For years, tens of 1000’s of Indonesians have faced off against a police force that many say is corrupt, uses brute force to suppress crowds and is accountable to nobody.
Within the capital, Jakarta, the police shot and killed 10 people while protesters were campaigning against President Joko Widodo’s re-election in 2019. The following yr, officers beat a whole lot of individuals across 15 provinces with batons as they protested a recent law. And within the northern city of Ternate in April, officers fired tear gas at a crowd of peaceful student demonstrators, sickening three toddlers.
The world caught a glimpse of those tactics on Saturday, when riot officers in town of Malang beat soccer fans with sticks and shields and, all of sudden, sprayed tear gas at tens of 1000’s of spectators crowded in a stadium. The police force’s methods set off a stampede that culminated within the deaths of 125 people — considered one of the worst disasters within the history of the game.
Experts said the tragedy laid bare the systemic problems confronting the police, lots of whom are poorly trained in crowd control and highly militarized. In nearly all instances, analysts say, they’ve never had to reply for missteps.
“To me, this is totally a function of the failure of police reform in Indonesia,” said Jacqui Baker, a political economist at Murdoch University in Perth in Australia, who studies policing in Indonesia.
For greater than 20 years, rights activists and the federal government’s ombudsman have conducted inquiries into the actions of the Indonesian police. These reports, based on Ms. Baker, have often made their approach to the chief of police, but to little or no effect.
“Why can we proceed to be faced with impunity?” she said. “Because there’s zero political interest in really bringing about knowledgeable police force.”
After the violence on Saturday, many Indonesians took to Twitter to call for the national police chief to be fired. And, as of Monday night, near 16,000 people had signed a petition calling for the police to stop using tear gas. The federal government hurried to quell public anger, suspending the police chief in Malang and pledging to announce the names of the suspects answerable for the tragedy inside days.
The police in Indonesia were never this formidable or this violent. In the course of the three-decade rule of the dictator Suharto, it was the military that was viewed as all powerful. But after his fall in 1998, as a part of a series of reforms, the federal government assigned responsibility for internal security to the police, giving the force enormous power.
In lots of instances, law enforcement officials have the ultimate say on whether a case needs to be prosecuted. Accepting bribes is common, analysts say. And any accusation of police misconduct is left entirely to top officials to research. More often than not, rights groups say, they don’t.
Wirya Adiwena, deputy director of Amnesty International Indonesia, said there “almost never has been” any trial over the excessive use of police force except in 2019, when two students were killed on Sulawesi Island during protests.
Opinion polls have shown a pointy decline in public trust toward the police — dropping to 54.2 percent in August 2022 from 71.6 percent in April that yr after reports emerged that a two-star police general had killed his subordinate and instructed other officers to cover it up.
The shortage of police accountability has coincided with a ballooning budget. This yr, the national police budget stands at $7.2 billion, greater than double the figure in 2013. By share, its budget is the third-largest amongst all government ministries within the country, exceeding the quantity given to the education and health ministries.
Much of that cash has been spent on tear gas, batons and gas masks. Andri Prasetiyo, a finance and policy researcher who has analyzed years of presidency procurement data, said that previously decade, the national police have spent about $217.3 million to obtain helmets, shields, tactical vehicles and other implements deployed during protests.
The acquisition of tear gas spiked in 2017 to $21.7 million, based on Mr. Andri, after Jakarta was rocked by a series of protests involving tens of 1000’s of Indonesians who demanded that town’s first Chinese Christian governor in many years be jailed for blasphemy.
Experts on policing say that 2019 was a turning point within the police force’s use of tear gas. In May of that yr, officers clashed with demonstrators as protests over the presidential election devolved into violence, leading to deaths, a few of them involving teenagers.
Rivanlee Anandar, the deputy coordinator of the rights watchdog the Commission for Missing Individuals and Victims of Violence, says that there was no “follow-up and investigation” into the deaths. He has visited the families of 5 victims and says that an autopsy was performed in just one case, and that family has not learned the outcomes.
“We don’t know who the perpetrators are until today,” he said.
The prevalent use of tear gas by the police has transcended geography. When faced with mass demonstrations, officers from Jakarta to Kalimantan have consistently reached for the chemical to subdue protesters. The budget for tear gas munitions, which had dropped after the 2017 allocation, soared again in 2020 to $14.8 million, a sixfold increase from the previous yr, Mr. Andri said.
That yr, the police deployed tear gas in crowds protesting against coronavirus measures. Later in 2020, they used it again to disperse throngs demonstrating against a sweeping recent law that slashed protections for staff and the environment. Amnesty International Indonesia said it had documented at the very least 411 victims of excessive police force in 15 provinces during those protests.
“It’s develop into more of a pattern now,” said Sana Jaffrey, the director of the Institute for Policy Evaluation of Conflict in Jakarta.
Ms. Jaffrey says that the police budget over time has been allocated to handle many recent demonstrations, but that “the nuts and bolts and the each day grass-roots work of the police has been ignored.”
In January this yr, the national police spent almost $3.3 million to purchase batons specifically for officers within the East Java Province, the situation of Malang, based on Mr. Andri.
In anticipation of violence at soccer matches, many law enforcement officials turn up decked out in helmets, vests and shields, and armed with batons. Some fan clubs have commanders who engage in physical training to arrange for fights. Several teams arrive at matches in armored personnel carriers.
Still, experts said they were shocked on the police force’s chaotic response on the stadium on Saturday, provided that soccer violence is common within the country — with frequent brawls between fans of rival clubs — and that the police must have a playbook for any unrest.
In 2018, riot police fired tear gas within the Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang when violence broke out during a match involving the house team, Arema. A 16-year-old boy died days later. There have been no reports of whether there was an investigation into his death or how the police had handled the riots.
Now, the authorities plan to research what went incorrect on Saturday, when 1000’s of supporters gathered in Malang to see Arema host Persebaya Surabaya. After Arema suffered a surprising defeat, 3-2, some fans ran onto the sphere. The police then unleashed a wave of violence and fired tear gas, witnesses said.
The chief security minister said that officers suspected of wrongful violence on the stadium would face criminal charges.
On Sunday, the police chief of East Java, Inspector General Nico Afinta, said that the police had taken actions that were in accordance with their procedures. He said that tear gas had been deployed “because there was anarchy,” and that fans “were about to attack the officers and had damaged the cars.”
In an indication that the Malang Police Department had tried to anticipate the violence, it asked organizers to maneuver the match to three:30 p.m. “for security considerations,” based on a letter that was circulated online and whose contents were confirmed by the East Java Province police with The Latest York Times. An earlier time slot, the pondering went, would make the event more family-friendly. However the police request was rejected. The organizers couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on Monday.
Many rights activists say that to enhance law enforcement tactics, they’ve consistently made these recommendations to the police: Don’t immediately reach for the tear gas; don’t swing batons at people on first instinct; understand learn how to control crowds; de-escalate conflict.
“The usual operating procedure shouldn’t be that the police jumps from zero to 100,” said Mr. Wirya, of Amnesty International Indonesia.
Dera Menra Sijabat contributed reporting.