Amnesty International accuses Indonesian police of torturing suspects apprehended during May 21-23 riots

Screenshot from viral video showing Brimob officers beating a man in the Kampung Bali neighborhood of Central Jakarta on Thursday (23/5).
Screenshot from viral video showing Brimob officers beating a man in the Kampung Bali neighborhood of Central Jakarta on Thursday (23/5).

The Indonesian police received quite a bit of praise for the restraint they showed during the riots that engulfed parts of Central Jakarta on May 21-23 — sparked by the announcement that presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto had officially lost the election — such as their decision to not use live ammunition. However, some human rights activists have argued that the police crossed the line in other ways around that chaotic period, with Amnesty International going the furthest by calling the actions of certain officers “torture”.

In an open letter to President Joko Widodo titled “On Torture or Other Ill-Treatment By The Police in The Mass Protest Following The Election Result Announcement of 21-23 May 2019” —  released by the international human rights activist NGO yesterday, on the same date as the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture — Amnesty expresses its concerns about “grave human rights violations” allegedly committed by the police based on credible reports about a range of violations including the unlawful killing of 10 people, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and the excessive or unnecessary use of force against protesters and bystanders.

The letter specifically highlights the actions of the police on May 23 in the area in and around Kampung Bali, a neighborhood in Central Jakarta. It refers to a viral video showing several members of the police’s mobile brigade unit (Brimob) assaulting an unarmed suspect in a parking lot. Amnesty said that it had “found that at least four other men were beaten by the police during that incident, in the same parking lot, and that one of them was so badly injured that he had to be admitted to a hospital’s intensive care unit”.

Soon after the video went viral, police acknowledged its authenticity, admitted that the actions of the police officers had been “excessive” and promised an internal investigation. However, Amnesty notes that “to date the police have not announced the investigation’s result nor identified the alleged perpetrators”.

The letter also mentions that Indonesia’s own National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) conducted its own inquiry into the Kampung Bali incident and concluded that the police had committed human rights violations, including torture and other ill-treatment. But it notes that Komnas HAM doesn’t have the power to submit its findings to the public prosecutor directly but instead may only hand over its evidence to the police for them to handle the matter internally.

Amnesty goes on to say that they have received credible video evidence of other abuses committed by police during the period of unrest outside of Kampung Bali, as well as reports indicating that they carried out other assorted acts of torture, held people in arbitrary detention, detained people without a proper warrant and failed to inform the families of the arrested persons of their arrest or barred them from visiting for several days.

The letter acknowledges that some protesters engaged in violent acts, but emphasized the point that police response must still use no more force than necessary, arguing there is no justification for the torture and ill-treatment of prisoners (in addition to the fact that Indonesia is party to several international conventions and treaties banning the use of torture and ill-treatment of prisoners).

The letter ends with a call for an independent investigation into the police’s actions, prosecution for the offenders and reparations for the victims. 

The Indonesian police have not yet responded specifically to Amnesty’s letter or accusations of torture. Their investigation into the post-election riots is still ongoing but they have arrested several high-level suspects, including former military and police generals, for their alleged involvement in stoking the unrest as part of an assassination plot targeting several senior national figures.

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