Skip to main content

Indonesian police efforts improve its image

TEN years ago, as Indonesia emerged from economic chaos and the military-backed Suharto regime, the government was everywhere planting seeds of democratic reform. Among them was to split the national police from the armed forces in 2000. Ever since Indonesia declared independence in 1945, the police had been the neglected, ill-equipped little brother of the army. The idea of detaching them was to make them solely responsible for law enforcement across the vast Indonesian archipelago, while the armed forces retreated to their barracks.

A decade on, this reform effort has worked-but not necessarily in the ways that its drafters envisioned. The army is relatively quiet these days, having been forced to begin selling its business interests and attempt, somehow, to modernise despite tiny budgets and antiquated equipment. What is more, it has not intervened in the democratic process.

The national police, meanwhile, have indeed managed to assert themselves as the country's enforcers of law, including taking the initiative against Indonesia's home-grown Islamist extremists. Unfortunately, capturing or killing terrorist suspects is just about the only thing they are applauded for these days. Most people see the police as a liability: deeply corrupt and untrustworthy.

The past several months have been particularly troubling, even by the force's low standards. In late June Tempo, a prominent Indonesian news magazine, ran a cover story revealing that more than a dozen senior police officials had suspicious bank accounts, some of which held millions of dollars. A week later an anti-corruption activist who helped expose those bank accounts was brutally beaten by unknown men, apparently in retaliation.

In mid-August the police's top brass were forced to admit that they had no evidence implicating two senior anti-corruption officials caught up in a sensational graft investigation in 2009. This gave credence to allegations that the police had conspired to frame the pair because of a personal grudge. Separately, on August 31st police officers in Central Sulawesi province fired into a crowd of people protesting the death of a local man in police custody. Five people were killed and 34 injured. In mid-September in West Papua province police killed two men and injured a woman after a traffic dispute boiled over.

Two days before the West Papua incident, the police's counter-terrorism unit, Densus 88, was accused of torturing independence activists in Maluku province. The unit, funded by the United States and Australia, was alleged to have tortured the activists during a visit by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in early August.

The allegations came just as another Maluku separatist, Yusuf Sipakoly, died in custody of injuries his family claims were caused by torture at the hands of the police. The allegations fit a familiar pattern. Last year Amnesty International released a report detailing a pattern of widespread torture, sexual abuse and exploitation by police, and ill treatment of suspects during arrests, interrogation and detention in Indonesia. And the police have been accused of standing by as minority Christian groups in towns outside Jakarta have been repeatedly harassed in recent weeks by hardline Islamist groups. Police have even been accused of colluding with radicals in local extortion and thuggery rackets.

So far, aside from appointing an "anti-mafia" committee to help clean up the police as well as a corrupt judiciary, the president has shown little interest in reining in the force. Mr Yudhoyono, a retired army general, has refrained from punishing senior police officials for their long list of alleged transgressions. Sometimes he gives the impression of defending them. In early October the president nominated Timur Pradopo, the Jakarta police chief, to run the national force, despite allegations of his involvement in the killings of student demonstrators in the build-up to Suharto's ejection from power back in May 1998, and again on a university campus later that year.

During his final press conference in late October the outgoing national police chief, Bambang Hendarso Danuri, attempted a mea culpa, apologising, profusely and repeatedly, for the excesses committed on his watch. The public, however, are unlikely to be forgiving. The force has had successes in its counter-terrorism operations, which have seen hundreds of terrorist suspects killed or put behind bars, including some of South-East Asia's most wanted fugitives. But even that has come at a price. In September armed men attacked a police station in Medan, North Sumatra province, killing three officers, in an apparent retaliation for the capture or killing of terrorist suspects. The public was shocked by the ambush, but there was a notable absence of outward sympathy for the three slain officers. Given the force's recent conduct, that kind of reaction could become depressingly familiar.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Elegy Indonesian laborers

When the Jakarta governor offered a hefty pay rise last week to workers, he successfully headed off a major strike. But almost immediately, workers went on the rampage in another part of the country demanding a wage hike too.
It is another illustration of the most recent and, for investors, troubling risk they face in what has become one of the darlings of the emerging economies.
The big drivers for the strikes have been high prices for the commodities that are the backbone of the Indonesian economy, rising costs and a strong sense that the country's widely trumpeted economic successes have not been shared.
"Workers are not dumb. They are going to see prices are high. They're going to say 'we want our just rewards'," said Dick Blin, spokesman for the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM), which covers the bulk of Indonesia's main industries.
The highest profile -- and so far most costly -- strike has been go…

Achievement of Indonesian police, corrupt

Indonesia's notoriously corrupt National Police are back in hot water after a former tax official supposedly under lock and key while awaiting trial for corruption and bribery charges was photographed by a sharp-eyed Jakarta Globe photographer at a Bali tennis match.
The publication of the Globe's photos of Gayus Tambunan, wearing a wig and eyeglasses, led to nearly a week of denials that Tambunan, a mid-ranking official who is accused of paying billions of rupiah in bribes to judges, prosecutors and police, had ever been out of his prison cell. Adj. Cmdr Ketut Budiman said in a text message to reporters: "Where do these rumors come from? Gayus is still inside his cell and I have confirmed this with the security unit. This allegation is totally groundless."
Another official said Tambunan was "in the custody of the district court and any leave by the defendant must first be approved by prosecutors. "
Tambunan's lawyer said it couldn't have been him at t…

torture is still a part of law enforcement in Indonesia

INDONESIAN suspects and convicts are routinely tortured by police and prison wardens to obtain confessions or information, a report claims.
Beatings, intimidation, burnings and rape were so commonplace that they were considered the norm, with few victims bothering to lodge complaints, Restaria Hutabarat of the Jakarta-based Legal Aid Foundation said yesterday.
The findings are based on year-long interviews with 1154 suspects and prison inmates in the capital and four other major cities in 2009-10.
Questionnaires were also given to 419 police, prosecutors, judges, wardens and rights activists who accompanied suspects during the legal process.
"We found that torture is systematic," Mr Hutabarat said, adding that it started with the arrest and continued during interrogations, trials and after imprisonment.
"It is seen as a normal way to get information and extract confessions, " he said. Indonesia, a nation of 237 million people, only emerged from decades of dictatorship in…