Legislators and civil society leaders are urging Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to order an independent evaluation of the country’s anti-terrorism police force after a man died in its custody earlier this month.
“The Standard Operating Procedure of Densus has to be improved,” House of Representatives member Asrul Sani told BenarNews.
“If not, incidents like what happened to Siyono can be repeated in the future,” the legislator said, naming the suspected militant who died three days after being picked up by Densus 88 on March 8.
“The president has to act. Otherwise brutal behavior by Densus will continue,” agreed Teguh Juwarno, a leader of the National Mandate Party (PAN). “Densus is often out of control. As an institution that reports directly to the president, it’s up to the president to fix it,” he said.
A total of 121 suspects have died while in Densus 88 custody without judicial process since the elite anti-terror squad was formed in August 2004, according to Maneger Nasution of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM).
Maneger gave the figure at a press conference Friday (pictured) in Jakarta in which he appeared alongside members of a group called the Civil Society Coalition.
The theme of the event was “Seeking Justice for Suratmi,” the widow of the deceased man, a mother of five.
Police claim the 34-year-old resident of Central Java died after he attacked his guard in a police vehicle and a fight ensued.
National Police spokesman Anton Charliyan acknowledged that the unit did not follow proper procedures in handling Siyono, but said it did not cause his death.
Densus 88 has faced criticism in the past for excessive use of force and for not following proper procedure.
Most recently the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (KontraS) found several procedural violations in the December 2015 arrest of two individuals in Solo, Central Java.
Densus 88 did not file a report of the arrest or tell the men they had the right to legal representation. Before releasing the men, it asked them to sign a document stating that they were suspects.
“This shows that Densus sometimes arrests people without strong information” against them, KontraS coordinator Haris Azhar said.
“Therefore, the performance and work methods of Densus must be evaluated to ensure they comply with legal procedures,” he said.
Many of the critics calling for the evaluation say it should be performed by an independent body – an idea backed by the central leadership of the mass Muslim organization Muhammadiyah.
Busyro Muqoddas, chairman of legal affairs and human rights for Muhammadiyah, said formation of such a panel is absolutely necessary as the work of Densus 88 and even the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) is far from professional.
“The president must immediately and without delay establish an independent team,” media outlet Kompas quoted him as saying.
Beyond evaluating its performance, such an independent panel should also look into the origin of these two institutions – including whether their funding comes from foreign sources.
Financial oversight institutions “have to audit the finances of Densus and BNPT,” Busyro said.
Presidential spokesman Johan Budi told BenarNews that Jokowi had not yet been informed about the requests to review Densus 88.
“I haven’t heard that this has been officially communicated to the president. If it is, I will know the president’s view on it. This is just now emerging in media reports,” Johan said.
‘There is accountability’
BNPT did not immediately respond to requests from BenarNews seeking comment on the demands for an independent review of its work and funding.
Agus Rianto, a spokesman for the National Police, denied allegations that Densus 88 is not professional in its work.
All police agencies and bodies follow clearly defined procedures, he said.
“All [requirements] are met and there is accountability,” he said.
“Regarding our funding, every year we are audited by the Board of Audits (BPK). All police funding is clear, including [for] Densus. Densus is part of the police,” he said.
But the police will not stand in the way of people who are unhappy with their work, he added. The force has an unit that oversees its professionalism, called Propam.
"We have Propam. Please report anything along with strong evidence,” he said.
Tia Asmara contributed to this reported.