1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

The Indonesian Police Face Charges of Torture

July 1, 2009

Indonesia's national police force has marked its 63rd anniversary. In a speech at the formal ceremony in Jakarta on Wednesday, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono praised the police's performance but fell short of mentioning anything related to recent concerns raised by rights groups over alleged abuses by the police. Last week, London-based rights group Amnesty International accused the Indonesian police force of torturing detainees.

Indonesia police force was formally separated from the military in 1999
Indonesia police force was formally separated from the military in 1999Image: AP

Amnesty International says its report is based on interviews with abuse victims, police officers and rights groups in Indonesia during the last two years. It says despite the government’s efforts to introduce some reforms in the police sector, the cases of torture and abuses by the police remain high. It says that during arrests, interrogation and detention, suspects are often subject to ill-treatment such as electric shocks, sexual assault and repeated beatings.

The most vulnerable groups are suspects living in poor communities, women, drug addicts and sex workers. Isabelle Arradon, from Amnesty International’s office in Jakarta, explains:

“We’ve learned that a lot of abuse is happening. Police officers often try to extort money from suspects. Sometimes they also force suspects to give them information or to confess a crime.”

No internal accountability

On Wednesday, the Jakarta Post daily, one of Indonesia’s largest English-language newspapers published an editorial entitled: "Police Terror”. Citing excerpts from Amnesty’s report, the article confirmed that most Indonesians feel terrified in the presence of the police and that police abuse and torture remain rampant in the country. Amnesty’s Isabelle Arradon questions the accountability of the police force:

“There is not much internal accountability; the police force is not disciplined enough to handle cases of police abuse and brutality. There are several commissions like Kompolnas (National Police Commission) and Komnas HAM (the National Human Rights Commission) who can accept complains but they don’t have the authority to do investigations.”

Following Amnesty’s criticisms, Indonesia’s national police chief recognised that there were some cases of abuse, though he insisted that the report was not entirely true. He also passed a decree to implement human rights standards in daily policing and assured the public that the police were working towards improvement.

Positive development

Jim Della-Giacoma of the International Crisis Group in Jakarta sees this all as a positive development for a police force which was part of the military until 1999.

“I was on the streets of Jakarta a decade ago reporting on the Indonesia police in my previous work as a journalist and I couldn’t have imagined the chief of police getting up and talking about human rights, as he did last week. In fact he also held up the Amnesty report and acknowledged that there was a lot of criticism in the report and that they needed to do a lot of work.”

Boosting internal mechanism

Amnesty has urged the authorities to establish an independent watchdog to investigate the allegations and bring the guilty to justice. Jim Della-Giacoma supports the calls:

“I think Amnesty has really made a solid recommendation for a much stronger independent body to investigate reports. But they at the same time acknowledge that there should be many layers of investigation and police should have at least primary responsibility for enforcing their own rules regarding human rights standards and enforcing their own discipline.”

With presidential elections due next week and amid predictions that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is running ahead of his rivals in the run-up to the polls, rights activists have been urging the Yudhoyuno administration to look into the matter more seriously and guarantee substantial reforms.

Author: Disha Uppal
Editor: Grahame Lucas