Published: Apr 01, 1999

when will they end?

Tapol is short for tahanan politik, or political detainee. It refers most often to the 1.5 million alleged communist sympathisers who were detained after the coup attempt of 30 September 1965 (there are lesser numbers of tapol from later pogroms). These were the survivors - between 200,000 and 500,000 were massacred. Only a handful were ever sentenced and are referred to as napol, narapidana politik or political criminals. About 10,000 tapol and napol were shipped to Buru Island after 1969 and not released until 1979, when international pressure grew too strong. Even those detained only briefly were stigmatised by the letters ET, ex-tapol, on their identity card. There are still 13 in gaols in Indonesia, some still with pending death sentences.

Before being freed, tapol and napol had to sign a declaration that they would not demand compensation. Despite a government order to return their possessions, in reality nobody has successfully reclaimed their books, land and homes. As late as December 1998, a Jakarta court ruled that Indonesia’s most famous tapol, novelist Pramudya Ananta Toer, could not have the house back that was taken off him by the military in 1965.

Tapol/ napol were not permitted: To work in any form of government service, nor in any state-owned corporation, strategic industry, political party, or news media. They were not permitted to become a minister in any religion, a teacher, village head, lawyer, or puppeteer (dalang); To vote or be elected; To obtain a passport and travel overseas, even for medical treatment (some allowance was made for those going to Mecca on pilgrimage); To choose where to live or to move house freely. Ignorant officials made life difficult, and all the procedures cost money; To obtain credit from the bank, even when they fulfill other requirements; To receive the pensions to which they are entitled from their former employers when they were sacked in 1965.

They are still required to report regularly and are then given paternalistic ‘guidance’ - the frequency often depending on the whim of the local official.

The government greatly feared the moral influence tapol/ napol might have on their family and even friends. For anyone to qualify for employment in the job categories mentioned in 1 above, all candidates had to establish they had a ‘clean environment’ (bersih lingkungan), ie. they were not related to a tapol/ napol. Regulation No.6 of 1976 established the screening process. All close relatives were affected, as well as anyone who may have paid for the education of the tapol/ napol. It was a system of collective punishment.

As part of ‘reformasi’, some of these regulations have been lifted - including the ‘clean environment’ rule and the ban on voting. The ET label on identity cards has been officially removed since August 1995. But the communist party remains banned. And there has still been no wholesale amnesty for the 1965 tapol/ napol.

Inside Indonesia 58: Apr-Jun 1999