May 27, 2024 Last Updated 6:09 AM, May 21, 2024

Ten years of hoping and waiting

Ten years of hoping and waiting

A photo essay about families of the disappeared

Henry Ismail

In early 1998, only months prior to President Suharto’s resignation, in the midst of severe economic crisis, a number of pro-democracy activists suddenly disappeared. Some of them surfaced again. Individuals like Pius Lustrilanang (abducted on 4 February 1998, released on 2 April 1998), Faisol Reza (abducted on 12 March 1998, released on 25 April 1998), and Raharja Waluya Jati (abducted on 12 March 1998, released on 26 April 1998) testified that they were kidnapped by military officers and held secretly at detention centres where they were interrogated and tortured.

This essay presents a series of photographs which reveal aspects of the lives of the families of abducted activists who have not returned, either because they are known to be dead or because they are still missing. They are Suyat, Bimo Petrus Anugrah (Bimo), Widji Thukul (Thukul), and Leonardus Gilang Nugroho (Gilang). The families feel ongoing misery and loss. However, they still hope they will find their loved ones or achieve justice for them. This hope never dies.

The painful past should be remembered, not covered over or swept aside

Suyat was a student activist when he was abducted from his friend’s house in Sragen, Central Java. Being the most intelligent and most educated of his siblings, Suyat was expected to improve the family’s lot. Suyat’s mother is a housewife. She and Suyat’s father are separated. Suyat has two brothers, Suyadi and Suyatno. Both of them work as carpenters.

   Suyat’s family (left to right): Suyadi, Tamiyem (Suyat’s mother), Suyatno. Suyat was a student activist who was abducted
   by military personnel one night in 1998. Before they kidnapped Suyat, the soldiers abducted Suyatno (Suyat’s brother)
   and forced him to tell them Suyat’s whereabouts. Suyat is still missing.

   Suyadi (one of Suyat’s brothers) works as carpenter. He still hopes that Suyat will return some day.

Like Suyat, Bimo Petrus Anugerah was also a student activist when he disappeared. Although he was studying and living in East Java, he was abducted during a visit to Jakarta. Bimo has three siblings. They live in Malang, East Java, as do his parents, Rahardjo Utomo and G. Misiati Utomo, who are retired and live on government pensions. They spend their days taking care of grandchildren and doing household chores. Bimo’s family still hopes that Bimo will be found one day.

   A portrait of Bimo Petrus hanging in his parent's bedroom. Bimo was a student activist when abducted.
   He is still missing.

   Bimo Petrus’s parents, Raharjo Utomo (left) and Geneve Misiati (right). Does the Che Guevarra painting
   by Bimo's brother also represent Bimo?

   Bimo’s father, who once had a dream that he met Bimo on the street. Since having the dream, he believes that
   one day Bimo will return.

   Bimo’s mother, a retired school teacher, is a committed Catholic and has drawn strength from her faith during the
   past ten years. She believes that some day the answers will come.

Wiji Thukul was a well known poet. He made use of poetry to encourage people to fight against oppression and injustice, and he and his poems played a part in the pro-democracy movement from the late 1980s. He married a woman named Dyah Sudjirah (also known as Sipon). They have a daughter, Fitri Nganthi Wani, and a son, Fajar Merah. Thukul’s family lives in Solo, Central Java. Since Thukul disappeared, Sipon has raised her children alone. To earn money, she became a tailor. Wani, Thukul’s daughter, is a teenager now. She is a student at Sanatha Dharma University, Yogyakarta, majoring in Indonesian literature. It seems that Wani has Thukul’s artistic legacy in her blood.

   Dyah Sudjirah, or Sipon, Widji Thukul’s wife. Thukul is known for his revolutionary poems. He has been
   missing since 1998.

   Sipon, Widji Thukul’s wife, works as a tailor.

Gilang used to be a street musician in Solo, Central Java, and he was active in the pro-democracy movement there. The last time his mother saw him, she gave him permission to move to another city, where he had been offered a job. They did not have a chance to talk again before Gilang was found dead two days later. The case has never been investigated nor brought to trial. Both Gilang’s parents, Fatah and Budiarti, work as tailors in Solo

   Gilang’s parents, Fatah (left) and Budiarti (right). Gilang was a street musician, and he was deeply involved in
   political activism. He was killed during the 1998 uprising. The reason for Gilang’s death is still not clear.
   He disappeared two days before being found dead.

These families have waited ten years for the murders and disappearances to be subjected to a proper legal process. With past abuses like this still unresolved, it is obvious Indonesia is still in transition to democracy. Granted, the road to justice is long and hard. But the painful past should be remembered, not covered over or swept aside. The families of disappeared and murdered activists deserve appreciation and support. These photographs are meant as a small effort to honor them.     ii

Henry Ismail ( was born in Jakarta. He studied political science in his graduate study. He learned photography through night classes at Cultureel Centrum TU Delft, The Netherlands and by attending several workshops in The Netherlands, Spain and Indonesia. His work focuses on issues such as poverty, street children, LGBT groups, and human rights.

See also The endless wait - Families of the disappeared are still searching for answers (ii73: Jan-Mar 2003).

More of Henri Ismail's Photo-essays can be found on his own web gallery at  

Inside Indonesia 92: Apr-Jun 2008

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