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Jakarta Post

Prison overcrowding serves in favor of IS militants

  • Moses Ompusunggu

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, May 10, 2018   /   12:42 pm
Prison overcrowding serves in favor of IS militants Mobile Brigade (Brimob) personnel patrol the vicinity of Brimob headquarters in Depok, West Java, on May 9. (Antara/Indrianto Eko Suwarso)

According to the National Police, the prison riot that killed five officers and led to a more than 30-hour standoff between terror inmates and security forces at a detention center located in the Mobile Brigade headquarters (Mako Brimob) in Depok, West Java, was triggered by a “trivial matter”.

Around 7.30 p.m. on Tuesday, a terror convict identified as Wawan Kurniawan, also known as Abu Afif, asked for a food package that had been brought by a family member. However, he was denied by a police officer who kept the food. 

The detainee became upset and provoked others to protest and start a riot in Block B and C of the detention center. They broke down the walls and prison bars and proceeded to the investigators’ room, where they assaulted officers who were questioning new detainees.

While it is possible that the terror inmates, mostly linked to the Islamic State (IS) group, staged the incident in a plot to attack the police, riots are not uncommon in Indonesian prisons, which are plagued by many issues, mainly overcrowding.

In April 2017, Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly said the country had around 202,000 prisoners in January that year, while in March, the number had increased to 214,675, most of whom were drug convicts.

The country’s prisons and detention centers have the capacity of holding 130,000 inmates.

The more inmates, Yasonna said, the more difficult for the government to handle problems in prisons, such as sanitation, food supply and illegal levies by prison guards on visitors.

The detention center at Mako Brimob is no exception.

“To be frank, the detention center suffers from overcapacity,” National Police spokesman Setyo Wasisto conceded on Wednesday. “We are going to carry out an evaluation.”

 He did not reveal the maximum capacity of Mako Brimob’s detention center, but analysts believed that problems there went beyond overcrowding. 

With dozens of terrorist convicts and suspects housed at the detention center, Tuesday’s deadly riot was perhaps a disaster waiting to happen.

The detention center was not designed to serve as a high-security prison to permanently house terror inmates, Asia Foundation prison expert Leopold Sudaryono said on Wednesday.

“[It is] thick enough from outside threats, but thin to threats from inside,” said Leopold, a criminologist who also trains wardens at Nusakambangan in Central Java, Indonesia’s most secure prison.

Police seal off the National Police hospital in Kramat Jati, East Jakarta, on Wednesday afternoon after ambulances bringing dead bodies of casualties in the Mobile Brigade headquarters (Mako Brimob) in Kelapa Dua, Depok, West Java, riot on Tuesday evening, came in. Police seal off the National Police hospital in Kramat Jati, East Jakarta, on Wednesday afternoon after ambulances bringing dead bodies of casualties in the Mobile Brigade headquarters (Mako Brimob) in Kelapa Dua, Depok, West Java, riot on Tuesday evening, came in. (JP/Kharishar Kahfi)

Before the riot on Tuesday, the detention center had a brawl in November 2017, when terrorism detainees fought police officers searching their cells for contraband, including cellphones.

“Standards for the detention of convicts who pose a high risk to security require each convict to be held in separate cells, so that they cannot interact with other inmates or prison guards. This condition is not possible in Mako Brimob’s detention center,” said Leopold. “That is why there were two riots [at the detention center] in just five months.”

In 2007, the administration of then-president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono designated Mako Brimob’s detention center as a temporarily holding facility for police officers who face criminal charges, making it a branch of the notoriously overcrowded Salemba detention center in Central Jakarta.

Ten years on, the detention center has housed not only police officers facing criminal trials, but also civilians detained or convicted for cases ranging from terrorism and corruption, to blasphemy.

Former Jakarta governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, who was convicted for blasphemy in 2017, is now serving his two-year sentence at the Mako Brimob detention center, located just 4 kilometers from the University of Indonesia (UI).

When the standoff came to an end Thursday morning, the police said they would send the 155 terror convicts who had surrendered to Nusakambangan.

The prison has a special block for terror convicts that currently houses 30 inmates and runs a deradicalization program.

“We are ready to accept [the rioters] because it is our duty,” the office of the Coordinating Political, Law and Security Affairs Minister’s director general for penitentiaries, Sri Puguh Utami, said after a Wednesday meeting of Indonesia’s top security brass in Central Jakarta as quoted by

A revision of the Criminal Code currently being deliberated by the government and the House of Representatives mandates community service as a penalty for petty criminals, with a high-level law ministry official saying it could address the problem of overcrowded prisons.

But the only way to manage terror convicts is to strengthen the prisons in which they are being held, analysts said.

“The [standoff] shows that the management of prisons housing terror convicts cannot follow general standards, because the inmates are categorized as high-risk convicts,” the chairman Jakarta-based rights group Setara Institute, Hendardi, said in a statement.