Sep 26, 2023 Last Updated 8:24 AM, Sep 13, 2023

We were slaves in a free country

Published: Jul 26, 2007

Maid Halim, a communist, wants the state to admit its crimes

Dave McRae

In February, several weeks before Indonesia’s recent legislative elections, Indonesia’s Constitutional Court ruled that Clause 60g of the 2003 Election Laws, barring former Indonesian Communist Party (Partai Komunis Indonesia, PKI) members from contesting the elections, violated the 1945 constitution. While their eligibility to contest the 2009 elections is a small victory, discussion is still underway on the Draft Truth and Reconciliation Commission Legislation, which would, among other cases, address the fate of victims of the anti-communist killings and imprisonments of 1965-66.

Inside Indonesia recently met with Maid Halim, a former PKI member in Central Sulawesi, to discuss his life experiences and views on reconciliation.

As the coup attempt of 1965 unfolded Maid Halim, a university student, was travelling home by boat from Jakarta to Central Sulawesi. When he and fellow communists on board heard the news two days later, they immediately concluded that the PKI would be taægeted in the fallout from the incident. The atmosphere on the boat was heated, and Maid Halim recalled that when they disembarked in Donggala, near Palu, things had changed noticeably. The looks on people’s faces were different.

Not long afterwards, several of Maid Halim’s friends from the party were arrested and in May 1966 four PKI provincial leaders were quietly executed. Maid Halim was ordered to report to the military police on 1 November 1965. He was imprisoned for 12 years, but was never charged or tried.

When you disembarked in Donggala, how had the situation changed?

In Central Sulawesi before 1965, particularly in Palu, the contest between political parties was never violent. But after the events of 1965 the military stirred up hatred by claiming the 1965 incident was masterminded by the PKI. People accepted this reasoning, so the campaign disabled the PKI.

Did you go into hiding?

Many of my friends did flee because things had changed, things were heated, normal people and mass organisations were doing wild things. But I wasn’t captured, I was just ordered to report to the military police headquarters. I was accused of rebellion and of masterminding the 1965 incident. I stated that I had just come home from Jakarta and no one ever told me that these events would happen.

Did they always ask about the 1965 incident?

Always. We were always pressured to admit that we were the masterminds. A confession had been drawn up in Jakarta that PKI members were the masterminds. We had to accept that. We had to confess. But many of us refused and said that we never did the things the PKI was accused of.

How long were you interrogated for?

I was held by the military police for five days and five nights, and I continued to reject [their accusations]. They were annoyed but I stood firm, I would not change my testimony. After that I was moved to Maesa Prison in Palu. We were interrogated not Ônly by local military police but also by interrogation teams from Jakarta, Manado and Makassar. In general they used torture. There wasn’t a single prisoner who wasn’t tortured during the interrogation process.

What sort of torture did they use?

A variety [of methods]. Sometimes they would hit our teeth with rifle butts or, while we were seated, pull our fingernails under the table. Then there were electric shocks.

So prisoners could prepare themselves in two ways, they could seek peace and lie to save themselves or they could stand firm for the party, for communism. Ah, this caused discord [between us].

Were you freed after 12 years?

Yes, twelve years inside. Though the PKI members detained here were not always in prison, we just slept there, during the day we worked. We PKI prisoners were slaves in a free country. PKI members were hunted down and thrown into prison then put to work on government projects. We had to work for our food.

Were you freed in 1977?

Ah, I was indeed released on 22 December 1977, but we still bore several burdens. We were not allowed to leave a particular place. For example, if we wanted to leave the kampungý(village) where we lived we had to ask permission from the village head or the district head, state our reasons for leaving, say for how long and who would go with us. That went on for a long time, until 1990. So we were free, but like a cow, they still had us on a leash.

Where did you first learn about communism?

When I was in primary school, in my final year, I often read communist oriented newspapers from Jakarta supplied by one of my teachers. Then in junior high school I took part in [communist] party education. In senior high school I was also sent to Toli-Toli to develop the organisation there.

I am one of eight children. Our parents were very poor and never had anything. At the time I felt communism could truly create a just system that oppressed no one. That’s what spurred me to become a communist.

How many PKI members were there in Central Sulawesi?

There were about 11,000 PKI members, most of them were in North Palu and Dolo districts. In the 1960s, the PKI was one of the most admired organisations here because of their actions, for example, the land actions in which they seized land for peasants.

