Rights group: Child torture by Indonesian police rose threefold in a year

KontraS report on abuses comes amid national furor over 13-year-old’s death this month allegedly due to police beating.
Arie Firdaus and Tria Dianti
2024.06.28
Jakarta
Rights group: Child torture by Indonesian police rose threefold in a year Indonesian children watch a carnival parade to mark the 492nd anniversary of the capital city, in Jakarta, June 30, 2019.
[Adek Berry/AFP]

Cases linked to the alleged “torture” of children by Indonesian law enforcement agencies rose threefold from June 2023 to May 2024 compared with the previous year, as authorities stepped up their battle against illegal drugs, a new report says. 

KontraS, the organization that released the report on Wednesday – the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture – defines torture as any act intentionally inflicting severe pain or suffering that authorities often use to extract confessions. 

The group issued its report amid a furor over a 13-year-old boy’s death this month in West Sumatra, allegedly due to a police beating, a claim the province’s police chief denied.

A “new and increasing phenomenon,” is how Helmy Hidayat Mahendra of KontraS’ research division described the rise in cases of child abuse. KontraS stands for the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence.

“Violence is no longer just targeting adults,” he said.

KontraS documented 14 cases of what it calls torture of children between June 2023 and May 2024, which is triple the number from the previous 12 months. The reported cases likely represent a fraction of the actual number of incidents, as many go unreported because of fear of reprisals or lack of trust in the authorities, Helmy said.

Indonesian law enforcement agencies have for long been accused of human rights abuses, and the report raises fresh concerns about a persistent culture of violence within the country’s security apparatus.

In addition to angering Indonesians, the case has reignited discussions about the need for police reform and greater oversight of law enforcement agencies in the country.

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The parents of 13-year-old Afif Maulana, who was allegedly beaten to death by police, hold a photograph of him. [Courtesy Padang Legal Aid Institute]

KontraS attributed the rise in child torture cases, in part, to the intensified “war” on drugs, which it said often violated human rights. 

For instance, one case involved a 16-year-old boy, identified as I.K., who was allegedly beaten and threatened with a gun by police to confess he was a drug courier, the KontraS report said.

Another case, which was not mentioned in the report, was the death of Afif Maulana, a 13-year-old whose body was found under a bridge on June 9 with multiple injuries.

Earlier this week, an official at the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), Hari Kurniawan, said his agency was investigating the case.

“Afif’s death was unnatural, and we suspect unlawful actions by the police,” The Jakarta Post quoted him as saying on Tuesday.

“We ask the West Sumatra police and the Padang City Police to be transparent and open, and to prioritize the principle of fair trial in the context of investigating the alleged death of one student and the alleged torture of eight others,” Hari told reporters then.

Police are also investigating the boy’s death.

According to the Komnas official, an NGO report said that Afif was allegedly beaten by police officers and suffered bruises and five broken ribs.

Inspector General Suharyono, the West Sumatra police chief, denied these allegations, saying that Afif had jumped into a river during an attempt by officers to stop a student fight on the street. 

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Members of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (KontraS) appear at the Jakarta launch of the group’s report on torture and other forms of cruel and inhuman treatment in Indonesia, 26 June 2024. [Courtesy of KontraS]

Suharyono, who goes by one name, cited a statement from a friend of Afif’s who was also involved in the street fight.

“He tried to jump from the motorcycle into the river,” CNN Indonesia quoted Suharyono as saying by CNN Indonesia on June 24.

National police spokesman Brig. Gen Trunoyudo Wisnu declined to comment on the KontraS report, stating he had not read it yet. He urged against speculation on the Afif case, citing the ongoing investigation.

Police are the main perpetrators

Meanwhile, the overall number of torture cases also increased, the KontraS report said, to 60 from 54 the previous year with police officers being the primary perpetrators.

The report linked this rise to the growing number of nationally strategic infrastructure projects which, according to KontraS, have led to violence against communities, with the police force unwilling to supervise and enforce internal regulations.

For instance, in a report this month, Komnas HAM found that in the past three years, 1,675 human rights violations had occurred in connection with the project to build the new national capital on Borneo island. 

Darmadi, a Komnas HAM analyst who goes by a single name, said that law enforcement often enjoyed impunity by delaying investigations, fabricating alibis, or offering compensation to victims.

“We observe numerous instances where, if they don’t gain public attention, the inclination to shield the institution is very strong. They even go as far as fabricating cases,” Darmadi said at a press conference with KontraS on Wednesday.

“Impunity fosters the practice of torture,” Darmadi added, adding that Komnas had sent a team to West Sumatra to investigate Afif’s death.

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Police react at a rally during which supporters of rival presidential candidates Anies Baswedan and Prabowo Subianto throw stones at each other near the Constitutional Court in Jakarta, April 19, 2024. [Bay Ismoyo/AFP]

Three-quarters of the 78 torture cases in Indonesia that Amnesty International Indonesia documented involved police officers, the human rights watchdog said. 

Military personnel accounted for 11% of the cases and prison officers 1%, according to Amnesty.

The rights watchdog on Wednesday held a press conference attended by lawyers who represented the victims of alleged torture. The victims’ counsels shared accounts of their clients’ alleged abuse. 

Yan Mangandar Putra, a lawyer from Dompu on the island of Sumbawa, said six of his clients were subjected to violence by police officers who wanted to force confessions out of them. 

“The forms of torture vary. One suspect was beaten on the neck with bamboo, kicked, and electrocuted,” he said. 

“Another suspect, identified as H, was shot in the left calf, beaten in the face, and had his ears damaged to the point of deafness.” 

Benny Mamoto, chairman of the National Police Commission, which oversees the conduct of the force, acknowledged the issue of police violence, admitting it occurs at various stages of law enforcement, from arrest to interrogation and detention.

He cited factors such as resistance during arrest, intoxication, and pressure to obtain confessions as contributing to the problem.

Mamoto proposed prioritizing scientific investigations, creating a criminal data bank to reduce violence, and measures to deter officers from resorting to abuse.

“We should also prioritize CCTV, digital footprints, and encourage the use of body cameras by officers so they can clearly record incidents,” he said.

“Various forms of violence have been committed. This is our weakness.” 

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