The work to unravel the legacy of violence is long-term and complex, and Indonesia still refuses to officially acknowledge its bloody past. Plans for a truth and reconciliation commission, discussed in the early days after the fall of General Soeharto in 1998, have been all but abandoned.

However, since reformation, survivors of 1965 have taken an active role in speaking out about the violations they experienced, and demanding justice and acknowledgement. Survivors pushed for an inquiry by Indonesia’s national human rights commission, which was completed in 2012 and concluded crimes against humanity had been committed. A civil-society led truth-seeking process organized public hearings, data gathering, and the launch of a final report, “Reclaiming Indonesia.” Recently, there has been an increase in incidences of elderly survivors who have gathered to support each other being attacked by so-called anti-communist groups.

This photo exhibition is a result of a participatory research, which involved female survivors of the 1965 crimes against humanity. A total of 26 women and children of political prisoners of 1965 participated. Many women survivors from 1965 shared their stories of violence and discrimination. This is not a new finding, and confirms existing research about forms of gender-based violence experienced by women. What have been most interesting are the after life struggles and triumphs of these women survivors. One of the approaches of this research is the photo taking and storytelling. The portraits and stories are presented in this exhibition.

Kina’s father was suspected of being involved with the Communist Party, and was arrested and detained in 1965. Afterwards, he was not allowed to work outside the house, so Kina took over the economic responsibilities for her family. She recalls having to dress like a boy, in order to take on the physical work of farming, cutting wood, and rowing her father’s canoe. Even after marriage, however, she was unable to escape the discrimination of being the child of a suspected communist. She lost the rights to her father’s land when some relatives forced her out. Although trained as a midwife, the government forbid the practice of traditional midwives in 2010. Today Kina works as a farm laborer and is supported by her sons.

Frangkina Boboy


“My father was not allowed to work outside
the house. If they saw him, they could beat
him to death. My mother was nursing
the baby. I was 15 years old.

That’s why I had to be the father:
I worked in the rice paddy and tilled the land
[to farm]… My father had land
in Lasiana—a house and rice fields—but
because he was accused of being a communist,
his family took it. We had nothing,
and had to squat on land that was actually
owned by my parents.”

Migelina A. Markus


“The ‘65 tragedy made us lose our parents, my older brother, and there were a lot of disappearances without any trial or evidence [showing] they had betrayed the state or nation. I want to testify so that people know the truth about the events we experienced.

My younger siblings are scared and think the matter is finished because they have prayed and surrendered to God. I say to them, “With God of course it is finished, but people do not yet know the truth.” I must set things straight by sharing my story so they don’t write a false history about us . . . My task is to tell the truth so that this bitter history will not be repeated.”

Migelina, who goes by Net, was detained during the violence of 1965, along with both of her parents and her siblings. Her father and younger brother were both disappeared. Her sister was detained in Bali for three years. After struggling for years without work or income, she lives today in a house inherited from her parents. She supports herself by sewing and selling cakes. She believes that God has given her a long life so she can testify about what happened to her family and be a voice for truth and justice.
Vena’s brother and father were arrested in 1966, leaving Vena and her family dependent upon Vena’s fiancé. Although her fiancé could lose his job if it was known that he was engaged to someone whose father had been accused of being a member of the PKI, one of his superiors ordered that Vena, her mother, and her family be protected because her father was not guilty. Vena and her fiancé married in 1979, and he helped her family to improve their house. Eventually Vena’s father’s relatives gave her family some land to set up a small business selling cakes and sewing. Today Vena cooks and sells cakes to supplement her husband’s pension. She still hasn’t seen evidence that the accusations against her father were true.

Vena Taka


“I didn’t know that my dad and younger brother had been detained, where they had been killed. Even where they had been buried, I didn’t know.”


(Buru Island)

Even today, we don’t feel like we’ve been acknowledged. The term PKI or political prisoners is still mentioned until now. There is a label on us…. In the end, everything was lost: (our) civil rights and family split up.”

