being slaughtered in the country. This profession made me, just as Professor Humphrey had predicted – he didn’t agree with my choice of becoming a journalist – turned us into “know-alls who don’t know much about anything”.

Professor Humphrey wasn’t completely right, but I have to agree that in a couple of cases he wasn’t too far wrong either. This profession set me up in an ivory tower, made me look at the people as a news item, part of a “deadline”, a conversation on a mobile phone, as no more than a series of meaningless statistics. Tiananmen, an event that was so important for you, was a moral movement. But for us, it was nothing more than a bit of excitement, a fresh infusion of adrenaline, a new pump keeping our journalistic blood circulating. I almost forgot that for years I had a roommate who was probably still on the run, still hiding in garbage bins on the edge of the city. Wai Tsz, where are you?

In your last letter, after the events of June 1989, that smelly smudged letter, I read your handwriting through the ink which had run, “Nadira, help us through your writing.”

Oh, Wai Tsz, I am so ashamed. For sure we wrote about, we covered, we photographed the events in your country proudly. But I am not convinced that the hundreds of journalists who swarmed to cover those events were moved by concern. Maybe there were some who were, but the others were driven by competition, the desire to get an exclusive, and maybe even out of a desire to win the coveted Pulitzer Prize.

Then, this year arrived, 1997, and suddenly I received a shock…

Only now in the midst of so many corporate collapses, bankruptcies, millions of people losing their jobs, bank liquidations, hoarding of food that sends prices soaring, newspaper companies complaining about never-ending increases in the price of paper, student demonstrations, mothers protesting the increases in the price of milk, only now have I again become “human”. Only now have I thought of you. Only now have I thought about our walks along the banks of the Otonabee River, recalled our arguments about equality and about the differences between the East and the West, and, oh, how I remember the Galaxy Theory you explained to me that time you tried to cheer me up after you found me crying. You made me lie down on the grass and look up at the stars.

“At times of sadness and pain, Nadira, fly up to one of those galaxies and leave the Earth. Then from way up there, look back and the Earth will seem so small that you will wonder what on earth you are crying about. After that, fly back to Earth, take a deep breath and the problem will be solved.”

Wai Tsz, your Galaxy Theory was so simple, and so good for so many reasons. But it won’t be any use for the problems of my country, or for the problems of your country. I have never before been as hopeless as I am now. I have never felt as powerless as I do now. Every day I open the window and I hear the complaints of ordinary mothers about the rising price of food, of people who have just lost their jobs, hear news about the speculators dancing for joy with every fall in the value of the currency. Hundreds and hundreds of people have suddenly become actors, smiling sweetly in front of the television cameras saying how much they love the nation.

William Shakespeare was truly a genius when he wrote: All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players, They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts.

Do you remember when Professor Johnson read this verse from As You Like It? Am I becoming a useless melancholic character like Jacques?

I can see Shakespeare doubled up in stitches laughing because the world, the stage for this drama, is full of nothing but a rabble of idiots. According to me the stage for this drama is full of people whose acting skills are terrifyingly good. Every morning the papers are full of stories about our economic problems but even the people complaining are still running around scratching for rupiah to exchange for foreign currency, still feeding on the corpse of other people’s suffering.

Wai Tsz, why was I born in a community which created such a meaningful word for community duty as our own word gotong royong but which is in reality just a collection of completely selfish individuals? My heart is broken. If I had been as selfish maybe I would already have flown off to join our friends chasing ever higher qualifications in the United States. But when all’s said and done, my heart is here, Wai Tsz, planted firmly here, rooted firmly in this soil. No matter how strong, there isn’t a crowbar or a hoe that could dislodge my heart from this land.

For months, Wai Tsz, I have been afflicted by horrible nightmares, more like Salvador Dali visions than dreams. One night I dreamed I had fallen from a skyscraper and even though all my limbs came off, I was still alive. Another night I dreamed my hands were chained together and the ends of my legs were being eaten by a pack of black dogs. And another night I was suddenly transported to an empty field where hundreds of crows were attempting to suck my baby from my stomach. To try to stop these dreams I bought a pile of comics. I thought it would make me laugh. In fact, all that happened was I laughed so hard I cried.

Wai Tsz, I remember the time you said, “Something started with a good intention and a good conscience is always harder to believe in than something started with a bad intention.”

Maybe that is the reason people find it hard to believe that a protest movement could be driven by conscience. Maybe the word conscience is not used very much these days, or maybe it’s time to archive it forever in some dusty old museum.

Wai Tsz, where are you? Pretending to be a shop assistant? Or teaching in a tiny primary school in some far away village? Or maybe you’re actually still hiding somewhere in Beijing? I have no idea whether you will ever read this letter. I will send it to your old address in Beijing. Wai Tsz, wherever you are, if you do not get to read this letter, I am sure you have read what is in my heart.

