Anita Rachman & Carla Isati Octama
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Friday said that the increasing acts of thuggery and gangster behavior around the country were a byproduct of the reform era that posed a threat to democracy.
“Recently, acts of violence, people taking the law into their own hands, even thuggery, have emerged,” he told the national meeting of the Communication Forum for Children of Retired Police and Military Officers (GM FKPPI) in Jakarta.
In the past two weeks, groups of thugs in Indonesian have carried out a series of violence acts, brawls and killings.
On Thursday, a group of mourners at Gatot Subroto Army Hospital in Central Jakarta were attacked by members of a rival gang. Two people were killed.
Several days before, in Bali’s Kerobokan Prison, an inmate was stabbed by rival gang members, setting off a series of riots there.
In Wamena, Papua, two rival groups attacked each other, killing a soldier who tried to separate them. It was just the latest conflict in the province, where this year alone dozens have been killed from similar incidents.
Yudhoyono said that after 10 years of reform and democratization, misuse of freedom in the country was rampant.
“We see social disorder, violence and the overemphasizing of rights over duty,” he said, adding: “Let’s make sure we use our freedom and rights with obedience, appropriately.”
However, Anton Medan, a former preman (thug), told the Jakarta Globe rampant thuggery existed because the police did not take necessary action against gang members.
He said the police, the city administration and the central government were reluctant to crack down on them because they were politically useful.
“They join hand in hand with candidates during [political] rallies,” Anton said.
The current situation was different from the New Order era, when no thug organization dared roam the country or take the law on its own hands, he said.
“The police and the military officers [would have beaten] you and even shot you in a broad daylight just like that,” Anton said.
Former President Suharto’s no-compromise approach against thugs and mass organizations, especially Islam-based groups, was seen as an effective deterrent against street crime and thuggery, though it resulted in many deaths.
At the height of the mysterious Petrus Killings in the 1980s, dead bodies believed to be gang members’ were found lying on streets or floating in rivers almost daily.
National Police Chief Gen. Timur Pradopo said he would evaluate informal organizations that provide protection services. “We will see if these organizations break any laws,” he said.
Mass organizations such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), the Betawi Brotherhood Forum (FBR) and Youth and Betawi Communications Forum (Forkabi) offer protection for money and allegedly can be hired to mobilize members for demonstrations.
Additional reporting by Ronna Nirmala & Bayu Marhaenjati