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Extending the Fight: Letterwriting in the Campaign for the 1965-66 Political Prisoners in Indonesia

Sat, March 28, 5:00 to 7:00pm, Chicago Sheraton Hotel & Towers, Floor: Level 4, Sheraton Ballroom I


After the mass arrest of political opponents in 1965-66, it seemed that little could be done for the large numbers of political prisoners in Indonesia. The mass arrests were part of a wave of anti-communist repression led by Major General Suharto and ushered in the New Order regime. Activities by organisations such as TAPOL, Amnesty International and the Society of Friends did keep the political prisoner issue alive internationally, but less well known was the limited campaign work done from behind bars by the political prisoners themselves.

This paper examines how some political prisoners used the opportunity of writing abroad as a way to campaign for their own cases, but also more generally to call for solidarity with Indonesia under the Suharto dictatorship. This paper draws on the letters and writings of one such prisoner, Gatot Lestario, a former member of the Indonesian Communist Party, and of other leftist prisoners from the Pamekasan Prison in Madura. The paper combines an analysis of these writings with interviews conducted with the prisoners’ penfriends to examine the aims and outcomes of long distance advocacy work.