Rights groups called Wednesday for an impartial investigation into the killings of 11 suspects amid an anti-crime campaign linked to Indonesia’s security preparations ahead of the Asian Games, which the country is hosting next month.
The criticism came after Jakarta police spokesman Argo Yuwono told reporters that the fatal shootings involved officers who also detained almost 250 suspects, including 41 who were shot and wounded, during a two-week campaign from July 3 to July 13.
Some of the wounded, including those with legs bandaged over apparent bullet injuries, have been paraded before photographers.
New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the deadly shootings of criminal suspects suggested that the police felt they had been given a “license to kill.”
“The upsurge in killings soon before the start of the Asian Games points to a possible policy that needs an urgent and impartial investigation,” Phelim Kine, HRW’s deputy Asia director, said in a statement.
Jakarta and the South Sumatran city of Palembang will host the international sporting event, which is expected to be attended by about 11,000 athletes and several thousand foreign visitors, from Aug. 18 to Sept. 2, officials said.
“The Asian Games are intended to celebrate human achievement, not provide a pretext for a police ‘shoot to kill’ policy in the name of crime control,” Kine said.
Gen. Tito Karnavian, the national police chief, said he had ordered police to carry out “massive operations to suppress crime.”
“We are conducting a large-scale operation to fight terrorism and conventional crimes such as pickpocketing, robberies, muggings and other street crimes in the run-up to the Asian Games,” Tito told reporters Wednesday.
Yeti Andriyani, coordinator for the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), a human rights group, questioned whether police had followed proper procedures.
“Why have the police’s actions caused so many deaths? Were the threats faced [by the police] serious and commensurate with the actions taken?” Yeti told BenarNews.
Yeti said the use of deadly force should be the last resort.
“There’s a tendency to consider officers who are able to kill criminals as gallant and the actions meritorious,” she said, urging the police to evaluate their conduct and hold personnel accountable.
The shootings took place after Jakarta Police Inspector-General Idham Azis told officers on July 3 to take “firm action” against suspects who posed a threat to public safety.
On the same day, Argo, the police spokesman, told reporters that “if there is resistance [from suspects], our chief has ordered us to act firmly and quickly [to shoot]. It is not negotiable.”
Argo on Wednesday defended the killings, saying officers had to use deadly force because the suspects, who resisted arrest, were armed.
“All police actions were firm and measured. We wouldn’t have used [lethal force] if they had not fought officers and threatened the lives of other people,” he told BenarNews.
He said relatives of the slain suspects could take the police to court if they had evidence of wrongful conduct.
Sandrayati Moniaga, a member of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), said extrajudicial killings were “a clear violation of human rights.”
She warned against a repeat of events in the 1980s, when suspected criminals were summarily killed in large numbers under the pretext of fighting hoodlums.
Human rights groups have also voiced concerns over the growing use of lethal force by police in dealing with suspected drug traffickers.
At least 80 drug suspects were fatally shot by police in 2017, a sharp increase from 18 the previous year, according to rights group Amnesty International.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo, meanwhile, has ordered police to shoot drug dealers if they resisted arrest, raising concerns that his government was emulating Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly war on drugs.
About 100,000 police personnel will be deployed to provide security during the Asian Games so they can unfold smoothly, officials said.
Meanwhile, the Jakarta-based Legal Aid Institute (LAI) said it was advocating for relatives of the victims of police shootings, and urged them to come forward.
So far the institute had received verbal complaints from the families of two slain suspects, according to LAI lawyer Shaleh Al Ghifari.
“We believe more are coming,” Shaleh said.