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Jakarta Post

End brutality

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, September 26, 2019   /   08:12 am
End brutality Police fire tear gas at students rallying in front of the legislative complex in Central Jakarta on Sept. 24. The protest took a chaotic turn in the late afternoon. (JP/Seto Wardhana)

We join calls for an independent investigation into reports of police brutality during the massive demonstrations on Tuesday. Journalists have verified a number of video recordings depicting police personnel continuously beating protesters who were offering no resistance. Meanwhile, some reports say the students had provoked law enforcers, frightening motorists passing by streets around the heavily guarded House of Representatives complex.

Investigations are similarly urgent regarding the reports from Papua of at least 24 people killed within 24 hours, according to rights group Amnesty International. National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian has blamed foreign-based Papuan groups for the unrest and ensuing deaths in Papua and West Papua. While the government has again imposed an internet ban on the provinces, independent verification into the reports is increasingly difficult; thus pinning the blame on anyone is not at all helpful, particularly as previous reported incidents of military and police brutality remain unresolved.

Amid fears of “free-riders” inciting trouble, staying home may be seen as the safest option. But try telling that to students across the country, who seem suddenly to have woken up from a long slumber since the demonstrations that ended in the resignation of former authoritarian president Soeharto over 20 years ago. The latest protests have been triggered by signs that the House was seeking to rush through several problematic bills. Furthermore, protesting and the expression of political opinions is a fundamental right of citizens in a democracy, as guaranteed by the Constitution, and which the police should safeguard.

To better serve the public the National Police was formally separated from the Indonesian Military following the fall of the New Order regime. This led to the police presenting a much friendlier face; they even smile nowadays at people arranging, for instance, their vehicle taxes. Donors and foreign countries have long poured in support such as training in human rights for the police.

However, even under Gen. Tito, the lauded former antiterrorism chief, surveys have confirmed the police as among the most corrupt institutions and most blamed for human rights violations. Though the police as a rule do not use live ammunition on demonstrators, the excessive use of batons had sent many demonstrators to hospitals by late Tuesday; a few of them reportedly in a critical condition.

Apparently the former militaristic characteristics of the National Police are still ingrained among officers despite a new generation having been recruited. This perhaps reflects a wider society that is still used to bullying; but the police are supposed to be the institution that has special training in keeping the peace, while they hold the state authority to use lethal force.

In July 2018 the Ombudsman cleared the police of allegations that they violated procedures in the killing of 11 people during the security operations relating to the Asian Games. Their professionalism, however, came into question again during the riots last May with reports of six killed and several others tortured. Following the latest incidents we need assurances that citizens can live in freedom from fear with the protection of the National Police.