First the Shooting, Now the Questions…

Police abuses may lead to further violence

Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group has recently spoken about the danger posed by over-zealous tactics employed by Detachment 88 (Densus 88), an elite Indonesian police unit with an anti-terror focus and links to western governments. This is not the first time the unit’s actions have come under the spot light: human rights organisations and the press have publicised allegations including torture, wrongful arrest, and engaging in a fire fight without due regard for bystanders’ safety. However, Jones’ emphasis might prove more motivating for the Indonesian authorities as it focuses on the potential for police brutality to be counterproductive, motivating more people to take up violence in response.

That this is a real danger is borne out by a recent article in Tempo, which reports on criticism of Densus 88 by the Islamic Defenders Front (Front Pembela Islam, FPI). The chairman of the Solo branch of the, Khoirul Rus Suparjo, complained ‘Wherever they are they start shooting (main tembak). There is no presumption of innocence… They arrest without [due] procedure. If there are members of Densus 88 that shoot and kill people, there’s no one that dares bring them to justice.’ He called for the dissolution of the unit and called on Islamic activists to resist if arrested by Densus 88 and gather en masse to prevent raids. It is no surprise to find the FPI issuing combative statements, but if their sense of grievance begins to sound justified, that is a dangerous situation.

There is also a practical imperative here; if you shoot your suspects, that severely limits your capacity to gather evidence. As Sydney Jones argued in 2011 ‘If [suspects] are caught alive, we can [get to] know more about their networks. In the case where [terrorism suspect] Dulmatin was shot dead, all the information about his group in Mindanau disappeared’.