On this date in 1985, the onetime General Secretary of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) was suddenly executed for subversion.
Though the date here says 1985, Munir was actually a very late casualty of the 1960s: specifically, the murky attempted “coup” of 1965 whose authorship the army quickly ascribed to the Communists and on that doubtful basis unleashed a ferocious bloodletting in 1965-66.*
Along with the hundreds of thousands of leftists slaughtered — many in Muslim sectarian violence, as distinct from being specifically hunted down by the army — some 200,000 wound up in prison.
According to a U.S. Department of Defense publication, Low-Intensity Conflict in the Third World (pdf),
the vast majority [of those 200,000 prisoners] were gradually released and rehabilitated during the first seven to 10 years of President Suharto’s New Order. By the mid-1970s, although Western sources could not agree on the remaining number, probably no more than 30,000 people remained in custody; but their living conditions and situations were often extremely bad. In the late 1970s, responding to the Carter administration, Vatican, The Hague, and Amnesty International remonstrances, the Suharto government implemented a series of staged, publicized releases of remaining PKI prisoners. All told, between 25,000 and 30,000 were released between 1977 and the early 1980s. In the early 1980s, most western sources estimated that no more than 5,000 hard-core PKI and other radical personnel remained in custody.
As the former head of the PKI-affiliated trade union SOBSI, Munir was “radical personnel” in the eyes of the Suharto dictatorship.
He’d been condemned on subversion charges in 1973, but the government had simply left that sort of people to rot in prison. (It had been five years between Munir’s arrest and his trial in the first place; clearly, nobody in Jakarta thought him a clear and present danger.)
According to this doctoral thesis,
On 14 May 1985 he was taken from his cell, and without explanation, shot. On 19 July 1985 there were further executions of Rustomo, Gatot, Lestario and Djoko Untung — all former senior members of the PKI in East Java. It was unclear whether the government had other agendas, or if the condemned had simply come to the end of a long, tedious and inhumane process … What the imprisonments and executions did, however, was to illustrate the continued power and convenience of state violence and anti-communism.
That “convenient” anti-communism helped clamp down on internal dissension.
The official campaigns made reformist sentiment in the civil service and the pro-democracy aspirations of students synonymous with communism. The fear generated served as a warning to progressive elements within the bureaucracy not to tamper … It was, in effect, a warning to all sections of society not to challenge the relationship between the ruler and the ruled.
* With the blessing of the West, naturally.