Indonesia: From Vigilantism to Terrorism in Cirebon
Indonesia: From Vigilantism to Terrorism in Cirebon
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Briefing 132 / Asia

Indonesia: From Vigilantism to Terrorism in Cirebon

Involvement in violent campaigns against vice and religious deviance has become one pathway to terrorism in Indonesia.

I. Overview

Anti-vice raids and actions against non-Muslim minorities are becoming a path to more violent jihadism in Indonesia. The 2011 suicide bombings of a police mosque in Cirebon, West Java and an evangelical church in Solo, Central Java were carried out by men who moved from using sticks and stones in the name of upholding morality and curbing “deviance” to using bombs and guns. They show how ideological and tactical lines within the radical community have blurred, meaning that counter-terrorism programs that operate on the assumption that “terrorists” are a clearly definable group distinguishable from hardline activists and religious vigilantes are bound to fail. They also mean that the government must develop a strategy, consistent with democratic values, for countering clerics who use no violence themselves but preach that it is permissible to shed the blood of infidels (kafir) or oppressors (thaghut), meaning government officials and particularly the police.

These men represent a generational shift from the jihadis trained abroad or who got their first combat experience a decade ago in the two major post-Soeharto communal conflicts in Ambon, Maluku and Poso, Central Sulawesi. They are less skilled, less experienced and less educated than the Afghan and Mindanao alumni, most of them coming from poor backgrounds and relying on petty trade for their livelihood. Most of them were members of the Cirebon branch of the Indonesian Mujahidin Council (Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia, MMI) and Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT), two organisations led by Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, Indonesia’s most prominent radical cleric, now imprisoned, before leaving to form their own group.

This does not mean that the threat from other groups has disappeared. JAT has active cells in Poso and elsewhere, and the arrest outside Jakarta in July 2011 of Abu Umar, the Mindanao-trained leader of a Darul Islam splinter group, exposed the existence of a large jihadi organisation with a presence in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. There are other potential problems from disaffected or isolated members of older groups like Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) that have moved away from violence; fugitives from earlier operations; former high-risk prisoners or men they recruited inside; younger siblings of slain or detained terrorism suspects; and individuals, including from JAT, who have taken part in Islamist military training (tadrib) and want to test their skills. But the Cirebon men represent a path to jihadism that may become the common pattern.

Its members not only absorbed the teachings of radical clerics like Ba’asyir and the even more radical Halawi Makmun, a preacher who argues that the Indonesian government is a legitimate target for attack. They also shared the widespread anger in the radical community over the arrests and deaths of suspected terrorists that arose in the aftermath of the breakup of the training camp in Aceh in February 2010. It is hard to overemphasise the impact these operations had or the desire for revenge they engendered. Because so many people were involved in the camp, from Sumatra, Java and points east, nearly every radical group in the country had a connection to someone who took part or was involved in trying to help fugitives or raise money for the families of those detained or killed. Anger at the police reached new heights, and Ba’asyir’s arrest in August 2010 pushed it further. In Solo, a group called the Hisbah Team (Tim Hisbah) evolved from vigilantism to jihadism as a direct result of anger over post-Aceh police operations.

The fusion of religious vigilantism in the name of upholding morality and orthodoxy with jihadism vastly complicates the government’s counter-radicalisation task. While most people are willing to condemn terrorism, hardline vigilantes often have support from officials in government and quasi-government institutions like the Majelis Ulama Indonesia, especially at a local level.

If the radicalisation of groups like the Cirebon men is to be halted, the government needs to develop a strategy that builds a national consensus on what constitutes extremism; directly confronts “hate speech”; and promotes zero tolerance of religiously-inspired crimes, however minor, including in the course of anti-vice campaigns.

Jakarta/Brussels, 26 January 2012

Op-Ed / Asia

Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force

My four year-old daughter recently came home from her Jakarta kindergarten with a story about a visit to the school from the head of our local police station. 'If there is a robber and he's running away, the policeman will pull out his gun, fire in the air, and if he doesn't stop then he will shoot him in the leg', she recounted breathlessly.

I have spent 25 years working in and around conflict zones, including more than a decade in Indonesia. My reaction might not have been that of the average parent. 'That', I replied, 'is a violation of Perkap Number 8.' Needless to say, my reference to Police Regulation Number 8 of 2009 regarding Implementation of Human Rights Principles and Standards in the Discharge of Duties of the Indonesian National Police was lost on her. She thought the visit was great.