Your friend, Nadira. (Jakarta, November 1997)

 


The short story “Letter for Wai Tsz” (Surat Untuk Wai Tsz) was published in the Jakarta daily newspaper Kompas in March 1999. The story was written about six months prior to, and published some ten months after, the resignation of President Suharto in May 1998. For background on Tiananmen Square see the Washington Post’s 2019 commemorative anniversary piece A massacre, erased. For background on the controversy surrounding the use of the term “people power” in Indonesia after the April 2019 elections see People power is dead, long live people power.

Short Story: Shoot Seven People Dead

Shoot Seven People Dead

By Ahmad Tohari

Dar farewells me with a firm grip. Then he turns and walks away saying he wants to go home to Jakarta and return to editing a famous periodical. But a moment later, he looks back, before approaching me once more.

“One more time. Are you still sure that what I did was my fate?” Dar asks with a solemn face.

I smile and shake my head. He has asked me the question many times, every time we meet. I just answered the question two minutes ago.

“You mean what you did when you shot seven people dead at the same time? How many times do I have to answer? The event happened fifty-four years ago. Whatever happens is called fate,” I answer, also serious.

“So you’re still sure?”

“Very.”

Dar looks at me but his face is still worried. Then he turns his large tall frame. Unfortunately, he walks away with steps that are not nearly as bold as the figure he cuts. I think Dar is overweight. And like me, he too is greying. What’s certain is that fifty-four years ago Dar and I were both in the final year of secondary school.

Today we’re taking our leave in the yard of a small food shop. Dar ordered rawon beef and rice soup, the oil floating on coconut-cream sauce glistening with fat.

***

The volleyball is fed in and Dar smashes it with a movement at least two seconds faster than the team on the other side of the net are expecting. The ball fires unobstructed into the other team’s court. A roar explodes, especially from the female students watching. Virtually all the girls in our school always go for Dar on the volleyball court, and maybe off it too. Dar again becomes the center of attention as he prepares to serve. But this time, we have to wait as someone calls him off the court. A cry of disappointment goes up from a group of female students. The person calling Dar off is someone we all know well. Along with two of his friends, this person often takes us for marching practice. And he uses tough discipline. He also teaches us how to raise and lower the flag. In fact, this trainer also teaches a special group of students, including Dar who is tall, how to crawl. Not any ordinary crawling, but how to crawl while you’re carrying a rifle, and gripping a commando knife between your teeth. So brave. That’s the way to storm enemy territory. And also how to disassemble and assemble a weapon. This activity makes the smaller, shorter ones among us feel jealous and insignificant compared to Dar.

Still at the side of the volleyball court, the trainer hands Dar a rifle that doesn’t have a magazine. Then with a tough-looking face, the trainer salutes bravely. This helps create an air full of heroism. We grow even more jealous of Dar, and I know the female students are going to admire the tall guy even more. Finally Dar goes back onto the court, now wearing the rifle, even though it doesn’t have a magazine.

From what Dar tells us, we learn that the weapon is an automatic rifle. It is called a Kalashnikov, or AK-47, and it is made in Russia. Gunfire from the weapon sprayed horizontally, says Dar, can bring down a banana tree trunk by making a gash like a machete slash. And one magazine full of bullets fired vertically can split the trunk from top to the bottom, making a cut like a machete slice too. Yes, Dar’s story about the fantastic rifle always manages to make us seem even more insignificant. Although Dar is still a high school child like us, we really believe he has actually done everything he tells us about.

Once the volleyball court is vacated by the hero, it is as if all our enthusiasm has evaporated. All the more so as the female students also move away. I still remember him. And of course Dar receives more, and more exciting, training. Dar relates that the person training us has asked him to enroll in the military academy later. So he will have to do heaps of physical training. Dar just says yes to the trainer to make sure there are no bad feelings. But in fact Dar has told me he really wants to become a painter.

***

Dar is picked up. And as their journey takes them into the teak forest, he asks the person who met him, “Where are we going?” Dar receives the reply. “A great task lies ahead of you over there. Only a great youth could gain the opportunity to carry out such a great task. Not even me in fact.”

Although he isn’t satisfied with the answer, Dar is actually reluctant to push for an explanation.

The jeep travels slowly, crawling through the shadows cast by the trees. It stops where the narrow road runs along the edge of a steep embankment. There are several unarmed men standing together down there. Below the edge, only a few meters away, a river flows swiftly. As the sun is already low in the west, Dar and the others are frequently struck by the glare of the bright sunlight reflecting from the water’s surface.

