Monash University Publishing | Contacts Page
Monash University Publishing: Advancing knowledge

Truth Will Out: Indonesian Accounts of the 1965 Mass Violence

Times are different now

The 1965 tragedy in the eyes of a Muslim

The narrator of the following account was born on 26 December, 1937. His unoffical name is Suherjanto, and he has six children, all male, and all of them married. He comes from Kotagede, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. His last education was at the Academy for Fine Art. When the 1965 tragedy happened, his first son had only recently been born, and was aged 3 months. As a member of the Muslim organization ‘Muhammadiyah’ at the time, he worked in the Muhammadiyah Health Clinic (Pusat Kesehatan Umat, PKU).

Suherjanto’s account presented here is edited from an interview conducted by Mohammad Subkhi Ridho, a young Muhammadiyah activist and alumni of the Masters Program in Religious and Cultural Studies at Sanata Dharma University, Yogyakarta. The interview was conducted in Suherjanto’s home in Kotagede on 3 September, 2009.

My name is Suherjanto. I was born on 26 December 1937. I have six chil­dren. They are all boys, and all of them are married. My highest education was in visual art. I attended the Visual Arts Academy (Akademi Seni Rupa) in Yogyakarta. I married in 1964. In 1965 my first son was born. At the time the G30S/1965 incident occurred, my first son was just three months old.

In 1965 I was working at the PKU, the Muhammadiyah Health Clinic. I was helping the organizers. I was very active in health and education.

I was born into a family that was active in the Muhammadiyah move­ment. I became a member of Hizbullah when I was still small. But as for me, in 1965 I was not very active in the goings-on in response to the G30S, because I just had my first child who was only three months old. So I was more at home.

When the G30S/1965 incident happened, I thought to myself the house must not be left empty. My parents, my father, mother and later my older brothers, also Pak Asnawi and Pak Basori, they were the ones who were active in the movement to response to the G30S incident. At the time, Muhammadiyah definitely had certain forces and cadres to call on. Their top figures were very active in this matter.

Raising alert

In 1948, when the communist uprising in Madiun occurred, in Kotagede [Yogyakarta] there had been a Muhammadiyah movement dedicated to ‘crisis response’. In 1948 I was still in the third grade in primary school, so I did not really know what was going on. But officially, Hizbullah stood against the Communist Party-Muso movement [the Communist Party under Muso’s leadership]. At the time, Hizbullah was very zealous. Their activities at the time included holding meetings, prayer meetings (pengajian) and so forth. All of this was in the context of firing up a spirit of opposition among Muslims in Madiun. Through prayer meetings, sermons in the mosque and so on, the information was circulated that over there [in Madiun] there were actions being carried out by the Communists.

Before 1965, there were often scraps between people in Muhammadiyah and the Communist Party. These were primarily scraps between youth. On the Communist Party side, the youths were represented by the Pemuda Rakyat (People’s Youth), whereas the Muhammadiyah side was represented by Pemuda Muhammadiyah (Muhammadiyah Youth). Often, when there were youth activities that involved the people at large, like celebration of holidays, whether Islamic holidays or national ones, a kind of competition went on. The Pemuda Rakyat often competed or did something intended to interupt or ruin the activities that the Pemuda Muhammadiyah were doing. This sort of thing was very prevalent at the time.

The activities meant as interferences were not usually agressive. There were no attacks or anything. It was just interrupting, or frightening prayer groups. Just that sort of thing. For instance, preventing people from going to the prayer group. So the disturbance was just frightening people or blocking their way. Well, actually not even ambushing them. Just doing certain things to make people frightened. Actually, if I am not mistaken, at the time there was once a clash between youth, fighting or physical contact, and some people were hurt, but it was not serious. Nothing big. It was just local, normal stuff.

To say it again, even though here was psychological competition between the Pemuda Rakyat and Pemuda Muhammadiyah groups, there was never any physical fighting or violence. The Islam side never did anything agressive. They were conscious of being respectful. The important thing was to safeguard that the Muslim faithful not be harrassed and that they should not harrass others. So there would not be conflict.

At the time, on the Islam or Muhammadiyah side, what was going on was just awareness raising, and constant surveillance of their movements [the Communist Party, ed.]. For instance, if you were going to have an activity, there always had to be coordination. Apart from that, the Islam side also often paid people to check what the other side [Communist side] was doing, so we’d know what they were up to and what we had to look out for.


There was a time when I heard directly from a broadcast, but I didn’t know who was broadcasting. According to the broadcast, the Communist Party was going to carry out a coup d’etat and overturn the government. Therefore the people had to be on their guard. They had to guard their homes. And remember, at that time news was going round that a document had been discovered with a list of names of prominent people in Kotagede who were targets for killing by the Communist Party. So based on news like this we gave information that ‘X’ was the son of a Communist figure, or his family was involved and so on, so we had to be on our guard against them and so on.

We got information about the coup d’etat mainly via the radio. It was through the radio that we got the first news from the centre that there had been a coup d’etat carried out by the Council of Generals and all that. But the news was confusing. Listening to all that information made us confused. Which news was true? The first news was that there had been a coup d’etat carried out by the Council of Generals. But I listened to information that explained that it was Lieutenant Colonel Untung who had carried out the coup d’etat. There was no other information. And even more, what about Sukarno, there was no word at all from him. There was nothing, there was no statement about how he was and so on. At the time, I heard that the coup d’etat had been carried out by Untung. Then there were also Communist Party figures.

Well, as soon as there was information that it was the Communist Party that had carried out the coup d’etat, people here started to get prepared. Remember that Kotagede was one of Pemuda Rakyat’s training centres. Their location was east of Jalan Kemasan. Wow, that used to be the ‘red’ territory. But alhamdulillah, after it had been clearly established that the activity [coup d’etat] had been carried out by the Communist Party and their stooges, we prepared ourselves to face that territory. Then after coordination and that kind of thing, and information was clear and so on, then we began to help the government officials, which at that time meant the military. And that’s when the arrests of the ‘reds’ started.

