Families of Indonesian activists tortured by soldiers 25 years ago shocked at general's election win

Activists holds yellow cards to symbolize a warning during 'Kamisan', a weekly protest held by the relatives of the victims of human rights violations in Indonesia, outside the presidential palace in Jakarta, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024. Dozens of activists attended the rally to express disappointment with the quick count results of the elections held in Indonesia where Prabowo Subianto, a former general linked to past human rights abuses, claimed victory according to unofficial tallies conducted by Indonesian polling agencies. President Joko Widodo faces mounting criticism over his lack of neutrality after he threw his support behind Subianto, who has picked Widodo's son as his running mate. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

By EDNA TARIGAN Associated Press

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Families of Indonesian activists who were kidnapped and tortured by the military 25 years ago demanded justice in a protest Thursday and expressed shock over the apparent presidential victory of Prabowo Subianto, whom they blamed for the atrocities.

Currently the defense minister under outgoing President Jokowi Widodo, Subianto claimed victory in the presidential election on Wednesday, based on unofficial tallies showing he won by a big margin.

Subianto, 72, was a top general and commander of the army’s special forces, called Kopassus. They were blamed for human rights abuses including the torture of 22 activists who had opposed Suharto, the authoritarian leader whose 1998 downfall amid massive protests restored democracy in Indonesia.

Standing in a downpour outside the presidential palace in the capital, Jakarta, relatives of the activists held posters with pictures of the generals they held responsible for the 1998 disappearances. One of the pictures showed Subianto.

“Mr. Prabowo, if you are going to be the president, please resolve the enforced disappearance cases so that we, the victims’ families, can have peace,” Paian Siahaan, 77, told The Associated Press.

His son, Munandar Siahaan, was one of the activists who were assaulted by soldiers as Suharto’s authoritarian rule collapsed. Munandar Siahaan and 12 others remain missing.

Another protester, Maria Catarina Sumarsih, 71, said her son was shot by security forces in 1998 in a university campus. She read a letter addressed to Widodo that condemned Subianto’s election victory. His running mate, a vice presidential candidate, is Widodo’s eldest son.

Subianto expectedly avoided human rights issues in his campaign and benefitted from many voters’ focus on his promise to continue Widodo’s economic roadmap, Adhi Primarizki of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, a think tank in Jakarta, said.

“Unfortunately, human rights issues are not a popular issue in this election,” Primarizki said. Many voters were too young to witness human rights abuses in the Suharto era.