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HomeWorldFrom murder to stadium crush: Can Indonesia’s police reform?

From murder to stadium crush: Can Indonesia’s police reform?


Medan, Indonesia – The Indonesian police have built a reputation for violence and impunity, but the murder case involving Police Brigadier General Nofriansyah Yosua Hutabarat shocked the country.

On July 8 last year, the 27-year-old was shot dead at the home of Ferdy Sambo, one of Indonesia’s top police officers and the head of internal affairs – the department responsible for policing.

After a four-month trial, Sambo was sentenced to death last month for the premeditated murder of Hutabarat in a spectacular fall from grace that has drawn attention to the plight of Indonesia’s National Police, known as Polri, and the need for of reforms.

Jacqui Baker, a lecturer in Southeast Asian politics at Murdoch University in Perth, Australia, told Al Jazeera she was shocked that a police officer had been given a death sentence, but that she believed the judiciary had followed public opinion.

“The only thing that will surpass state impunity in Indonesia is public sentiment and the court was well aware of that,” she said, adding that Hutabarat’s family had been pivotal in raising awareness of the case. “The public saw themselves in that family.”

Hutabarat’s parents, Samuel Hutabarat and Rosti Simanjuntak, defied orders not to open his coffin when his bullet-riddled body was flown back to Jambi, his home province, for burial. They then filmed what they saw on their mobile phones and shared the footage on social media.

They also fought to keep the case in the public eye, demanding to know exactly what happened at Sambo’s house in Jakarta on the day of the murder – rejecting Sambo’s claims that Hutabarat had sexually assaulted his wife, Putri Candrawathi, and started to shoot at Sambo. when faced with the attack.

At sentencing, Judge Imam Wahyu Santoso said he also did not believe Candrawathi had been assaulted and sentenced her to 20 years in prison.

The family of the late Brigadier General Nofriansyah Yosua Hutabarat pushed hard for an investigation into what happened to their son at the home of Ferdy Sambo, head of internal affairs for the Indonesian National Police (File: Aditya Aji/AFP)

Candrawathi’s personal assistant, Kuat Ma’ruf, was sentenced to 15 years for the murder, while police chief Ricky Rizal Wibowo is jailed for 13 years.

After becoming a police witness, Richard Eliezer Pudihang Limiu, a junior police officer and Sambo’s bodyguard, was sentenced to only 18 months in prison, despite firing between three and four shots at Hutabarat on Sambo’s orders. On February 22, Limiu faced an ethics committee that allowed him to remain with the police force.

Andreas Harsono, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera that, even if the court had indeed given in to public pressure, it is rare for a police general in Indonesia to be prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned.

“There have been less than 10 cases in the past ranging from corruption to murder,” he said. “The conviction of Ferdy Sambo is a public indication that even a general is not above the law in Indonesia.”

Failed reform

The Indonesian Police Force was established after Indonesia gained independence in 1946 and became a branch of the country’s military almost 20 years later.

The two institutions were separated after the fall of President Suharto in 1998.

Many hoped that Indonesia’s split and embrace of democracy after 30 years of strong rule would create the conditions for police reform amid concerns about human rights violations and brutality.

Since then, Polri has undergone a number of changes, including the creation of the National Police Commission known as Kompolnas, an oversight institution intended to inspire a more responsible police force.

Polri also reports directly to the Indonesian president, which should help ensure more transparency and fair policing. Some officers have also received human rights training.

Andy Irfan, the secretary general of KontraS, the Commission on the Disappeared and Victims of Violence, told Al Jazeera that the Sambo case reminds us that reforms promised more than 20 years ago have fallen short of expectations.

“We all understand that the National Police as a law enforcement officer has failed to develop a responsible and professional internal system in this case,” he said, adding that the Sambo case did not end with his sentence along with his co-defendant.

“Through this case, the police chief and the president, as the direct chief of the police chief, must develop systematic and widespread changes in the police work system that prioritize the principles of professionalism and respect for human rights. Indonesia does not yet have a democratic and professional police force.”

A line of police officers during a briefing ceremony.  They wear light brown shirts, black trousers and berets.
The police were split from the army after the fall of President Suharto in 1998 in the hope that it would become responsible (Fole: Didik Suhartono/Antara Photo via Reuters)

He added that disproportionate use of force, violence and extrajudicial or unlawful killings and corruption continue despite the changes.

In addition to the Sambo case, three police officers went on trial in January after a stampede at a football match in Malang, Indonesia, last October that left 135 people dead.

The officers were charged with criminal negligence resulting in injury and death after police fired tear gas into stands, but the trial, which began in January, was plagued by allegations of procedural irregularities and witness intimidation.

Last week, two police officers were acquitted and one was sentenced to 18 months in prison, despite the prosecution seeking a three-year prison sentence for each of the men.

Families and friends of the victims were devastated.

Official reports on the disaster had already found police guilty of using tear gas, which is banned by the sport’s international governing body, FIFA.

Human Rights Watch’s Harsono said some of the systemic problems with Indonesia’s police stem from the legislation governing the institution.

“The Indonesian Police Law makes the National Police an autonomous institution, without supervision. Indonesian authorities should amend the police law to reform the institution, ranging from placing it under ministerial oversight to strengthening internal mechanisms against abuse,” he said.

‘Rank dominates’

Sambo’s sentence can be seen as a rare example of police accountability, but few expect it to herald real change.

Baker said there was a risk that focusing on that case would allow police to sidestep concerns about abuses within the wider police force.

“Polri understood that this was not going to go away and decided to set an example for Sambo by saying, ‘Look at this exceptionally bad person,'” she said, adding that this did not solve the systemic problems within the force that needed to be addressed. addressed after the conclusion of the trial.

“There is a relationship of service that starts with police colleges where there is a relationship of bullying and hazing that entrenches power relations,” she said, adding that this helped explain why so many other members of the police force were part of the case.

In addition to the two other police officers on trial, more than 80 additional police officers, including both Internal Affairs and Jakarta Police Station staff, were involved in helping to cover up the crime.

“Rang dominates Polri and in this case suggests that serious work needs to be done around power and how senior figures exercise that power,” she said. “Every day, juniors have ethical issues because of the actions of their superiors. Your whole career depends on someone else’s political power.”

“We need to see a shift in politics and people loyal to the post and not the person.”

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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