Stand together: Personnel from the police’s Mobile Brigade (Brimob) and the Army stand guard together in front of Cebongan Penitentiary where four detainees were murdered on March 23. The four were suspects in the murder of a former Kopassus commando. (Antara/Sigid Kurniawan)
The Army has officially announced that 11 commandos from the Army’s Special Forces (Kopassus) Group 2 based in Kartasura, Central Java, were the perpetrators behind the raid on Cebongan Penitentiary, Sleman, Yogyakarta, which left four detainees dead. The detainees were suspected of killing former commando First Sgt. Heru Santoso, who was stabbed to death in March. However, many questions remain unanswered. The Jakarta Post’s Ainur Rohmah, Bambang Muryanto and Slamet Susanto attempted to get a better picture of the incident.
It was the afternoon of Friday, March 22 when Cebongan Penitentiary warden Sukamto Harto learned that among the 11 detainees who had just been transferred from the Yogyakarta Police’s detention center were the four suspects in the murder of First Sgt. Heru Santoso, a former Kopassus soldier.
Heru, who had previously served with Kopassus Group 2 in Kandang Menjangan, Kartasura, in Sukoharjo, Central Java, had been stabbed to death three days previously in Hugo’s Café in Yogyakarta.
The transfer seemed ominous to Sukamto as he recalled the recent incident in Ogan Komering Ulu, South Sumatra, where soldiers stormed and burned the local police precinct to vent their anger after the killing of a soldier by a police officer following a traffic violation.
He was worried that a similar attack might be mounted on the 2,974-square-meter prison accommodating some 350 inmates.
His hunch proved correct. Just after midnight, a group of armed, well-built men wearing masks forced their way into the penitentiary and swiftly executed all four suspects: Hendrik Angel Sahetapi (Deki), Yohanes Juan Manbait (Juan), Gameliel Yermianto Rohi Riwu (Adi) and Adrianus Candra Galaja (Dedi).
“They carried it out very quickly, in only 15 minutes,” Sukamto told reporters after the incident.
The armed men also seized the hand phones of eight penitentiary guards and took away the CCTV camera and footage from Sukamto’s office. The police found 31 bullet casings and a spent bullet of 7.62 millimeter caliber at the crime scene.
The killings were soon linked to the fight at Hugo’s Café on March 19 between Heru and his two friends and Deki and his 10 friends including Juan, Adi and Dedi.
“Initially it was Deki and Heru who engaged in a bitter argument,” Yogyakarta Police’s spokeswoman Adj. Sr. Comr. Anny Pudjiastuti said.
The argument developed into a fight that ended up with Heru being stabbed to death. His two friends managed to escape. Deki and friends, who were suspected of being responsible for the killing, were arrested the same day.
“They were the ones considered responsible by investigators. The others might have just looked on at the fight so we did not arrest them,” Anny said.
There is no clear information available as to what initially sparked the fight. Many rumors have since circulated. Among them is that the two sides were fighting over the provision of security services at night spots and drug dealing.
Head of the Yogyakarta Provincial Narcotics Agency (BNP), Budiharso, said that Juan, a former police officer, and Deki were once involved in a drugs case but confirmed that they were just users and not dealers.
The same lack of clarity surrounds the presence of Heru at Hugo’s Café that night. The then commander of the Military Command (Kodam) IV/Diponegoro, Maj. Gen. Hardiono Saroso said that Heru was on duty having been assigned by the Kodam’s intelligence unit.
“He was a military member who was on duty for 24 hours,” he said.
The Yogyakarta Police reportedly got wind of the possibility that Heru’s killing might provoke a larger incident. It held a tripartite meeting with Sleman Military District Command (Kodim) 0732 and Military Regional Command (Korem) 072/Pamungkas overseeing the region.
The then Yogyakarta Police chief Brig. Gen. Sabar Rahardjo said that he received assurances from the Korem commander that no serious problems would occur as a result of Heru’s death.
Nonetheless, the police decided to transfer the four detainees from Sleman Police headquarters to Yogyakarta Police’s detention center on Tuesday afternoon, the day they were arrested.
“We were informed that the transfer was made for security reasons,” said Rio Ramabaskara, the four suspects’ lawyer in the murder case.
He said that on Thursday he heard that his clients would be transferred again. This time to Cebongan Penitentiary in Sleman. The four were transferred together with seven other detainees.
