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Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Report 127 / Asia

Jihadism in Indonesia: Poso on the Edge

After eight months of trying to induce surrenders, the Indonesian police have conducted two major raids this month in Poso, Central Sulawesi, to arrest a group of men, most local members of the terrorist organisation Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), wanted for a range of bombings, beheadings and drive-by shootings.

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Executive Summary

After eight months of trying to induce surrenders, the Indonesian police have conducted two major raids this month in Poso, Central Sulawesi, to arrest a group of men, most local members of the terrorist organisation Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), wanted for a range of bombings, beheadings and drive-by shootings. Peaceful efforts had clearly failed but the high death toll from the second raid has turned the wanted men into victims. A jihad that has been largely directed against local Christians could now be focused on the police as a thoghut (anti-Islamic force) and give a boost to Indonesia’s weakened jihadi movement. The urgent task now is for the government to work with Muslim leaders to explain in detail who the suspects were and why force was used. It also should examine how police operations were conducted to see if further measures could have been taken to prevent casualties. Authorities likewise need to begin addressing a wide range of local grievances.

Just after dawn on 22 January 2007 Indonesian police moved in on a quiet Poso street. They found themselves confronting not just the men they sought but a much larger and heavily armed resistance, including mujahidin from elsewhere in the Poso area and several from Java. By the end of the day, one policeman and fourteen others were dead, and several on both sides wounded. Some two dozen were arrested as they fled.

This was the second attempt in two weeks to forcibly arrest more than twenty men who had been on a wanted list since May 2006. On 11 January, police raided the houses where they were believed to be hiding, killing two, arresting six and seizing a sizeable collection of weapons.

There were already indications that the suspects and their sympathisers, in an effort to enlist mujahidin from outside their own group, were portraying police operations as an attack on Muslims. Any deaths in the course of the operations would strengthen their hand, and they now have at least sixteen men from the two raids whom they will almost certainly claim as martyrs, or seventeen, counting a young man killed in October 2006 in a clash with police. One danger now is that the jihadis will try to take the anti-thoghut war outside Poso, targeting police in other cities.

Another danger is that the JI faction that opposes bombings of Western targets and sees Noordin Mohammed Top, South East Asia’s most wanted terrorist and the man believed to be behind some of Indonesia’s deadliest bombings, as a deviant, will see this jihad as legitimate.

Finally there is the possibility that some of the fugitives might try to get to Java to join forces with Noordin. The Poso mujahidin are experienced in targeted assassinations, a tactic that has not been used outside conflict areas. While the likelihood of an operational link-up between the two groups is slight, the addition of even one experienced sniper to Noordin’s group could be lethal.

Even if these dangers are avoided and the remaining suspects are arrested, no one should be complacent that the violence in Poso is over. There is too much unfinished business from the communal conflict there that reached its height in 2000-2001. Some mujahidin speak of the need to have children quickly so that a new generation of fighters can be produced. Even as the government continues its security operations, a more comprehensive approach to the conflict is urgently needed.

This report examines how one neighbourhood in Poso became a JI stronghold and how a small group of men managed to terrorise the city for three years before their identities became known. It looks at the links between the JI structures in Poso and Java and the local grievances and resentments driving the ongoing violence and analyses the way forward.

Jakarta/Brussels, 24 January 2007

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.