I had recalled Perkap 8 when re-reading the Hansard of the recent sparring between Australian Foreign Minister Senator Bob Carr and Victoria Greens Senator Richard Di Natale over the police shooting of protesters in Papua. But it is not just in Papua where questionable use of deadly force by the Indonesian National Police (INP) takes place. It happens across the country. And this was what Perkap 8 was put in place to prevent.

Article 47 of Perkap 8 says that 'the use of firearms shall be allowed only if strictly necessary to preserve human life' and 'firearms may only be used by officers: a. when facing extraordinary circumstances; b. for self defense against threat of death and/or serious injury; c. for the defense of others against threat of death and/or serious injury.' This is Indonesian law, taken from the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, and this is what should be used to assess police actions, wherever in the country they occur.

The fatal shooting on 14 June 2012 of Mako Tabuni, deputy head of the National Committee of West Papua (KNPB), in Jayapura, capital of Papua province, made Senate Estimates in 2012. The shooting of three protesters in Sorong on 30 April 2013, West Papua province, was mentioned in the testy 5 June 2013 exchanges between Senators Carr and Di Natale. You can watch it above.

In the first incident, detectives shot a suspect in the leg as he was running away and then left him to die in a hospital allegedly without making any effort to treat his wounds. In the second, police claim they were threatened by armed KNPB activists. Without more information it is difficult to judge if their response was disproportionate. Police always say they are shooting in self-defense, but it has become such a common excuse that it has started to lose its plausibility.

Cases outside Papua do not garner much attention in Australia, but lethal shootings happen all the time. On 1 September 2011 seven villagers were killed during a rowdy protest against police brutality in the Central Sulawesi district of Buol, a place so obscure even most Indonesians cannot find it on a map.

On 7 March 2013, soldiers burned down a police station in Baturaja, South Sumatra, after their off-duty comrade, First Private Heru Oktavianus, was shot dead by a police officer while speeding away from a traffic violation.

On 8 May 2013 police in Java killed six suspected terrorists in a series of raids. The police usually claim the suspects were armed and resisted arrest. But it is not always true, and many could have almost certainly been captured alive.

Ordinary criminals are shot with distressing frequency, as my daughter's visitor suggests, without any outcry at home or abroad.

Perkap 8 was signed by the then police chief Sutanto, a real reformer. It has not gotten very far. One foreign police officer working on a bilateral community policing program in a large metropolitan command told me he had once seen a copy of the Perkap on the chief's desk but suspected it had been disseminated no further.

Even when progressive regulations or orders are issued and disseminated, they are not always followed. In October 2012, the police chief of Papua, Tito Karnavian, former head of the anti-terrorism unit Detachment 88 (Densus 88), announced that he had banned police from using live ammunition when handling demonstrations in the region. This was progress and it was implemented for some demos, but the deaths in the Sorong case suggest live ammunition was used.

As Article 46 of Perkap 8 says, 'all officers must be trained in the use of power, equipment and firearms that can be used in applying force' and 'must be trained in non-violent techniques and methods.' Training almost 400,000 officers across 33 provinces is a logistical challenge, though it might be a good idea to start with elite units such as Densus 88 or personnel in the Papua provinces.

The new national head of the INP, about to be appointed, might breathe new life into two reforms already in place: implementation of Perkap 8 and Chief Sutanto's other landmark regulation on community policing, Perkap 7. The INP is a very hierarchical organisation that does follow firm orders from above. While its size makes complex reform difficult, its hierarchical nature makes implementing existing regulations with firm orders easier.

The first duty of the incoming INP chief, who reports directly to the president, will be to secure the 2014 elections. Making sure those deployed to safeguard this 'festival of democracy' are properly trained and equipped to use non-lethal force will be an important first step. After a new head of state is elected, he or she should consider issuing a directive that would see Perkap 8 properly implemented. The use of less deadly force could even be politically popular in some parts.

Outside help may also be needed, and this is where Australia comes in. A few decades back, the Victorian state police had a problem of using too much deadly force and created Project Beacon to try to rectify it. They changed the way they thought about the problem, overhauled training, and gave officers on the beat new tools, like pepper spray. Foreign assistance along these lines could help the INP improve performance and increase accountability. Crisis Group has long argued that the INP needs better orders, training, and equipment for the use of non-deadly force.

If the INP is to be more the service it aspires to be rather than the force it is, it needs to shed its military mindset, hold serious post-operation reviews after each fatal incident, and decrease reliance on shooting first and asking questions later, regardless of whether officers are following locally accepted standard procedure. When the time comes and the INP is ready to carry forward the reform of Perkap 8, Australia should be there to help.