Update: Kopassus Special Forces Soldiers Guilty Over Cebongan Murders
Updated at 7:20 p.m. on Thursday, Sep. 5, 2013.
A military tribunal jailed three members of Indonesia’s Kopassus special forces for the extrajudicial executions of four prison inmates in the conclusion of the closely watched trial on Thursday.
The men stood in ranks as presiding judge Lieu. Col. Joko Sasmito delivered the verdict before the Bantul, Yogyakarta, courthouse, admonishing the soldiers for their involvement in March’s revenge killings.
“They committed a crime when they were supposed to be training,” he said. “It was carried out in prison and four people died, causing a deep wound for the victims’ families and a deep trauma for the prison warden and other inmates. They have tainted the military’s good name.”
Military prosecutors said the three were guilty of the murders of Adrianus Candra Galaga, Gamaliel Yermiayanto Rohi Riwu, Hendrik Angel Sahetapi and Yohanes Juan Mambait.
Second Sgt. Ucok Tigor Simbolon, the ringleader of the rogue soldiers, was sentenced to 11 years in prison. Second Sgt. Sugeng Sumaryanto was sentenced to eight years and First Corporal Kodik to six years.
All were dismissed from military service.
Lawyers for the disgraced soldiers immediately said they would file appeals with the court.
The three men stormed the Cebongan Prison, in Sleman, Yogyakarta, under the cover of darkness on March 23, gunning down four men awaiting trial for the stabbing to death of a fellow soldier in a barroom brawl.
Five other soldiers involved in the raid were sentenced to 21 months in prison at a separate tribunal.
The murders, which have been described as both an act of cold-blooded revenge and a justified example of esprit de corps, further exposed the dark side of the Indonesian military — an organization with a checkered human rights record and a history of violent power struggles with police.
Human rights groups have criticized President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for allowing the military to investigate itself. The president, a former four-star army general, has been reluctant to reform Indonesia’s powerful armed forces.
Investigators repeatedly characterized the slain prisoners as “thugs,” and said the soldiers were acting out of loyalty to their fallen friend when they murdered the four men.
Maj. Gen. Hardiono Saroso, who was ousted from his command in the wake of the killings, threw his support behind the narrative, telling reporters he was proud of the soldiers.
“I respect them and I am proud of the 11 soldiers who are currently being investigated,” he told the Indonesian newspaper Tempo in April. “[They] honored the esprit de corps by standing up for what they believed in and being honest about their actions.”
The major general was not alone in his views. In the months following the slayings, images painting Kopassus soldiers as caring members of society began to crop up on social media. One Facebook page titled “Dukung Kopassus Berantas Premanisme” (“Support Kopassus in Eradicating Thuggery”) ridiculed the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) and accused the police of acts of brutality.
The page had received nearly 16,000 “likes” by Thursday.
Outside the courthouse on Thursday afternoon, police worked to quell a riotous demonstration in support of the Kopassus soldiers. The protestors, many dressed in paramilitary outfits, burned tires and shouted slogans as police attempted to extinguish the flames. Indonesian TV news channels carried footage of smoke-filled streets and jostling men in camouflage fatigues staging a typically theatrical protest as the judges prepared to deliver the verdict.
An act of ‘street justice’
First Sarg. Santoso was bleeding heavily from a stab would inflicted by a broken bottle after a brawl broke out between Kopassus soldiers and four patrons on March 19 at Yogyakarta’s Hugo’s Cafe. He would be declared dead a short time later.
What happened next to the four men responsible for the death can be traced to a fatal error of judgement from Yogyakarta Police chief Brig. Gen. Sabar Rahardjo.
Yogyakarta Police charged Adiranus, Gamaliel, Hendrik and Yohanes in connection with the soldier’s death. One of the men, Yohanes, was identified as a Yogyakarta Police officer by the press the day after the murder, but the Kopassus soldiers may have known of his identity before. Enmity between the police and armed forces runs deep and is not new, but it is not known whether Yohanes’s job as a police officer affected what happened in Cebongan.
Sabar received intelligence that Kopassus soldiers were planning an attack on the Yogyakarta Police compound to avenge their colleague.
Faced with the prospect of a raid on his office by the best-trained soldiers in the Indonesian military, Sabar transferred the men to Cebongan prison on Mar. 22 without putting in place the extra resources needed to give the men a level of protection, a National Police source said in April.
“Sabar is considered to have made a mistake by transferring the detainees. He should have informed the National Police chief, and we could have sent reinforcements — such as Brimob [Mobile Brigade] members — to strengthen the Yogyakarta police,” the source said.
At 12:30 a.m. on Mar. 23, hours after the four had been transferred to Cebongan, 11 special forces soldiers led by Ucok arrived at the prison. Masked and armed, they identified themselves to prison wardens as police detectives who needed to speak with the men.
One warden who refused to cooperate was beaten while the Kopassus soldiers held down the perimeter and disabled CCTV cameras to cover their tracks.
Ucok, Kodik and Sugeng then moved to the holding cell of the men indicted over Santoso’s murder.
Ucok executed each of the four men with a gun shot to the head as they stood in their cell.
By the time the soldiers had left, four men lay dead and two prison wardens — Widiatmoko and Nugroho Putro — required hospitalization for their injuries.
Suspicion of military involvement in the killings was immediate due to the strength of motive together with the high-level of organization and skill required to break into a prison.
Nonetheless, military top brass were quick to wash their hands of the affair.
“It wasn’t the TNI,” Hardiono, the regional commander of the armed forces, said after the attack. “No soldiers were involved.”
Two weeks later lead investigator Brig. Gen. Unggul K. Yudhoyono said it was indeed Kopassus soldiers who had carried out the killings. Ucok, Kodik and Sugeng confessed to the crime on Apr. 5.
Hardiono was stood down, telling reporters he would gladly sacrifice his position to stand with the soldiers.
“It’s the manifestation of my unwavering solidarity,” he told Tempo.
The wider narrative of the Cebongan case was crystallized by Hardiono’s comments to the effect that the armed forces were entitled to operate in an alternative judicial reality in a country where despite more than a decade of civilian rule the military continues to remain a powerful force in the political and commercial landscape.
On April 5, Yudhoyono delivered a speech criticizing the soldiers for taking the law into their own hands, calling the killings an act of “brutality.”
“Street justice cannot be justified under the state’s law,” Yudhoyono said. “It was said the attack happened because of the ‘spirit of the corps.’ because a group of thugs brutally murdered a member of Kopassus. But brutality in any form cannot be justified.”
But further calls to let civilian courts, not the military, conduct the investigation and trial were ignored.
A flawed but open trial
Komnas HAM applauded the military for holding an open trial, a rare show of transparency for the armed forces, but called the proceedings flawed and closed to testimony from human rights monitors.
“Most of the questions asked by the panel of judges were not about what the witnesses heard or saw, but were things like ‘what do you think about the case?’” Siti Noor Laila, head of Komnas HAM, said. “If they wanted an opinion, they should have asked experts, not the witnesses.”
The Setara Institute, a prominent Jakarta-based think tank, called the verdict fair, but criticized the military investigation for stopping at low-ranking soldiers.
“[The dismissal] is what they deserved as they acted outside the code of conduct for military soldiers,” Bonar Tigor Naipospos, deputy director of the Setara Institute, said. “[But] still, their superiors remained untouched. It seems like the soldiers are being sacrificed to keep the institution’s name clean.
“[The case] was presented like they did this spontaneously.”