Muslim groups have called on the National Police to dissolve the country’s anti-terror squad (Densus 88) in the wake of allegations it has tortured, wrongfully arrested or killed suspected terrorists while battling terrorism.
Muhammadiyah chairman Din Syamsuddin, who is also deputy chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), said the police force must change its current approach to combating terrorism as it would prove counterproductive to terrorism eradication efforts.
Din and representatives of other Islamic groups, including Nadhlatul Ulama (NU), DDII and Persatuan Islam (Persis), went to the National Police’s headquarters on Thursday to report alleged human rights abuses perpetrated by Densus members against suspected terrorists. NU and Muhammadiyah are the country’s largest Islamic organizations.
The groups claimed to have presented to the police video footage depicting men in Densus 88 uniforms intimidating and torturing what appears to be a suspected terrorist.
Speaking to journalists, Din said the man’s legs and hands were tied when the supposedly Densus officers verbally abused and shot him. “You are going to die, now istighfar [go ask for God’s mercy],” Din said, quoting the officer.
The video, according to Din, insulted Islam and could arouse sympathy among Indonesian Muslims, who largely opposed terrorism, for the militants. “Densus 88 should be evaluated, or dissolved if necessary. It could be replaced by another institution that promotes a different approach, to combat terrorism together because terrorism is our common enemy,” Din said.
National Police spokesman Brig. Gen. Boy Rafli Amar said the police had no plans to dissolve the anti-terror squad but promised to investigate the alleged abuse featured in the video. “We will try to find out where [the abuse] actually took place. The police chief [Gen. Timur Pradopo] has ordered the head of the police’s general crime unit [Comr. Gen. Sutarman] to follow up on the finding,” he said.
Boy said that the incident might have links to the police counterterrorism operation in Poso, Central Sulawesi, where a group of militants have launched terror attacks targeting police officers. Representatives of the Islamic groups, Boy said, would be involved in the police’s internal investigation.
The operation in Poso has drawn criticism from the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), which has found indications of basic human rights violations in the way the police treated terror suspects there, some of whom were shot dead. The commission has called on the police to avoid using torture methods to retrieve information from terror suspects.
The country’s anti-terror squad was formed on June 30, 2003, following the Bali bombings that killed more than 200 people, including foreigners. The squad has been partly funded and trained by the United States and Australia.
It has won kudos from the international community for its swift action in tracking terrorists and foiling terror attacks. But it is now also facing mounting criticism for its trigger-happy attitude.
Since the Bali bombings, the authorities have detained more than 800 suspected terrorists and accomplices. More than 60 terrorists have been shot dead by the police. According to Yayasan Prasasti Perdamaian (YPP), a foundation that facilitates rehabilitation of former suspected terrorists or terrorist convicts, 33 people have allegedly been wrongfully arrested by Densus 88 since 2010.
Deputy chairman of the House of Representatives’ legal affairs commission, Almuzzammil Yusuf, has proposed the establishment of a working committee to step up supervision of Densus. “The working committee is to accommodate critics and input from the public, particularly over claims of abuses and violations. We will demand ongoing counterterrorism measures to be conducted in a transparent and accountable way,” he said.
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