Mada was born on Buru island. She worked at a church-run school that provided schooling for some of the children of political prisoners. In 1977 she fell in love and married a political prisoner. Because of their different religions, and her status as a local, they had to get special permission for their marriage from the military command in Jakarta. In 1999, when Islamic militants attacked Savanajaya, burning down two churches and the homes of non-Muslims, Mada’s family fled to Ambon. Mada stayed on Buru with her husband and children.. Today she earns a living through farming and,selling her produce. She and her husband support their youngest son, who is at university in Yogyakarta.
Lasinem’s husband was arrested and tortured in 1969, and eventually sent to Buru Island. She struggled to care for her young children, who were only 3 and 1 when her husband was detained. In 1972, she and her son joined her husband on Buru, and they remained there after he was freed in 1979. Today Lasinem sells bean sprouts and surplus rice at the market, and raises and sells chickens.


(Buru Island)

“[My husband] was picked up by soldiers, his own friends, and taken to the village office (Kelurahan). He was beaten, sat upright in a chair and beaten. His back was trampled on until he was wounded all over. At first I was confused and scared, terrified, and I realized I had lost my protector, and my source of financial support. What about my young children? They need to eat!…I’m still wounded because I remember things that happened in the past… There is still a wound in my heart.”


(Buru Island)

“(In Java), after my father was arrested, our house was searched a number of times, even above the ceiling. I don’t know what they were looking for, but cupboards were emptied of their contents and we were very disturbed, annoyed, angry, confused, and eventually frightened. Our house was never peaceful again. We were scared to be at home when they kept coming. My husband always helps me. He usually helps me to make the dough because I am too exhausted to do it. He always supports me. We don’t produce bread everyday; only twice or three times in a week.”

Sri’s family was sent to Buru Island when was she was 15-years-old. She was married five years later to a political prisoner. Sri has made a living for her family by making tempeh and bread, which she sells at the Savanjaya market. Sri suffers from back problems, which she attributes to the hard physical work she had to do as a young teenager. In 1999, religious violence erupted throughout the Maluccas, including Buru Island. Islamic militants attacked the non-Muslim families in Savana Jaya, including Sri’s family. This event was especially traumatic for Sri. She sold her land and returned to Java, but she didn’t remain there long because she couldn’t find work. She now lives again on Buru Island with her husband and children.
When Rodiah’s father was arrested, she and her family struggled to feed themselves. She soon dropped out of school. Her family joined her father on Buru Island in 1972, when Rodiah was 13-years-old. On the island, Rodiah was still unable to go to school, as she had to help care for her younger siblings. In the early days on Buru, her family still struggled to provide enough food for themselves. She and the other women in the community lived in fear of the guards. Rodiah married a political prisoner on Buru Island, at a mass ceremony organized by the military. Her husband is a musician who was detained as a young man in 1965. Although she previously had a successful business selling yellow rice, she now struggles with her health. She relies on her husband to take care of her and their children.


(Buru Island)

“Before I arrived I thought I would live a nice life, I had already imagined a comfortable life. It turned out I was coming to a jungle…the first time we came to the house there was tall alang-alang grass growing inside… At night we were frightened of the guards. They would look at the young girls so we got scared, and our uncles (i.e other prisoners) did too. The majority here were men. We women were scared to go out at night.”


(Buru Island)

“What we want to do together is to address the pain. We also want to encourage…the women to gather more often, because in gathering, we don’t feel alone; we feel that we have friends that share the same experiences, and feel solidarity…I also want to fight for justice that has been ignored by the government.”

Sudarsini is the daughter of Ngabinem, and the sister of Hartini. She arrived at Buru Island in 1974. As a younger sibling, Sudarsini’s memory of the early days of life on Buru Island were happy ones. Her family protected her from the daily struggles, and she recalls a time of exploration, as well as cultural and sport activities organized by the political prisoners. Sudarsini married a transmigrant from Java, and makes a living from rice farming. She is a leader in her community, and took part in AJAR’s action research as a researcher.
Hartini is the daughter of Ngabinem. Tired of being bullied because of her father’s detention, Hartini dropped out of school in third grade. When she was 15, she and her family joined her father on Buru Island. She later married one of her father’s fellow prisoners in a mass wedding organized by the military. They remained on Buru Island, and still live there today. Hartini could not escape? the discrimination they experienced, particularly because her husband’s status as prisoner was written into their marriage certificate. As part of the action research, she and other women lobbied successfully for new marriage certificates, which were granted in October 2014, 37 years after they were issued.


