The 2018 Asian Games forced Jakarta to get its shit together fast, from clearing traffic to upgrading its infrastructure. But the mysterious killings of alleged criminals in the hands of the Jakarta police in the last few weeks are raising concerns that the city has taken things too far in order to combat crimes ahead of the Games.
Between July and August, the Jakarta police department conducted a public safety operation where it fatally shot at least 15 individuals believed to be a part of motorbike gangs that commit violent thefts—a crime locally called begal. The police have denied committing extrajudicial killings—it’s just protocol, they told local media. Human rights activists, including Shaleh Al Ghifari from the Jakarta Legal Aid (LBH), disagree.
“Under the firearms usage regulations, police officers aren’t allowed to shoot to kill,” Ghifari said. “They were supposed to only give warning shots and or shots to injure the suspects. But based on the reports, suspects weren’t just shot in the arms or legs, but the chest and back.”
We can't deny that big cities in Indonesia have a serious begal problem. In January 2015 alone, the Jakarta police recorded 80 cases where victims were robbed at knifepoint and even murdered by various motorbike gangs. In Bandung, 209 cases were reported in 2016. In Makassar, one man had committed at least 50 begal crimes and killed five of his victims before he was caught. But Ghifari said that the police shootings in the last month were outrageous and unjustified, since those who died weren’t given a fair trial. The LBH has opened a complaint post for victims of the operations and their families but many are reluctant to come forward, Ghifari said.
There are many irregularities surrounding the deaths of the motorbike gang members as shown in a report published on Koran Tempo. A man identified as Dedi, for example, was among the 700 individuals arrested in the July. According to a witness, Dedi didn’t resist the arrest. But the next day, his family was told that the police had no choice but to fatally shot the Central Jakarta resident for resisting arrest.
Post-mortem reports of the victims show that 15 men had gunshot wounds on their chest and back but none on their legs or arms, suggesting that the police never intended to shoot to wound their targets.
Usman Hamid, the executive director at Amnesty International Indonesia said that the preparation for the Asian Games shouldn't have been an excuse to disregard human rights.
"The number of deaths shows the use of unnecessary violence,” Usman said. “This sort of impunity actually tarnishes the law enforcement's credibility."
Human rights activists are comparing the motorbike gang shootings to the Petrus killings—the extrajudicial shootings of street thugs that took place from 1982 to 1985 during the New Order. The death toll from the killings remains a mystery, and the killings did bring the crime rate down temporarily—but they sure didn't make the streets any safer.
This method of violent methods against street thugs and motorbike gang members basically does nothing to solve crime rates, said Andreas Harsono from Human Rights Watch. If anything, it creates another problem.
“We need to learn from the past, from the mysterious shootings in the 80s,” Andreas said. “Crimes won’t go away and after the Asian Games wraps up, the street thugs will just show up again.”