Updated: 05/30/2014 11:37 | By Agence France-Presse

Abuse claims cloud ex-general's run for Indonesia presidency

Mugiyanto recalls the horror of being abducted by soldiers, blindfolded, beaten and electrocuted as a student activist fighting to end the long rule of Indonesian dictator Suharto.


Abuse claims cloud ex-general's run for Indonesia presidency

Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto from the Gerindra (Great Indonesia Movement) riding a horse while attending a campaign in Jakarta, March 23, 2014 - by Adek Berry

Sixteen years on, he can't believe the man who ordered his capture could be the country's next president.

Former general Prabowo Subianto is trying to erase human rights violations from his image as he pursues the presidency in the world's third-largest democracy.

But the voices demanding he be brought to justice are growing louder as the July 9 poll approaches.

Twenty-three activists were kidnapped in the months before the three-decade rule of Suharto was brought to an end in May 1998, when the Asian financial crisis sparked violent protests as it tore through Indonesia.

As head of the army's special forces in early 1998, Prabowo admitted to ordering some of the abductions, including Mugiyanto's. He was discharged from the military following Suharto's downfall for "exceeding orders".

But the former general denies ordering the torture.

The 62-year-old, who used to be married to Suharto's daughter, has never faced a civilian court. He also denies accusations he was involved in the disappearance of 13 activists, whose fates remain unknown.

Mugiyanto, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, hopes that by telling the story of his three-day interrogation he can educate those who know little about the ex-general's past.

"The most painful part was when I heard my friends being tortured," Mugiyanto told AFP, his voice quavering as he recalled sobbing uncontrollably when he heard their screams.

"I thought they were going to kill me," the 41-year-old said.

- 'Dirty games' -

Most Indonesians are in the dark about Prabowo's past. A poll by the Indonesian Survey Institute found that less than 30 percent of respondents knew about the abductions or that Prabowo was discharged from the military.

At a recent pro-Prabowo demonstration, supporters described the ex-general as "honest", and one man said the allegations against him were all "lies".

"His rivals are just playing dirty games. There is no problem. This is just a dirty conspiracy," supporter Binsar Effendi Hutabarat said.

Prabowo still polls a distant second to his only rival -- the popular Joko Widodo, who rose to fame in his stint as Jakarta governor -- but he has narrowed the gap dramatically in recent months.

His Gerindra Party has a strong "pro-poor" platform that appeals to the masses -- half of Indonesia's 250 million people live below or hover around the poverty line of $2 a day.

And his militaristic past is seen as a plus by millions who yearn for a strong leader to follow outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, widely criticised for his indecision.

- 'Hot-tempered' -

While activists are demanding Prabowo's past be discussed, rights have taken a back seat in the local media's election coverage.

Prabowo has barked at local reporters venomously when asked about rights. His brother and senior advisor, Hashim Djojohadikusumo, says Prabowo has been "hot-tempered" since he was a boy, and that he was unlikely to change.

Prabowo has kept most foreign journalists at arm's length ahead of the elections, refusing AFP's repeated requests for an interview in recent months.

When asked about his rights record during a talk with foreign correspondents last year, Prabowo snapped: "Do you come to us and tell us that 250 million Indonesians are all stupid?"

"Let the Indonesian people decide. Let them scrutinise the past. Let them decide who will be their elected leaders," he said.

There have been attempts to haul Prabowo before courts in the past, but they have all failed.

Last week a group of lawyers filed a suit calling for an ad hoc human rights court to be established to try Prabowo and others allegedly involved in the abductions, in line with a 2009 recommendation by parliament.

A push for Prabowo to be tried has also come from neighbouring East Timor, where he is accused of atrocities, including the massacre of hundreds in 1983, during Indonesia's occupation.

Prabowo denies those allegations as well.

A Prabowo victory could prove awkward for the United States, an ally of Indonesia. He was denied a visa to the country in 2000, reportedly because of his rights record, although US officials have indicated they will work with whomever is elected.

While the masses may not consider rights as they cast their votes, the families of those missing hope the election will bring greater attention to their cause.

Yan Siahaan, whose son was one of the 13 students who disappeared, has protested every May for the past 16 years in the "Against Forgetting" campaign.

"We want the public to know who Prabowo is," he said at a demonstration among a sea of banners branding the ex-general a "kidnapper, murderer and rights violator".

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