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Indonesia: Police torture and bribery with impunity exposed in new report

A new report released today (24 June) from Amnesty International reveals a pattern of widespread torture, sexual abuse and exploitation and ill treatment of suspects during arrests, interrogation and detention in Indonesia. The report provides details of numerous cases of excessive force being used against suspects, sometimes leading to fatal shootings. These abuses are rooted in a culture of impunity and the perpetrators are rarely brought to justice.

The report, Unfinished Business: Police Accountability in Indonesia, highlights abuses carried out by Indonesian police against criminal suspects and poor and marginalised communities such as repeat offenders, drug users and sex workers.

Donna Guest, Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific Deputy Director, said:

“This report shows how widespread the culture of abuse is among the Indonesian police force. The police’s primary role is to enforce the law and protect human rights, yet all too often many police officers behave as if they are above the law.

“At a time when the government of Indonesia and senior police figures have made the commitment to enhance trust between the police and the community, the message is not being translated into practical steps on the ground. Too many victims are left without access to real justice and reparations, thus fuelling a climate of mistrust towards the police.”

Amnesty International spoke to scores of victims of abuse and others including police officials, lawyers and human rights groups in Indonesia over the last two years. The organisation found that drug users, repeat offenders and Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights including sex workers were particularly vulnerable to abuse. Many of those interviewed said police officers attempted to extract bribes from them in return for better treatment or a reduction in sentencing.

The report contains detailed testimony from scores of people who suffered at the hands of the police:

Dita, a 21-year-old sex worker, was arrested in December 2006. Dita told Amnesty International how she was threatened with sexual abuse and faced intimidation at the time of her arrest: “I was arrested with five or six other prostitutes. On the way to Polres [District Police station] East Jakarta, they were grabbing me and touching me saying, you’re so young, why aren’t you in school, you know that kind of stuff. When we got to the station, they gave us a choice. They said we could get off if we paid one million rupiah [96 USD] or if we had sex with them. Three of the girls agreed to have sex with them. I point blank refused to do either. Our pimps have paid them enough already.”

Sofyan, an 18 year old, arrested for murder in January 2007 told Amnesty International: “At 2am we got to Polres [District Police Station]. I was taken to the head of the unit for interrogation. There, ten men beat me for an hour with their batons, “where is your friend?” they asked. My three front teeth had cracked and I was bleeding. I was exhausted…Every time I said something, I was hit. I was handcuffed, standing, to the trellis above, and couldn’t sleep for a whole night. For the first four days I was hit over and over again…Once, the buser [Police support staff for the Criminal Investigation Division] asked me, how is it here, and I said, I’m scared of being beaten. He said, you should be killed, not just hit…”.

Denni, a 28-year-old heroin addict, was arrested in Central Jakarta in December 2005 as he made a purchase from his dealer in the marketplace. Police tied him up and beat his shins with a block of wood. Denni told Amnesty International what happened at the time of arrest: “Confess!’ they [police officers] said, ‘Confess!’ But the buser [support police officer from the Criminal Investigation Division], who seemed to have a higher job position, said ‘enough of this, just take him to the station’. I was taken to the highway. But we didn’t get into a police car. We went in a cab. As the cab drove, they bargained with me. ‘Hey can you get us 40 million [3858 USD] tonight? If you can get the 40, I’ll let you go’. I said, ‘I don’t have any money, I don’t have anything like that’. He said, ‘Ok, you tell us a friend who is also a user, but pick someone with some money, someone who can provide us with some cash. Do you know someone like that?’ I said, ‘it’s midnight, how do I find someone like that? I don’t know anyone like that’. They said, ‘Ok. Fine’. And then they started to beat me. ‘Then you are going to die’, he yelled. You are going to die’.

Amnesty International’s report acknowledges the changes the government of Indonesia has introduced to regulate police conduct and to introduce greater accountability in police codes and practices, but these changes have failed to stamp out cases of physical abuse and intimidation.

The report outlines how internal disciplinary mechanisms set up by the police are unable to deal effectively with complaints about police abuse. Victims usually do not know where to report abuses and are vulnerable to further abuse if they make a complaint directly to the police. The report also illustrates how current external police oversight bodies do not have the adequate power to bring to justice those responsible for abuse.

Amnesty calls on the government of Indonesia to acknowledge publicly that police abuse is widespread and initiate prompt, impartial and effective investigations into every credible report. Those found responsible must be brought to justice and victims granted reparations. In order to make these changes, the government should review the internal system for submitting and processing complaints of police abuse to ensure that investigations into police misconduct are prompt, impartial and independent. Furthermore they should establish an independent police complaints mechanism to receive and deal with complaints from the public.

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