Indonesia: Militias on the Move

Since the collapse of President Suharto’s New Order regime in May 1998, Indonesia has been engulfed in periodic outbreaks of violence, from the separatist movements of East Timor, Aceh and Papua and the ethnic conflicts of Kalimantan and the Moloccas to the bombings in Bali and the Islamic fundamentalism now gripping parts of the country. Unreported in the western media, however, is another wave of violence, of less global impact than the rise of Jemaah Islamiyah, but for the communities involved, equally destructive: the practice of lynching

The World Today
4 minute READ

Graham Brown

Research Officer, Centre for Research on Inequality, Human Security and Ethnicity, Oxford University

The systematic use of force by private militias could have an important bearing on this year’s elections. Parliament and regional assemblies will be chosen next month, the president in July.

The earliest wave of lynchings came in east Java late in 1998 when hundreds of practitioners of black magic were killed – some murdered in night-time attacks by mysterious ‘ninjas’, rumoured to be army assassins. Others were killed by bloodthirsty crowds and counter-attacks by local communities saw suspected ninjas beaten to death. Although the army eventually stepped in to halt the violence, the practice soon spread across the country, with petty criminals rather than magicians increasingly the victims.

Subscribe to read all issues

Articles from the current issue are free to read by all, the archive is exclusive to magazine subscribers and our members. Subscribe or become a member to view articles from the archive.