Indonesian police escort drug suspects (in orange) at a press conference at the regional police headquarters in Banda Aceh on Feb. 11. (Photo: Chaideer Mahyuddin/AFP)
A human rights group in Indonesia has called for changes to provisions in the criminal code dealing with detaining suspects following more than 100 reported cases of police abuses including torture against prisoners in custody.
According to an Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI) report, there were 103 reported rights violation cases between 2018 and 2020. Abuses included physical and psychological torture and illegal detention, it said.
One recent case was that of a 39-year-old suspected thief who died in Balikpapan police station in East Kalimantan province on Dec. 3, a day after he was arrested. His body showed signs of him having been beaten.
"The general pattern that occurs is that arrest and detention serve as a means of punishment before a verdict in court," said Aditia Bagus Santoso, a YLBHI researcher.
Fatia Maulidiyanti, coordinator of the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS), said violations such as torture "are cruel practices that are a legacy of the authoritarian era [under former presidents Sukarno and Suharto] which should have been abandoned by now.”
She said a sense of impunity is still one of the factors that allow such mistreatment to continue, adding that the legal process is not transparent when it comes to police officers who commit violations.
"Rarely are there cases that are brought to court which can actually be used to try and improve matters," she said.
The YLBHI called for a revision of the Criminal Procedure Code, including changing the length of detention and provide stricter penalties against officers who commit offenses.
It also demanded the establishment of an independent police oversight body that has the power to enforce mandatory recommendations.
Azas Tigor Nainggolan, a lawyer with the Indonesian bishops' Advocacy and Human Rights Forum, said the report shows there is a serious problem among police personnel.
"Human rights are not an important concern in how some police go about their duties," he told UCA News.
The use of torture to force a suspect to confess to a crime also shows how inadequate some police are as modern policing around the world shows us there are other methods that can be used when investigating, without resorting to violence.
Responding to the criticism, police spokesman Argo Yuwono said the force was "committed to taking firm action against officers who commit violations."