Article on Buru by Japanese journalist
Indonesia: A look at the Political Exile Island of Buru
From special correspondent, Masuko
Held 12 years without even knowing reason for arrest
Buru Island. Maluku Island Group, December 20 (1977)
On 10 December , two large sized landing crafts carrying 1,500
people left Buru Island, known internationally as a place of exile for
political prisoners. The craft headed for the Island of Java. The
passengers were political prisoners, held captive for 12 years and now
being released and returned to their homes.
Despite criticism from human rights organisations such as Amnesty
International, the situation has remained shrouded in mystery.
However, the Indonesian Government has now decided to try or release
34,000 people by 1979 and the processing of the first 10,000 people
has begun. Taking this as an opportunity, I went to see ‘the forbidden
Note: Category B prisoners are those who are alleged to have
participated in the G30S/ PKI Affair (September 30 Movement/Indonesian
Communist Party). Specifically there is alleged to be reason that
implicated them but this is not sufficient to bring them to court.
Thus they have been held up till now without trial .
The other prisoners include Category A (participated directly in
the Affair and scheduled for trial) but there is not sufficient
information to bring them to court. Thus they have been held until now
without trial. About 1,900 people. Category C (believed to have
participated Indirectly in the Affair). A less grave classification.
Approximately 540,000 of this category were all released in 1975. And
No doctors for the sick
Freedom it is for real this time.
Buru is an isolated island, about one and a half times the size of
Bali. It is located to the west of Ambon, about 2,000 kilometers from
Jakarta. It had become a place of exile in 1969. Since then, mainly
male Category B prisoners from camps in Java have been sent there.
It has a prisoner population of about 11,000 people.
As camp commander, Lt.Col Karyono (52) boasts,it has neither guard
towers nor barbed wire. There are plowed fields and chickens pecking
at feed. There is a Moslem mosque and a soccer field. Suddenly a
farmer in a straw hat came up to me and started speaking to me in
fluent English. Except for the talk about human rights etc, the
atmosphere was hardly different from that in a village in Java.
However the depth of the feelings of dissatisfaction and opposition
among the political prisoners far surpasses what it was according to
Colonel Karyono. Our group visited the camp for five days. During that
time, I spoke to more than a hundred people. When the guards were not
present, they all talked about past occurrences and criticized the
present situation. In what follows, I will exclude things I heard from
only one person or which are unverifiable. I will include only those
things regarding which several sources were available.
On the night of 12 December 1974, 48 prisoners attempted to escape
from Camp No. 2 which is situated about two kilometers from camp
headquarters. Twenty-one of them were caught and the rest were never
heard of again. It is believed they died of starvation in the jungle.
The prisoners say that all the inmates of Camp No. 2 were held
collectively responsible and that they were beaten to death. The
re-captured prisoners are now being held in the village of Namlea
(capital) of Buru.
The released prisoners included people who had to be carried by
stretchers . One of them was a 37-year old man who was suffering from
cancer. His pulse was being taken and there was a vacant look in his
eyes. Probably he was returning home to die.
Many of the remaining prisoners are suffering from diseases.
Particularly numerous are those suffering from tuberculosis. In Camp
No 2 for instance, it is estimated that of the one thousand inmates,
about seven percent have the disease. It is said there are sixteen
lepers on Buru.
In Camp No 2, there is a sanatorium which was constructed in 1975
by the prisoners on their own. Reserved only for the critically ill,
there were 17 patients there. Coughing the weak cough characteristic
of those suffering from tuberculosis, they told me that they need PAS
(the name of this procedure is not clear) and streptomycin. However,
camp headquarters does not recognize the sanatorium. The prisoners
said that no doctor has ever come there. (According to Colonel
Karyono, the number of prisoners who have died since 1969 is 295.)
Without exception, every one of the prisoners insisted that he was
not a communist. Most said that they have never been told why they
were arrested. One prisoner said the he had been beaten with a chair
because he asked why he had been arrested.
In Camp No 2, I noticed a young man aged 21 years whose name is
Muryani. In 1972, he fell from a tall tree and became hemi-phlegic (
paralyzed down one side). Withe the help of acupuncture several years
previously he was able to get up and he walked with a stick. He
said that at the age of nine, his father was arrested and they were
both taken to a prison in Central Java. For some reason, Muryani was
also branded a political prisoner. In 1969, he was separated from his
father and sent to Buru. When I asked him if he would like to return,
he grabbed both my hands and nodded in the affirmative like a small
child. I heard that there were similar cases in Camps no. 2 and 3.
In Camp No 4, 179 prisoners are living with their families with the
objective of getting the prisoners to migrate from over-crowded Java.
The government started in 1979 to encourage families by providing them
with one hectare of farmland.
Even when they were put on board the ships,the prisoners still
displayed anxiety on their faces. Among them, there were prisoners who
had been transferred from one camp to another as many as six times.
The inmates of the newest camp on Buru, Camp R said that when they
were transported to Buru, they had been told that they would be
released. ‘This time it should be for real, shouldn’t it,’ the
prisoners repeatedly asked me.
From Special Corespondent Masuko
020 8771 2904