Nelson Mandela’s Captive Audience: The Radio’s Song of Liberation

Nelson Mandela has won the battle, I said to myself in my cold, tiny cell in the military prison in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia. Thank God, at last justice and freedom win.

The news of Mr. Mandela’s release had just come over the radio that stood on a shelf in the canteen for prison guards directly in front of my cell. Tears rolled down my cheeks. Justice and freedom will win here in Indonesia, too, I thought, and I will be free. My people will be free from President Suharto’s military regime.

I had been in jail for seven months — nothing compared with Mr. Mandela’s 27 years — but I was entirely out of touch with my family and friends. I had been kidnapped in August 1989 along with other student leaders from the Bandung Institute of Technology, because we had been staging demonstrations against the corruption and human rights violations of the Suharto regime.

Almost every day brought more interrogation and more threats by my guards, but Mr. Mandela inspired me to be strong. I ended up spending three years in jail — including a weeklong stint on Nusakambangan, the prison island off Central Java. I thought of it as my own Robben Island, and that helped me keep my faith that I would one day be released.

Fadjroel Rachman, a political economist who was jailed during the Suharto regime, is the chairman of the Research Institute of Democracy and Welfare State in Jakarta.