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Ita Martadinata Haryono: Unsolved Murder of a Chinese Lady who Fought against Series of Mass Rapes



The certainty of rape cases against Chinese women during the 20th century seemed covered up, considered unclear and became a topic of gossip. Even the then president of Indonesia BJ Habbie, who succeeded Suharto failed to have trust and believe about the mass rapes prevalent during the time.


Martadinata Haryono, a Chinese woman, nicknamed Ita, born in 1980 was murdered when she just reached 18 during the May tragedy. When the Volunteer Team for Humanity (TRuK) conducted an investigation and assisted the victims of rape and other sexual assaults, Ita joined the activity along with her mother, who actively provided counselling sessions to these victims.


The efforts of TRuK in investigating and exposing the rape incidents proved difficult, and the victims and witnesses of the incidents faced death threats against themselves as well as for other members of their family through anonymous telephone calls and letters. The threat included a warning forbidding them to report rape events, especially those occurring in May 1998.


Ita was found dead in her room on October 9, 1998, in Central Jakarta, which occurred four days before Ita left for the United States for testifying the May 1998 rape incidents before the United nations. Although Ita and her family members faced numerous death threats, the police denied the involvement of Ita and her mother’s activities in TRuK the cause of their murder. Before she had been killed, it is suspected that her perpetrator raped Ita in her own house or room.


Her blood was found splattered everywhere on the floors and walls. Her body was found naked, with her neck broken and slashed with an old knife. The post mortem results of RSCM hospital stated that besides slitting of her neck, Ita was also stabbed in her 10 times in abdomen, chest and right arm.


The denial of the state on Ita’s death not only destroyed the creditability of the victim in the eyes of the public but also strengthened the culture of denial of the rape incidents that occurred in the state, making it difficult for disclosing several other rape incidents. The testimony of a victim’s companion when the TGPF held a session for hearing the victim’s statements, the victim’s friend planned to bring out nine witnesses, including doctors.


However, they were discouraged from attending the session as they were afraid of the death threats and with the assassination of Ita Martadinata, the spread of fear became more pronounced.


Father Sandyawan Sumadri, post-Ita’s death, who was representing TRuK gave a press statement declaring that the assassination of Ita was a witness of the truth and the victims of the state crime. He continued his speech stating that instead of counting the numbers of victims, the state should embrace them as humans, which broke down over the years, thereby eliminating human rights.


He described the victims as sheer witnesses of the truth, who never stopped calling for a lawsuit against all the perpetrators going against humanity. “They are human figures”, he says, “who becomes the cornerstone of a new civilization-building. Therefore we want to try to unite the screams of hope of every victim”.


The incident of Ita’s assassination was not only described as a pure crime, but even the police also investigated the sexual behaviour of the victim and stated that she had been engaged in several sexual activities before the event of the May 1998 tragedy. She was killed because she was suspected of being one of the victims of the May 1998 rape incidents.


Some people argue that Ita was murdered simply to cause terror among the citizens. Although there were several terrorist actions against the volunteers earlier, which prohibited further investigation about the rape cases, however, Ita’s murder made the spread of the death threats clearer. Although the police investigations assumed that Suryadi a drug addict and Ita Martadinata’s neighbour murderer her for robbing her house.


Read more: Oto Iskandar Dinata: The Indonesian Hero whose Sudden and Mysterious Death Shook the Country


The police knew the action being a form of terror because they failed to identify the neighbour, find him and nobody knows where Ita’s neighbour went. The police department closed the case considering it an ordinary crime.


The volunteer team believed that the Ita Martadinata Haryono’s murder was intended for causing threat amongst those involved in humanitarian activities and for stopping their activities. The volunteer team previously had a press conference and explained about the threatening messages received by some of the volunteers, the contexts of which were declared being eliminated provided the activists forbade stopping their assistance in international investigations of rape, murder, and arson of Chinese female victims related to the May 1998 riots.


By 2003, the commission’s follow-up investigations reached a damning conclusion. The Indonesian Government failed to carry out the investigation any further. The victims, most of them being the ethnic Chinese minority of the country were forced to live in a society that denied the occurrences of the rapes, especially those of the May 1999 tragedy. Five years later the report concluded that the survivors hadn’t found justice and even after 21 years of the rapes the story remains unchanged.


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