The widow of an Indonesian man who died in police custody after being arrested as a suspected militant wants an autopsy to be done on his remains, but neighbors in her home village are trying to block that.
Their resistance is so strong that people in the Central Java village of Pogung, where the woman’s late husband is buried, have threatened to expel her or any other residents who support her plan to dig up his remains in order to examine the body and determine a cause of death.
Disturbing the burial ground would disrupt the calm of communal life, which already has been disturbed because of national media attention focusing on the case, locals say.
Siyono, the woman’s 34-year-old husband and father of five, was buried in a local graveyard in the village in Klaten regency, five days after his arrest in the area by Densus 88, the Indonesian police’s counter-terrorist unit.
The authorities did not perform an autopsy but, at the time of his death, members of Siyono’s family said his body showed signs of torture.
“I just ask for my rights – this country is based on the rule of law,” his widow, Suratmi, told BenarNews.
“I was given the mandate to raise these five children, so I have to be tough. Moreover, my children often ask where their father is,” said Suratmi, who is being supported in her quest for justice by Muhammadiyah, one of the largest Islamic organizations in predominantly Muslim Indonesia.
Police suspected Siyono of being connected to a resurgent Jemaah Islamiyah, an extremist group linked with al-Qaeda that carried out the Bali bombings in 2002, which killed 202 people.
Siyono’s home province of Central Java also is where Indonesian authorities recently arrested some suspected radicals during a nationwide crackdown that followed the Jan. 14 terror attacks in Jakarta. Eight people, including four suspected militants, died in the attacks – the first act of terrorism claimed by Islamic State in Southeast Asia.
Locals push back
In Pogung this week, the village chief went to the house of Siyono’s older brother, Wagiyono, to read out a statement on the community’s behalf rejecting the widow’s call for an autopsy.
“I just accommodate the wishes of the community here,” Djoko Widoyo, the village chief, told reporters at his office.
Since Siyono’s burial on March 13, the community has seen an influx of reporters converging on the village to cover the story of his in-custody death.
“The arrival of people from the outside made locals fearful and traumatized,” Djoko said.
A day before reading out the statement to Wagiyono, Djoko claimed, he had met with Siyono’s brother and father who agreed not to disinter the body and perform an autopsy.
During that meeting, which was attended by other villagers, a majority of residents complained that an autopsy would further disturb the community’s peace.
In reading out the statement to Wagiyono on Wednesday, Djoko listed two conditions: the family could not have an autopsy performed within the village’s limits; and if the family was to dig up Siyono’s remains for an autopsy elsewhere, it could not re-bury his body in Pogung.
The statement also contained a warning: any resident of the village who supported the call for an autopsy would be expelled from Pogung.
“I [will] let this issue go through the legal process,” Wagiyono told reporters this week, withholding further comment.
In the meantime, police are guarding the neighborhood and volunteers from an Islamic organization are guarding Siyono’s house and his burial site.
‘We will bring justice to his family’
Although Suratmi and her family face the threat of being kicked out of their village, and the issue has divided the community, the widow’s call for an autopsy has the backing of the influential Muhammadiyah as well as the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM).
Suratmi on Tuesday met with Busyro Muqoddas, the chairman of Muhammadiyah, to discuss the case.
“Either Siyono is a terrorist or not, but he had been treated unfairly and we will bring justice to his family,” Dahnil Anzar Simanjuntak, chairman of Muhammadiyah’s youth wing, told journalists after a closed-door meeting with Siyono’s family on Wednesday.
“If Indonesia’s government cannot do it, we will look [for assistance] from the International Court,” Dahnil said, adding that Muhammadiyah was taking up Siyono’s case at the request of his widow and Komnas HAM.
He did not know when an autopsy would be performed, but Muhammadiyah and Komnas HAM have assembled a team of forensic doctors to conduct such an exam.
He said Muhammadiyah also was ready to provide Suratmi and her five children with shelter and to facilitate Siyono’s reburial outside the village, if necessary.
“We respect the locals, but we also respect the wishes of Suratmi to look for justice,” Dahnil said.
In other developments, Members of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (KontraS) revealed that their investigation into the case of Siyono’s found discrepancies.
According to Satrio Wirataru of KontraS, Densus 88 committed at least three violations when members of the anti-terror squad took Siyono into custody.
“There was no notification of the arrest, of the house searches and seizure when these occurred from March 8 to March 10,” Satrio said.
In addition, Siyono’s body looked like he had been tortured.
“There were bruises on his left eye, his legs were swollen and his toenails were broken," Satrio said.
On top of that, officials intimidated members of Siyono’s family, Satrio said, citing the example of how the dead man’s parents were asked to sign a waiver not to contest the official version of his death.
“According to his parents, there was no explanation [about] why Siyono arrested,” Satrio said.
KontraS plans to submit its findings into the case before Indonesia’s House of Representatives (DPR).
‘It was not engineered’
For its part, the national police deny that Densus 88 caused Siyono’s death.
However, National Police spokesman Anton Charliyan acknowledged in an interview that the police’s special force unit did not follow proper procedures in handling Siyono.
According to Anton, the suspect was in a car with a driver and only one Densus 88 officer guarding him. When he was released from handcuffs, Siyono tried to grab the officer’s weapon.
A fight ensued that resulted in Siyono’s death. During the altercation Siyono’s body hit the corner of the car, and the officer suffered cuts and bruises, Anton said.
“We regretted the incident, and it was not engineered,” Anton told BenarNews.
“We also did not get any benefit from his death, because now we lost the key information to the whereabouts of hundreds of weapons,” he added.
Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata and Tia Asmara, in Jakarta, contributed to this story.