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INDONESIA: Are Indonesia's policemen the criminals in uniform?

June 24, 2007

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission on the Occasion of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, June 26, 2007

INDONESIA: Are Indonesia's policemen the criminals in uniform?

The sentence meted out to the five police officers of Banjansari District Police Station found guilty of having tortured Roni Ronaldo to death on 20th November 2006, serves as evidence of Indonesia's flawed legislation regarding torture. In fact, torture is still not criminalized, and no adequate punishment is provided by the Indonesian law. If an ordinary civilian was to ‘maltreat’ a person to death, he would be accused of premeditated murder and the punishment could be as severe as the death penalty, life imprisonment or maximum sentence of twenty years. However, when the same crime is committed by state agents, justice courts mete out lenient sentences. In one case, a mere disciplinary action was taken; in the case of the murder of Roni Ronaldo, judges ruled on a prison term from one to two years. The question that hangs in the mind of the ordinary people is on what grounds the killing of a victim by officials in uniform differs from that committed by a civilian?

Is the prosecution determined to drive home the ludicrous fallacy that when the law enforcement officers commit murder, it is not murder but ‘maltreatment until death’ and that that they deserve only a minor punishment?  If such a philosophy was to be accepted, these officers should be regarded as the state's hired criminals. What is to prevent the police officers from becoming criminals in uniform? Does the justification come from the fact that the killing took place in the process of purported investigations?

Two cases illustrate this threat to the rule of law and the collapse of ethical sense among official agents.  The first one involves the alleged brutal murder of Mr. Suherman by police officers and the ransacking of his home. On 11th April 2007 and for reasons yet unknown, Mr. Suherman was unlawfully  arrested by the  police officers of the Medan District Police, and allegedly tortured and shot dead. The second case involves the alleged murder of Mr. Marsudi Tri Wijaya, by the very same police officers. In both cases the victims were tortured, shot dead and then given to the family members for burial. Prior to their unlawful arrests their houses were searched, robbed, and members of the families were threatened, abducted and allegedly murdered. To this day no case has been heard. The question is whether the Indonesian state wants a band of criminals dictating the law, or a set of law enforcement officers committed to the respect of the rule of law and the strengthening of democratic institutions.

According to international standards, torture is a grave crime, and the fact that such acts are committed by agents representing the state is utterly unacceptable and a serious moral outrage. The gravity attached to the crime is derived from the abuse of power by state officials to crush the suspects, who should be presumed innocent till proven guilty. In a state respecting the rule of law, punishment should arise from the law, after a proper judiciary process and not otherwise. If the state allows its agents to take the law into their own hands and brutalize people, then what is the use of having a prosecution system in which the accused should be presumed innocent till proven guilty?

The widespread use of torture in Indonesia is beyond any reproach. However the intriguing question is whether there is any mechanism through which the victims can obtain a modicum of justice. Unfortunately, despite the fact that the Indonesian government ratified the Convention Against Torture, there is still no law that prohibits torture or creates a legal avenue for redress.

The case of Teguh Uripno is another telling example of the abuse of power by state agents and an illustration of the tragic incapacity of victims to seek redress, through a proper judicial process.  Following Teguh Uripno's arrest at around 11:00 am on April 20,his family rushed to the Serpong police station. When they asked to see Teguh Urpino, the police officers told them they were not allowed to do so. The following morning, on April 21, Urpino' family came back, but once again the police prevented them from seeing him, without giving sufficient reasons. At around 3:30 pm on April 21, police representatives went to the house of the victim’s family and informed them of the death of Teguh Uripno while being taken to a local hospital. At the hospital, the family asked to see the body and found the marks of severe beating and bruises. According to the medical report, the victim's arm had been broken and the skull had been fractured. The cause of death was due to a blunt force inflicted on the skull.

It is reported that the two police officers, namely First Brigadier Police Syarifudin and Arifin, inflicted the serious beating to the victim while he was in custody. Seven other police officers, whose names are yet identified, have likewise been accused to be his accomplices. The Criminal Investigation Division (CID) of Tangerang claims it has started an investigation, but as of now it is far from being satisfactory. In the meantime the Uripno family filed a formal complaint to Komnas Ham (National Human Rights Commission), which in turn demanded for an investigation into the death of the victim.

This case illustrates a double tragedy. In fact, both the victim and its family have to go the same institution, namely the police to lodge their complaint, knowing that there is no law supporting their complaint. They know all too well that perpetrators will get away with it and even get the support and sympathy from their colleagues among the police. In the absence of a mechanism to punish effectively crimes of torture, the victims and their families can only appeal to the National Human Rights Commission, Komnas HAM. But the problem is that Komnas HAM is only mandated to investigate cases of “gross human rights violations”. Individual cases of torture do not fall into that category and cannot be investigated. Consequently, it is hard for victims of torture to find ways of obtaining redress, including compensation, reinstatement and punishment of the perpetrators. The conclusion one may inevitably draw, is that Indonesia is a state which allows its agents to torture persons and denies the victim the right to seek redress for such a crime.

On 26th June, the Asian Human Rights Commission would like to take the occasion of the International Day in support for the Victims of Torture, to remind Indonesia of its obligation, as a state member of the UN Human Rights Council, to amend the existing legislation and to criminalize torture. It is urgent for the country to provide the victims with the adequate means to seek redress, and that perpetrators are punished according to the gravity of their crimes. Besides, Komnas HAM should be given the power to investigate individual cases of torture and submit its findings directly to the Attorney General for prosecution. It is only such tangible measures that can contribute to dispel the generally accepted feeling that the ‘police are criminals in uniform’ and that the state is insincere in its commitment in safeguarding the dignity of all persons.

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

Posted on 2007-06-24

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