The trainer hands Dar a full magazine loaded with bullets. Dar accepts it with a show of boldness. Without hesitation, he skillfully mounts the magazine. From the open end, the bullets are visible. They’re pointed, copper-headed, reddish in color. The size of fingers. Dar tells me that the bullets burst as soon as they hit their target. If they’re targeted at somebody’s back, the wound is a gaping hole as large as the hole in the back of a kuntilanak vampire. That’s what Dar tells all of his high school friends. Fifty-four years ago.

The trainer smiles as he gives Dar the thumbs up. Dar returns the smile. When the trainer snaps a dashing salute to Dar, he responds with the same enthusiasm. Then Dar and the trainer take a few steps descending the embankment. About five meters in front of them, a woven bamboo panel is visible being held upright by stakes at both ends. Along the center of the woven panel is a thick white horizontal line about two meters long.

Dar senses that he is confronting something and a situation which he does not comprehend. “What is all of this?” he asks.

And the man answers flatly, “I am going to test your accuracy. Please fire at the white line until you’re out of bullets. Let’s go, champ!”

Dar’s face warms because he feels that he has been presented with a challenge. He takes a deep breath, moves his left leg forward, and leans to the front slightly. He raises the AK-47. His palms are moist. He consciously assumes a brave firing pose. Right index finger tightens on the trigger. Rat-a, tat, tat, tat, tat. Instantly the thick white line on the woven bamboo panel is erased by the spray of bullets.

There follows a second of perfect quiet. In that moment, Dar almost screams for joy because he feels that he has become a great marksman. But a moment later, complete confusion descends. Words fail him as he notices a blotch of blood seeping through the tear in the woven bamboo there before him. He also hears something collapse. He throws down the AK-47 and runs to see what is behind the wall. Several bodies are slumped over, covered in blood. Two are rolling down toward the river. Then two splashes sound out and the river instantly becomes red. Dar suddenly feels dizzy. He sways, then faints.

***

Dar and I meet again a few months later at the small food stall, Dar once again about to return to Jakarta. His stomach is fat and I chide him, “You should eat less. If you don’t, you won’t have a long life.”

Dar defends himself. “Actually I’ve suffered from memory loss all my life because I once shot seven people dead. When I eat, I can forget I have memory problems. That’s all. I won’t ever stop liking food. And I’m also going to keep asking you if you’re still sure that what I did then was fate.”

“Yes. It was fate! It’s a deep scar! It’s our curse!” I answer rather loudly. But the words make my flesh crawl and I can’t hold back the tears.

***

Maybe Dar’s excuse is right, that by eating all the time he can forget the deep emotional injury. But why does he have to eat another rawon beef and rice soup, and then another? Finishing the large bowl of soup, he stands up as if he wants to assume a comfortable position to belch. I stand up too, but not to burp. Instead, I stroke his belly. “You have to take care of your stomach so it doesn’t get any bigger. That’s if you don’t want to die early.”

The fact is it’s just a joke. And Dar and I laugh together. But maybe it’s bad luck or something, because later it turns out that my words are definitely no joke at all. A few days later, I hear the news that Dar has suffered a stroke. Of course I want to go and visit him in Jakarta right away. But before I can leave, more news arrives. Dar has passed away.

Oh Lord, fifty-four years ago, Dar shot seven people dead. And today he passed away. Well, what can I say? There definitely isn’t any need for me to ask for forgiveness for Dar because You are All Knowing.

 


Ahmad Tohari, “Shoot Seven People Dead” (Menembak Mati Tujuh Orang) was published in the Central Java daily newspaper Suara Merdeka on 13 October 2019. [Retrieved from https://lakonhidup.com/2019/10/13/menembak-mati-tujuh-orang]

Ahmad Tohari was born in Banyumas on 13  June 1948. He now lives in the village of Tinggarjaya, Jatilawang, Purwokerto in Central Java province. His most popular work is the novel trilogy Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk [The Ronggeng Dancer of Paruk Hamlet]. His collections of short stories include Karyamin’s Smile (Senyum Karyamin), Nyanyian Malam, dan Mata yang Enak Dipandang. Other works include the novels Kubah (1982), Di Kaki Bakit Cibalak (1977), Bekisar Merah (1993), Lingkar Tanah Lingkar Air (1995), Belantik (2001), and Orang-orang Proyek (2002). The short story They Spelt The Begging Ban (Mereka Mengeja Larangan Mengemis) was published in Kompas daily on 15 September 2019.

Nasi Rawon

Nasi Rawon

Featured image credit: VOXSPORTS VOXER, 17th ASEAN University Games : Volleyball (M) – Singapore vs Indonesia, Photography by Lim Yong Teck (SUSC)