So far the exact reason as to why the second transfer was made remains obscure.
Sabar said it was made because their cell in the detention center was to be renovated due to a damaged ceiling, through which it was feared the detainees might try to escape.
However, Yogyakarta Police’s detention and evidence center director, Adj. Sr. Comr. Sukarwito said that steel bars were installed above the ceiling so that it would not be easy for detainees to escape. There were also other cells in the detention center that could have been used to accommodate the detainees.
Sukarwito said that the cell needed renovation because its four lavatories were not working properly.
Rio does not accept this explanation, saying that if his clients needed to be transferred they should have been transferred to a facility with equal security to that of the Yogyakarta Police’s detention center.
“I consider the police to have committed negligence in this case. Even after the raid, they did not mount road blocks in Yogyakarta to prevent the raiders from escaping,” Rio said.
Initially journalists were prevented from verifying the condition of the Yogyakarta Police’ detention center. Sukarwito explained that this was for security reasons. They were finally able to examine the facility only on Thursday, or almost a week after the transfer.
Improvements indeed had been made, including to the ceiling of the cell where Deki and the other three had been detained.
Jumambang, a detainee who was released from the same detention cell a week before Deki and friends were held there said he did not notice any damage to the ceiling in the cell or to the lavatories.
“I frequently used the lavatories,” said Jumambang who was accompanied by his lawyer, Hillarius Ng Mero, at the Yogyakarta District Court.
It also appears odd that institutions such as the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) and the National Police Commission (Kompolnas) did not seem to dig deeper into this issue.
Logan Siagian of Kompolnas even presented a different reason as of why the transfer was made.
“It was not because of damage [to the detention cell] but due to overcrowding instead,” he said.
This has also raised eyebrows. The National Police’s chief spokesman Insp. Gen. Suhardi Alius told a TV program, The Indonesian Lawyer’s Club, earlier this week that the Yogyakarta police were holding 16 detainees at the time of the transfer.
If this is true then the detention center would not have been overcrowded as it has seven 72-square-meter cells. Each cell, according to Sukarwito, can accommodate five to six detainees.
Questions have also been asked regarding events surrounding the penitentiary attack. A source told the Post that on the night of the attack, three sedan cars were seen blocking the main road leading to the penitentiary.
The question is why no security personnel were seen guarding the penitentiary even though, according to Sukamto, he had asked for reinforcements from the local police.
Sabar said he had not expected such an incident, declining to comment on whether the police had suffered an intelligence failure as Siagian has implicitly admitted.
“We have great intelligence officers but failure does happen, even in the US, with the 9/11 attack,” said Siagian, referring to the 2001 terrorist attack in New York.
Researcher M. Najib Azca of Gadjah Mada University’s Center for Security and Peace Studies (PSKP) claims that the police had prior knowledge that such an incident would occur. This, he said, was because leading up to the attack there were rumors in Yogyakarta saying that a sweep would be conducted by unidentified people against residents hailing from East Nusa Tenggara (NTT), the origin of the four slain detainees.
“I think the police were just afraid to face this particular group,” Najib said.
Prior to the Army’s official announcement on April 4, many parties had suspected that the attack was carried out by Kopassus members considering that Heru was a former Kopassus soldier.
The suspicions were based on the professional manner in which the attack was carried out, although Kopassus is not the only military unit in Indonesia to have such capabilities.
Army chief of staff Gen. Pramono Edhi established an independent team to look into the case which was followed by the formal announcement.
The Army said that the attack was conducted spontaneously due to the strong esprit de corps of Kopassus members and said that 11 commandos were involved in the raid. Initial reports said there were 17 attackers.
There remains, however, the question as to how the group of mostly non-commissioned officers could have carried out such an attack without the knowledge of their superiors and commanding officers.
This is especially so given that initially Kopassus said that it had prevented all of its members from leaving their compound in Kandang Menjangan.
Separately, Deputy Law and Human Rights Minister Denny Indrayana said that the penitentiary attackers could be charged with premeditated murder.
“From the analysis it is not hard to see that the killings were planned,” Denny said in Semarang, Central Java, on Wednesday.
Many have called for the commandos to be tried in a civilian court and not a military tribunal due to concerns that a military trial would not be transparent.
The Army’s top brass, however, have insisted the commandos will be tried in a military court and have promised transparency.