Oei Eng Goan
Alfred Hitchcock once directed a movie titled “The Wrong Man,” based on a true story of a man falsely accused of robbery and the tragedy he suffered as a result of this injustice. If Hitchcock were still alive today he would have ample material from Indonesia to make as many sequels as he pleased.
The Indonesian police make wrongful arrests time and again, putting the wrong people, mostly men from marginalized communities, behind bars and letting them languish in a state of hopelessness. These unfortunate souls regain their faith in the country’s judicial system only after they are helped by idealistic lawyers from the Legal Aid Foundation (LBH).
Last week a Central Jakarta court exonerated Hasan Basri, an ojek (motorcycle taxi) driver, on all charges. Hasan had been detained for six months for allegedly stealing several laptops and cell phones from a boarding house in Kemayoran last October.
Despite insisting upon his innocence, Hasan was arrested in November and made to confess under duress. The court acquitted him after Reza, another man tried for the same robbery, admitted that he did not know Hasan. “I’m happy with the verdict, but I hope my name may be rehabilitated and those guilty punished,” Hasan said.
Hasan’s lawyers, however, demanded that the arresting police officers and prosecutors make a public apology and compensate Hasan for what he had lost during his detention. “If our demands are not met, we’re going to file a lawsuit against officials at the Jakarta Administrative Court,” one of the lawyers said.
Another wrongful arrest took place in Surabaya, East Java, last week, which ended up with the death of the victim of injustice. That was Sugeng Riyadi, who was with his friend Erik Hermawan when the two were arrested and accused of drug trafficking.
Sugeng was so frightened when law enforcement officers barked questions at him that he collapsed and later died during the interrogation at the police station, according to Erik, who claimed the arrest was made without proper legal procedure and that the accusation was switched from drug trafficking to auto theft.
More than just a public apology, Sugeng’s family and lawyer demanded Rp 100 billion ($10.6 million) in compensation from the Sukomanunggal Police precinct in Surabaya. The wife of the deceased has also filed a complaint to the East Java regional council regarding the police officers’ tyrannical behavior.
The two incidents showed how mistakes made by law enforcers gravely affected the lives of innocent families. Hasan’s wife had to take over his job to support their children while he was in detention, thereby neglecting her motherly duty to look after their small children. Sugeng’s wife said the family lost its main breadwinner.
The incidents may not reflect the overall performance of the National Police, but wrongful arrests show that many officers are not professional in carrying out their duty and simply try to meet the targets set by their superiors to reduce the number of unsolved crimes.
Officers who make wrongful arrests or use torture to force innocent people to confess to wrongdoings that they have never committed should be severely punished, slapped with something beyond a mere 21 days confinement or a delay in promotion, as commonly done by the National Police force.
Police brutality is prevalent in other countries, but it is never justified in any civilized country, as it is considered a gross violation of basic human rights. Hence, National Police Chief Gen. Timur Pradopo and his top brass should never hesitate to dishonorably discharge rouge police officers.
The police leadership should also lend their ears to public complaints of police brutality because people need the police. No country can survive without them, because professional and good police officers are supposed to be the country’s guardians of law and order.
Oei Eng Goan, a former literature lecture at National University (UNAS) in Jakarta, is a freelance journalist.