(Buru Island)

“I was married in a mass wedding in 1977. On the marriage certificate, my husband’s occupation was written as G30S prisoner. It was like I was punished all my life for that being written on our wedding record….I feel sorry for my husband…He was just a civil servant in Surabaya who didn’t know anything…He was arrested, tortured, jailed and exiled to Buru Island because he allegedly was involved in the G30S/PKI events in Jakarta.

The description of his occupation as a PKI political prisoner reminds me of all the days of teasing, suffering and unanswered questions. Up until now I do not understand why my father, who worked as a teacher, and my husband, who was a civil servant, were arrested, tortured and thrown into jail.”


(Buru Island)

“(When my husband was taken to Buru) I often couldn’t sleep at night, I thought about my children at their grandmother’s house. My heart was anxious, my thoughts erratic… I could only pray to God to provide a way out. I wanted to live together with my husband and children…in one house again…that was my constant prayer. Now our land has been claimed by people here, even though my husband had always made it clear which land was ours and which was owned by the people in the neighborhood. If they take my land, where would I go?”

Ngabinem is the mother of Hartini and Sudarsini. In 1965, she was left to care for three young children when her husband and brother were arrested and later taken to Buru Island. In 1974 she was urged to join her husband in Buru, so she traveled with her four children and elderly mother to join her husband on the island. When all prisoners were freed in 1979, Ngabinem’s family chose to remain on the island along with some 200 families, as they had nothing in Java. On Buru Island, they were given a plot of land and rice fields. In her old age, she worries that her land may be taken back by the indigenous people of Buru Island, especially after the discovery of gold on the island.
Juariah is the sister of Subi. She was 7-years-old in 1966, when her father was exiled to Buru Island. She was sent there eight years later along with her family. When she was 18, Juariah married a political prisoner, as part of a mass wedding organized by the military in 1978. The newlyweds were made to swear that they would never leave Buru Island. They raised two daughters, but her husband passed away. After her husband’s death, she remarried, but her second husband was violent and aggressive. The marriage only lasted two years. Juariah now lives in a house bought for her by her daughters, both of whom have found success and received a good education.


(Buru Island)

“If we go to certain places, there is talk of the past and we feel like we have been stabbed. If I hear talk about G30S/PKI I become very emotional… I can not forget, maybe I will always remember”


(Buru Island)

“Maybe because (my son) is a grandchild, not a child, of a political prisoner like us [and] my current husband is not an ex-political prisoner, [but] the teasing about being an ‘anak PKI’ is lessening.”

Along with her sister and mother, Subi was sent to Buru Island in 1974 to join her father, who had been imprisoned there since 1966. Unfortunately their reunion with her father was short-lived, as he passed away only four years after the family’s arrival at Buru. Subi married, but her marriage ended when she found herself unable to conceive. She eventually adopted a child with her second husband. After the religious conflict in Savanajaya in 1999, Subi’s husband wanted to return to Java. Subi did not want to leave Buru, so the two separated. She has since re-married, and currently lives with her son and her husband, supporting herself with income from her hair salon. Subi is optimistic that things have improved for descendants of political prisoners over time.
Kadmi was studying at the teacher’s college in Yogyakarta in 1965 when she, along with ten neighbors, was taken from her house and sent to Camp Bantul. She was released in 1966, but detained again in 1968. After her release, Kadmi married and began working as a seamstres and working with her husband selling vegetables in the market. Kadmi currently lives with her children and grandchildren, sewing in her workshop, raising chickens, and helping with her grandchildren.



“When will there be justice? Who is sadistic and cruel? The communists? Or the perpetrators of the killings? Find out the truth.”



“My first child was old enough to understand her mother’s suffering. She thought about it until she died. She also often heard news about me. She died because she heard people saying things  that hurt her.”

