The area where the violence took place on Wednesday was also the site of massive human rights violations on Sept. 12, 1984, when troops shot into a mob of Muslim protesters, leaving a still-unknown number of people dead.
Taking place at the height of the iron-fisted rule of authoritarian former President Suharto, the protest was sparked by a sermon at a small mosque, As Saadah. At a time when sermons at mosques were routinely monitored, local cleric Abdul Qodir Jaelani spoke against the Pancasila state ideology that the government wanted adopted by all mass organizations. Although recognizing the existence of “one God,” the ideology gave equal footing to all religions.
The fiery sermon followed an incident at the mosque two days earlier, when a reportedly non-Muslim army sergeant entered the mosque without bothering to take off his shoes and confiscated what he said were “incendiary” pamphlets. Angry local residents burned his motorcycle. The military reacted quickly, arresting four of the mosque’s caretakers.
The evening following the sermon, hundreds of Muslims marched to the local district military command demanding the release of the four caretakers. The mob quickly swelled on the way, reaching the thousands.
Their request was ignored, and at around 11 p.m. they surrounded the military station. Soldiers suddenly began to fire on the crowd.
The precise number of fatalities has never been known but various estimates have put the death toll in the hundreds. The leaders of the protest were arrested and brought to courts, which sentenced them to long terms in prison on charges of subversion.
According to a report by the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) investigated the incident in 1998, after the fall of Suharto’s New Order.
In 2004, Maj. Gen. RA Butar Butar was sentenced to 10 years in prison and Capt. Sutrisno Mascung to three years for their roles in the so-called Tanjung Priok massacre. O thers accused received lesser sentences.
One year later, a judge released Butar Butar and Sutrisno, and finally the Supreme Court released all defendants on appeal.
Subsequent attempts by victims’ families to seek compensation have yielded no results.