ASIA: Women's views on prevention of torture - Indonesia - A woman speaks out against bad policing and torture

ASIA: Women's views on prevention of torture - Indonesia - A woman speaks out against bad policing and torture

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission
AHRC, 25 May 2010


Maria Katarina Sumarsih was the mother of Bernardus Realino Norma Irmawan (Wawan), a university student who was allegedly shot to death by military personnel in the First Semanggi Tragedy in 1998. She actively organises victims of human rights violations and is currently a member of Presidium Board of Victims Solidarity Network for Justice (JSKK) based in Jakarta. She was awarded the Yap Thiam Hien Award in 2004, the most prestigious award for human rights defenders in Indonesia.

What do you think of policing system in your country? Do you think it is good enough?
I think the police behaviour in Indonesia has not changed yet, they still use violence in exercising their duties. In 1998, I witnessed how the police was so oppressive to demonstrators regardless of whether they are university students or just ‘ordinary people’. Recently I have been informed that on June 8, 2010, police shot farmers in Koto Cengar Village in Riau Province. Some of the farmers later came to Jakarta to attend Kamisan (a weekly peaceful silent demonstration held in front of the Presidential Palace, urging the government to seriously investigate all human rights violation cases) and they told us that a Ms. Yusniar was shot to death while another person, Mr. Disman was injured.

This is not the only case. Previously JSKK was also informed that someone named Edison Sirait in Pekanbaru was 'mistakenly' shot by the police. His case was brought before court but the police asked the victim to settle the case 'outside the court' and the victim’s family still feels that they have not obtained justice yet.

Also the daily behaviour of the police officers is sometimes disgraceful, for example when they issue speeding tickets to cars or motorcycle riders what is likely to happen is they will ask you to pay some amount of money, which is illegal, in order to settle the problem 'outside of court'. Of course this is disgraceful. They are law enforcement officers but instead of enforcing the law, they violate the law.

Another problem within police institution in Indonesia is corruption. The former head of the Criminal Investigation Bureau of the Indonesian National Police, Susno Duadji, was arrested for alleged involvement in a corruption case. The Chief of the Indonesian National Police, Mr. Bambang Hendarso Danuri himself has admitted that there is still long way to go to combat corruption within the police institution as well as reforming police behaviour in Indonesia. Another example I have recently been informed of is that the personal fortune of the head of the Internal Disciplinary Unit (IDU or Propam) of the Indonesian National Police reaches 95 billion Indonesian Rupiahs which is more than the fortune of our President, Mr. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Of course this is suspicious as we know the salary of police is not that much.

How do you see the use of torture by the police?
Torture and violence, especially when they are conducted by state agents, are unjustifiable. The duty of the police is to protect society. However, torture is not usually conducted in public space so I have never witnessed any use of torture. However, I read from newspaper and found some information that police often ill treat suspects in order to extract confessions. Further proof that torture exists in Indonesia is that in trials you often see accused persons withdraw the testimony they given previously during the police investigation. This is because they were under pressure when they testified.

What do you think is the ideal relationship between police and society?
The police, as I have mentioned before, has the mandate to serve and protect society. So I think the ideal relationship between police and society is when they believe in each other. How to develop such a condition? How to make police and society believe in each other? I think the answer to this question is we have to create the situation which makes it possible for the police and society to communicate with each other. The police, therefore, must avoid the use of violence. I think it is important for police to listen to the voices of people and have dialogue with society in order to gain their trust.

If you face any legal problems for which you have to deal with the police, will you feel comfortable and safe to file a complaint?
With all the problems I have mentioned before, I think I can’t file a complaint to police freely, safely, or comfortably. A lot of people have learned from their own experience and say that you will just gain 'loss' instead of 'profit' if you file a complaint with the police. It means, for example, if you lost something precious and file a complaint with the police, it is very possible that you won’t get your property back but instead you will have to spend some money; maybe to pay the police when they come to the crime scene, etc. Of course it is not regulated and it is not our obligation but well, that's Indonesians. At least we have to give the money for transportation or even for ourselves because we will have to go to the police station several times. We need money to file complaints with the police.

Is there any law which regulates domestic violence in Indonesia? If yes, what do you think of it?
I know that there is a law in Indonesia regarding domestic violence and, if I’m not mistaken, it was enacted in 2004. Since then, I haven’t heard that this law will be revised by the House of Representatives (DPR) or reviewed by the Constitutional Court. Thus I come to conclusion that this law is good enough.

In your understanding, do you see that the police treat women and men differently?
I don’t have a deep understanding on this but let me tell you my experience. Once, me and other housewives organised in JSKK and held a peaceful demonstration in front of the Presidential Palace. It’s only one of weekly peaceful demonstrations that we always hold on Thursday. I still remember that at that time Former Russia President Vladimir Putin came to Indonesia to meet our President. Police then asked us to disperse ourselves and go away but they did it harshly. They pushed us, regardless that we are only ordinary housewives. We are all old ladies but they didn’t hesitate to use violence against us.

Is there anything else you want to add?
I just want to add that violence and torture conducted either by police or military member results in another bad effect: the use of violence by Public Order Officers (Satpoll PP). Satpol PP was established by the local government to help them in enforcing the local regulations. The Satpol PP members are civilians but they are educated in militaristic ways and they also often conduct violence in exercising their duties. For example, a few months ago they were about to evict a tomb in North Jakarta and used violence against civilians who protested and tried to preserved the tomb.

So, for me, and I think also for other victims of human rights violations, when the government does nothing to solve any human rights violation cases, just like they are doing now, and act in favour of impunity, it will bring another serious result: violence is not only conducted by police, military or state agents but also civilians.

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.