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Indonesia: Violence and Radical Muslims
Indonesia: Violence and Radical Muslims
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Briefing 10 / Asia

Indonesia: Violence and Radical Muslims

The destruction of the World Trade Centre and part of the Pentagon by terrorists has again focused international attention on radical Muslims and their potential to engage in acts of terrorism.

I. Overview

The destruction of the World Trade Centre and part of the Pentagon by terrorists has again focused international attention on radical Muslims and their potential to engage in acts of terrorism. Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida organisation is said to have cells in 34 countries including the United States, most European countries, and various countries in the Arab world. Informed observers have also speculated that al-Qaida has a presence in several Southeast Asian countries, including Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia. At the very least it has been claimed that Osama bin Laden has ‘links’ with radical Islamic groups in these countries although the exact nature of these links has not been specified.

The U.S.-led air strikes against military targets in Afghanistan – accompanied by inevitable civilian casualties – have outraged public opinion in largely Muslim Indonesia and presented President Megawati Soekarnoputri’s government with a huge dilemma. Megawati recently completed a successful visit to the U.S. and obtained President George W. Bush’s support for increased economic assistance as well as a relaxation of restrictions on military co-operation. Although the Indonesian government condemned the 11 September attacks and ‘pledged to cooperate with the international community in combating terrorism’, it has refrained from endorsing the current U.S.-led military campaign.[fn]Joint Statement between the United States of American and the Republic of Indonesia, Washington, 19 September 2001.Hide Footnote  On the one hand, the government does not want to prejudice its economic relationship with the U.S. but, on the other, it cannot afford, in the new democratic era, to ignore the sentiments of a large part of its population.

In a statement issued on 8 October, the government ‘urged that the operations that have started should truly be very limited in the use of force, in its targets and in its timing, and thus reduce or minimise casualties among those who are innocent’.[fn]‘PBB Harus Ambil Langkah Bersama’, Kompas, 9 October 2001.Hide Footnote  Earlier, the government had warned that the U.S. response should ‘be proportional, have precise targets, not exceed proper limits, and avoid creating a new human tragedy’.[fn]‘Pemerintah Larang “Sweeping”’, Kompas, 5 October 2001.Hide Footnote  The government also called on the UN to adopt a collective response to the crisis.[fn]‘PBB Harus Ambil Langkah Bersama’, Kompas, 9 October 2001.Hide Footnote

During the weeks before the attacks on Afghanistan, radical Muslim organisations had been rallying their supporters in the streets of Jakarta and other major cities. After the air campaign began, demonstrations became larger and more widespread. The main targets are the American embassy and its consulates where demonstrators, carrying banners with slogans such as ‘America is the Great Terrorist’ and ‘Osama My Hero’, have burnt the U.S. flag and chanted anti-American slogans. More ominously, some organisations are threatening to carry out what they term ‘sweeping’ of U.S. citizens together with citizens of allied nations. The aim of the ‘sweeping’ would be to drive such foreigners out of Indonesia. The U.S. ambassador, Robert Gelbard, publicly declared his lack of confidence in the police and permitted embassy staff to leave Indonesia.[fn]‘Dubest Kecewa terhadap Polri’, Kompas, 28 September 2001.Hide Footnote So far demonstrations have been restrained and relatively small. On the first two days after the raids on Afghanistan, a thousand or more demonstrated at the U.S. embassy in Jakarta while smaller numbers protested in other cities.

Although the radical Muslim organisations have taken the lead in opposing the U.S. attacks on Afghanistan, their sentiments are widely shared within the Muslim community. Leaders of the moderate Nahdatul Ulama (NU) and the Mohamadiyah have issued statements condemning the American action and the semi-official Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI – Indonesian Ulamas’ Council) has called for the suspension of diplomatic relations with the U.S.[fn]‘PBB Harus Ambil Langkah Bersama’, Kompas, 9 October 2001.Hide Footnote The foreign affairs commission of the parliament has described the attack as ‘brutal’ and in conflict with international law and humanitarianism.[fn]Detikcom, 8 October 2001.Hide Footnote The negative reaction, however, is not limited to Muslim opinion and has also been expressed by secular groups.[fn]In the wake of the initial terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the English-language Jakarta Post, which has never shown sympathy for radical Islam, stated: ‘Following the revulsion that came with watching the horrific scenes of last week’s attacks in New York and Washington, the world is not quite ready to witness another round of grisly killing of innocent civilians anywhere in the world. It that should happen, then this becomes solely America’s war, and the rest of the world will have no part in it’. Editorial, Jakarta Post, 17 September 2001.
Hide Footnote

The government is naturally concerned that conflict in Afghanistan could boost domestic support for Islamic radicalism. In recent years Indonesia has experienced an increasing number of terrorist attacks – particularly bombings. While by no means all terrorism can be linked to radical Muslims, some attacks – such as those on churches – were quickly blamed on Muslim groups. Two of the biggest bomb blasts – one aimed at the Philippine ambassador to Indonesia and another at the Jakarta Stock Exchange building – were also linked to Muslim groups. Much lower on the scale of violence, radical Muslim vigilante groups have often taken the law into their own hands by attacking night-clubs, gambling centres and brothels in various part of Jakarta and in other cities, and in Central Java last year one group attempted to drive American tourists from the city of Solo (also known as Surakarta).

Muslims have also been involved in violent conflicts in various regions of Indonesia. It is estimated that around 5000 people have been killed in Muslim-Christian conflict in Maluku and North Maluku since January 1999; hundreds have been killed in continuing Muslim-Christian violence in Poso in Central Sulawesi; the separatist guerrillas of the Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM - Aceh Freedom Movement) are Muslims fighting government forces in Aceh; and Muslims have participated in dozens of smaller outbreaks of violence in other parts of Indonesia.

International concern has been focussed on the possibility that Muslim violence in Indonesia might be associated with terrorist organisations based in the Middle East but so far, at least, there is little firm public evidence to demonstrate such links. Several hundred Indonesians joined the Islamic resistance to the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s and others have apparently received ‘training’ in that country since then but neither the numbers nor the nature of the ‘training’ are clear.[fn]According to one report, a military intelligence source estimated that 800 Indonesians had fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s. A spokesman for the Laskar Jihad estimated that the number was more than 400. Tempo, 7 October 2001,  p.23. One prominent Muslim scholar, however, wonders how many actually went further than Peshawar in Pakistan. ICG interview, October 2001.Hide Footnote  It has also been claimed that Osama bin Laden’s network has provided financial support to a minority Muslim militia in Maluku.[fn]‘Yang Menanti Berkah Osama’, Tempo, 30 September 2001,  p. 25.Hide Footnote In any case, much of the violence in Indonesia involving Muslims can be adequately explained in domestic terms – although there is some evidence of limited involvement of foreigners.

As this paper will show, radical Islam in Indonesia is still quite weak and the goal of its proponent of turning Indonesia into a state based on Islam is far from achievement. Nevertheless, Indonesia’s democratic transition is being accompanied by a crisis of lawlessness that has allowed many groups – including radical Muslim groups – to flaunt the law by engaging in violent behaviour with impunity. Needless to say, however, it is not only explicitly Muslim groups that have been responsible for growing violence.

Jakarta/Brussels. 10 October 2001.

Op-Ed / Asia

Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force

Originally published in The Interpreter

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.