The Witness and Victims Protection Agency (LPSK) has reportedly sent back a key witness in the deadly attack on Shiites in Sampang, Madura, East Java, to a victims’ shelter after being in the witness protection program for less than a week, a move that sparked concerns for his safety.
Universalia Legal Aid Institute, representing the victims of the attack, said on Friday that the agency had returned the witness, Tohir, on Thursday night because he asked to be brought back to the shelter as he did not feel at home during his stay at the safe house.
Agus Setiawan, a lawyer at the institute, acknowledged that Tohir indeed felt uncomfortable during the stay, despite being accompanied by his daughter and his younger brother.
That reason, however, does not justify LPSK’s decision to drop Tohir from the witness protection program, according to Agus.
“It is their job to make him feel comfortable during the program,” he told The Jakarta Post Digital on Friday. “Besides providing security, the agency needs to provide witnesses with psychological counseling.”
Apart from that, LPSK also said that Sampang Police and the local administration did not agree with Tohir living outside of Sampang, Agus said.
According to Agus, there were indeed some individuals claiming to be officers from Sampang Police who asked Tohir’s family about his whereabouts during his stay at the safe house.
Despite that, LPSK should have kept protecting Tohir by keeping him in the safe house, he said.
Agus said that LPSK picked up Tohir last Saturday from the shelter and put him in the temporary witness protection program for two weeks.
The agency then decided to put Tohir into the regular protection program for a minimum of three months, he said.
“It means that LPSK has acknowledged that Tohir needs to be protected,” Agus said. “So why did the agency decide not to protect him just because he did not feel comfortable at the safe house?”
By releasing Tohir from the witness protection program, the agency has made him vulnerable to threats because he is one of the key witnesses in the attack, which occurred in late August, according to Agus.
Two Shiite Muslims were killed and seven were wounded when a mob of Sunni Muslims attacked their compound in Sampang in August. Dozens of homes were set ablaze by the Sunni mob, forcing hundreds of Shiites to take shelter in a local sports hall.
In December in the same village, a Sunni mob burned down a house and pesantren (Islamic boarding school) run by Tajul Muluk, the Shia community leader. (han/swd)