Men and women were arrested. Everyone. Communist Party members, Gerwani, Pemuda Rakyat, all of them. There were men and women. Basically, the activists who had been active before the Gestapu [30th September Movement, trs.] were all put on the list [to be arrested, ed.]. We knew them because of the incidents of competition or the scraps that had happened before the G30S incident. That’s how we knew who the main figures were and so forth.

From Muhammadiyah itself there wasn’t any kind of official letter that rejected the existence of the Communist Party. But it was clear that everyone, especially the Muslim community in Kotagede the majority of whom were Muhmmadiyah, could not accept [the existence of the Communist Party]. But it seemed that there wasn’t any [official letter of that nature]. Or maybe I just don’t know. What is clear, is that whether or not there was an official letter, within Muhammadiyah itself there was good cooperation in the effort to deal with or respond to and oppose the G30S movement.


The arrests of Communist Party, Gerwani and Pemuda Rakyat figures in Kodagede was largely carried out by security officials. Many among them [those arrested, trs] came from Kotagede, and after they were arrested they were exiled to Buru Island. But alhamdulillah, after the main figures were arrested, those who remained and lived in Kotagede, well you could say were totally powerless, weren’t they? Many of them could be persuaded to return to the teachings of Islam.

Those who at the time were still small, just born, or still in the womb of course had no inkling of what was going on. That’s why I think that if their rights are also reduced, well, I don’t think that’s right.

But as for those who at the time were adult or youths, they certainly knew what went on. That’s why I think the policy of attaching the code ‘ET’ or ‘eks tapol’ [ex political prisoner, trs.] on the identity cards of those Communist Party people is alright because it is all in the context of keeping people vigilant so there will not be a similar incident for the second time.

But if this policy continues to their grandchildren, meaning spread equally, well that’s not right. If this policy is eventually revoked, I think this is right. But we have to keep instilling vigilence. Even though their rights have been restored, they should be given a declaration, for instance a declaration that they were not involved in G30S, so that if there is any doubt, it can be sorted out.

Peaceful way

The way I see it, the present is different to the past. Nowadays, if someone follows a certain ideology or joins a certain group, this is all done with awareness.

Because of this, if someone wants to join an organization, they should really know about the organization they want to join. If they want to join Islam, it should be clear what kind of Islam. Because it turns out there are all kinds of Islam. There are the hardliners, whose steps and actions are often not in keeping with the guidelines of Islam that is peaceful, gentle, friendly and kind. So, if I want to follow a certain belief, of course I should really know about that belief. It shouldn’t be just because this school of thought is well-known or trendy. We should not follow a group without knowing their mission and vision. As for Muhammadiyah, this is clear. It is a social organization not a political one. Its method is to coax someone so they will join, or through sermons, so they will follow religion carried out in a gentle way.

So, if someone choses to join Muhammadiyah, they will not be influenced to become hardline. Muhammadiyah’s way of upholding religion is the peaceful way, the way that can be accepted, because its guidelines are amar ma’ruf, nahi mungkar. So amar ma’ruf comes first, meaning to encourage or invite, [to do good deeds] and not nahi mungkar [abandon bad deeds] which is to forcefully get rid of sin. Instruction comes first. Only when instruction bears no result and so on is there the need for force. But force that does not cause problems.

Right now there are still ‘reds’, meaning former communists, living around the area of Ledok [Kotagede]. Even now. But I can’t rememer their names exactly. Some of them are former teachers who were detained and after their release they were given duties here again and they mixed with society again. And we can accept people like that, as long as their attitude in society is good. Usually they ones who used to be teachers, after release they work as masseurs and that sort of thing. They open massage places here and so on. And we accept them.

The people who approach the ex-communists to help them improve are those who in 1965 were already active in Muhammadiyah leading prayers or sermons (dakwah). The ones who invite them to get involved are from the Muhammadiyah leadership and basically those Muhammadiyah people who at the time were already active in dakwah. We invite the former communists to join us and we do not consider them enemies. We do not consider that all communists have to be treated as enemies. No. We only have to do ‘you know what’ to the main figures, but as for the others, if we can, we include them. If they really resist and so on, then we keep an eye on them. If they are active, we report them. Then it is the officials who handle them, so that in the end many want to go to the mosque, join in prayers …

The Muhammadiyah women’s group or Aisyiah is also active with ex Communists so they embrace Islam. They are given guidance. Basically we work with the ones with potential. But if there are some who remain oppositional, or are still obstinate, usually we coordinate with government officials to ensure the ones who continue to cling to communist idealism will not be left to do whatever they like.

When the ‘reds’ [ex political prisoners] are invited to embrace Islam there are some who refuse, although there are many who accept. There are those who want to accept and join, but there are still some who do not. All kinds. But most of those who are from Muslim families usually want to return. But those who were not originally from Muslim families do not necessarily want to.

Our methods of bringing them in are often not formal, but personal. As I already said, there are ‘reds’ who have a member of their family who is Muslim. So, through a personal approach they end up interested, and marry a Muslim. That’s one way. There are also people of ‘red’ ideology who later become related with a Muslim family via marriage, for instance, as in-laws.

Actually there is no formal approach. Usually they are invited to come to a meeting. If they come, they are greeted warmly. It is not necessary to mention their political background. You especially don’t mention whether they are ex political prisoners or not. If they come along, then they have to be greeted warmly. So the method used is the family way.

Truth Will Out: Indonesian Accounts of the 1965 Mass Violence

   by Dr. Baskara T. Wardaya SJ