Arientha Primanita, Farouk Arnaz & Heru Andriyanto
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said on Sunday that he would no longer tolerate hard-line groups that disregarded the rule of law, telling senior police officers that immediate actions must be taken.
Yudhoyono was speaking at the National Police’s 66th anniversary celebration in at the police’s Mobile Brigade (Brimob) headquarters in Depok. In his speech, the president said police must not be hesitant in taking action against vigilante groups.
“Take firm action against groups that force their own will and violate the constitutional rights of others,” he said.
The statement came just hours after the hard-line the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) ransacked a police station in the West Java city of Tasikmalaya.
“We are still gathering the complete information, but yes, the incident did occur,” said West Java Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Martinus Sitompul.
Martinus said the incident occurred after the FPI tried to stop a local dangdut performance. “There was an argument between the FPI and a local youth group and we brought both sides involved in the dispute [to the police station]. But the FPI was not happy about it and threw rocks and vandalized the station,” the spokesman said.
But the group’s spokesman, Munarman, denied that the FPI members were involved in the attack.
“What happened was five motorcycles belonging to our members were burned by local thugs who were backed by police. One of our members is still missing as we speak,” Munarman said.
Indonesia Police Watch chairman Neta S. Pane said senior police officers too often tolerated groups like the FPI and had even engaged them as “civilian partners.”
Shortly before he was appointed in 2010, National Police Chief Gen. Timur Pradopo told a legislative vetting committee that he had close ties with the FPI.
“I think as a police officer and leader, we must engage partnership and utilize every element of society that can help us maintain security,” Timur said at the time.
Neta said Timur was setting the wrong example with his ties to the FPI and must exert leadership by showing the FPI that crimes would not be tolerated.
“In dealing with thuggery and radicalism, police are often afraid because they know there are senior officers behind these groups,” Neta said.
“Police leaders must no longer maintain these unhealthy relationships, so that their men can act professionally.”
Yudhoyono on Sunday called for firmness from Timur. “Have the courage to act according to the laws and regulations. Every problem must be dealt with quickly so they don’t spread and become a national problem,” the president said.
Neta said Sunday’s incident was a sign that the police’s authority was waning.
“In the first five months of 2012 there were 28 police officers mobbed by civilians. In 2011 there were 65 police stations ransacked and burned. In 2010 there were only 20 police stations vandalized and burned,” Neta said.
Part of the public’s distrust toward police, he said, was because of the rampant use of excessive force by police.
“People often complain about the police’s culture of abuse and intimidation,” he said, adding that the IPW had recorded a total of 97 civilians falling victim to extrajudicial shootings. Nineteen of the victims were killed by police fire.
Neta also said that impunity was another factor of the declining police authority.
“For example, in June the North Sumatra Police conducted urine tests and 114 police officers tested positive for drugs, and they were never punished,” he said. “If this happened to a civilian they would get a prison sentence. This shows the police are still discriminative.”
Yudhoyono also talked about cases of excessive use of force involving police officers, particularly in handling riots.
“Maximize the use of prevention to handle acts of violence and communal conflicts. Do it swiftly, accurately and get to the bottom of the case,” the president said. “If you do, you can end accusations that the police and the state are letting violence occur.”