Are there still many victims in Central Sulawesi?

There are still a lot of us. Most are in Palu, in Poso a lot have passed away.

Were you once interviewed here?

Yes, in early 2000 I was interviewed by a journalist from Al-Khairaat Magazine [MAL — a weekly publication produced by Al-Khairaat, a large Islamic organisation with its headquarters in Palu]. In the interview I explained that numerous factors led to the coup attempt and the violence that followed including land actions, the dispute between the PKI and the Indonesian Armed Forces (ABRI), the dispute between NU (Nadhlatul Ulama) and the PKI, the disbandment of Masyumi and internal divisions in the army.

My interview was published in MAL with the title ‘Ghost of the PKI in Central Sulawesi’, using my pseudonym Suwandi. It produced quite a polemic at the time. Droves of bearded anti-communist youths from Al-Khairaat came from as far away as Manado to look for me. They came to my house and I said ‘there is no Suwandi in Tawaeli’.

Did they want to attack you?

Yes, I think so. But I was relieved, after the magazine was published I was invited to Jakarta. The first time I went to Jakarta only three former PKI members were invited, the rest of the people at the seminar were from tertiary institutions. In the seminar we discussed an offer from the government to learn from the case of South Africa. There, Mandela was released then there was reconciliation and peace. Could we do the same here? That was the question put to the forum.

After so many years, do you want reconciliation?

Only after the forum did I meet with my friends from Jakarta and it turned out we all had the same stance – we reject reconciliation. Why? We weren’t rejecting reconciliation outright but the state must admit to its crimes and admit who must take responsibility. Then there are the murders after the 1965 incident, not murders but a slaughter and it was mostly PKI members who were murdered. And it turns out that Suharto was the mastermind.

I later received a letter from a parliamentary special committee in Jakarta asking for a response about the Draft Truth and Reconciliation Commission Legislation. My response was that the substance of the legislation was not clear. Among all the clauses not one said that the 1965 incident would be resolved, only that grave violations of human rights would be addressed. So we asked for clarification. It’s not that we reject the government’s plans for national reconciliation, but the means of reconciliation must be clarified and there must be an admission by the state of its crimes.

So you consider admission of guilt to be the key?

First there must be an admission, the good names of PKI members must be rehabilitated. Without rehabilitation, we can’t make peace. We won’t accept peace without an admission that they are sorry.

Do you hope that the perpetrators from the past will be tried in court?

That’s for later. If the involved parties confess then we can talk about that afterwards. The important thing is rehabilitation first, then we can discuss whether to put them on trial. If we were talking in legal terms, then they’d be tried. But we’re not talking in legal terms.

And you consider the state, and not society, to be most responsible?

The state, not society. The people were forced to do what they did. For instance, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and [its youth organisation] Ansor [acted] because the military encouraged them to commit crimes.

What do you think about the Constitutional Court decision?

I’m quite relieved now that Clause 60g of the Election Laws has been revoked. Relieved because we can be elected, not just vote but we can be elected in 2009.

Did you vote in the election?

Yes, I voted. I voted for Partai Pelopor (Vanguard Party). I mean, I chose a party that took my fancy. But the present situation has people confused because almost all the parties just want to take power for their own group.

And rehabilitation of the PKI may not be their priority?

Definitely not. So we’re not too glad, because it is still the New Order regime in power. But hopefully after this election there will be political change.

Maid Halim is the head of the Central Sulawesi branch of the 1965 Victims Research Institute. Dave McRae ( is the Guest Editor of this edition.

Inside Indonesia 79: Jul - Sep 2004

Latest Articles

Healing the nation? Part 2

Sep 13, 2023 - SASKIA E. WIERINGA

Recent attempts to address the Indonesian genocide after 1 October 1966

Healing the nation? Part 1

Sep 13, 2023 - SASKIA E. WIERINGA

Recent attempts to address the Indonesian genocide after 1 October 1966

Photo essay: Human-Nature connections

Aug 24, 2023 - NIKODEMUS NIKO

Indigenous Dayak Benawan in West Kalimantan

Book review: Civil society elites

Aug 14, 2023 - TIM MANN

Lontar Modern Indonesia



A selection of stories from the Indonesian classics and modern writers, periodically published free for Inside Indonesia readers, courtesy of Lontar

Subscribe to Inside Indonesia

Receive Inside Indonesia's latest articles and quarterly editions in your inbox.