Hartiti had just given birth to her fourth child when her husband, a railroad worker and trade unionist, went to work and never came home. She was arrested herself in 1966, and moved to different detention centers. While she did not suffer physical torture, the loss of her husband and separation from her children caused Hartiti immense pain, especially because one of her children passed away from an illness while she was detained. She now supports herself by making and selling pillowcases with decorative embroidery, and occasionally helping students find boarding house accommodation. She has yet to find out what happened to her husband.
Christina (known as Mamik) had just completed her teacher’s training when she was first arrested in 1965. Although she was quickly released, she was arrested again in 1968, and detained along with her father and brother. She was taken to the military police (CPM) headquarters in Yogyakarta, where she was tortured, and then moved to Wirogunan jail where she was detained without trial until 1971. In 1971 she was moved to Plantungan Camp with 500 women prisoners from Java. She was released in 1978, and she met and married a fellow political prisoner. Banned from resuming her career as a teacher, she started a kiosk selling household goods alongside her husband’s small service station.

Christina Sumarmiyati


“During the investigation I was stripped naked on a table. They burned my pubic hair and the hair on my head. I passed out, and when I woke up I was herded to the Military Police Corp jail in Yogyakarta at four in the morning. I was put in a cell and handcuffed to a man who was in there.

On the second day we were interrogated together… They stripped us both. I was ordered to sit on his lap naked, or confess. Then they picked me up and put me on his lap in a sexual position. They laughed in satisfaction… I can understand if this was an occupation, but this was done by my own people. What they did to me was outside the realm of humanity.”

Oni Ponirah


“I was told I was only being taken in for questioning. It turns out I was held for 14 years. From 1965 until end of December 1979… We never got justice. I hope the government will apologize to the victims.”

Oni was 17 when she was arrested in 1965. She was never charged with a crime, and moved from prison to prison until her release in 1979. She currently lives in Yogyakarta with her husband, an artist and fellow survivor of 1965. They rely on proceeds from selling phone credit and support from their children to meet their economic needs.
Sri Wahyuningsih (known as Nik) was an artist – a ketoprak singer, dancer, and actor with Lekra (Lembaga Kebudajaan Rakyat), a cultural organization associated with the Indonesian Communist Party. She was detained in 1965, and moved from one detention center to another, including the notorious Jefferson Building where she was tortured. Nik was eventually sent to Bulu Prison in Semarang for five years, sleeping in a room with up to 60 other women. Released in 1970, she returned home to find her house inhabited by another family. Now homeless, she lived on the streets until she found a job as a cook for a priest. In 1976 she started selling fried food and small snacks. She currently lives with her nephew in South Yogyakarta.

Sri Wahyuningsih


“In Wirogunan, I cried… I cried so… When I was beaten I didn’t cry, but in Wirogunan I cried. Why did I cry? Outside the door where we all slept, there was a can and a gutter. The gutter was full of excrement, so when we went out, you know, the filth was just unbearable. The stench. That’s what made me cry.”



“I sell satays and curry in the Prambanan Market. The limits on my capital mean the proceeds are only just enough to live off of.”

Sumilah was 14-years-old when she was detained in 1965, along with roughly 50 other people from nearby villages. She was held in squalid conditions and beaten until she fainted, in an effort to get her to confess to being a member of Gerwani (Gerakan Wanita Indonesia, Indonesian Women’s Movement.) She was eventually moved to Bulu Prison in Semarang, and then to Plantungan Camp in Kendal. This camp held at least 500 women prisoners. There she learned that she had been taken by mistake– the police had been looking for another woman named Sumilah. Today she lives with her son, selling satay and curry near the Prambanan temple in Yogyakarta.
Sri’s parents were batik traders and financially well-off. However, because of their involvement with the Communist Party, they were both arrested in 1965. Sri was arrested herself shortly thereafter, transferred to Wirogunan prison, and detained for three years. Today she lives in Yogyakarta with her husband and children. They used to rent out rooms to boarders, but their house was destroyed during the earthquake in Yogyakarta in 2006. They now rely on their laundry service business to make ends meet. Sri Lestari cannot recall much about her past, as her memory is beginning to fade.

Sri Lestari


“I want to forget and not discuss what happened before.”