Justice for Josua Hutabarat. Part I: My good boy…

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A 40th day vigil for Brigadier Josua Hutabarat. Photo credit: Hendra/IO

IO – A crowd had gathered at the Plaza TIM in front of Taman Ismail Marzuki arts centre in central Jakarta for the 40-day commemoration of his death with an event called ‘Lighting 4000 Candles for Josua.’ It would not have been a Batak commemoration without singing and the band began by singing a Batak song, ‘Anakku Na Burju’. Na Burju means ‘good or generous-hearted’ and the song roughly translates as ‘My Good Boy’ and by all accounts Josua Hutabarat was a good and generous-hearted boy.

He was amongst the top of his class at the Jambi National Police School and after graduating he joined the Brimob or the police’s mobile brigade. His parents say they had no money to give him as he left home; all they had for him to take along was a Bible. He soon also began studying part –time for a law degree at the Open University. Later, an opportunity arose to apply to be an aide or adjutant to the highest ranking police officers and Josua applied, and was assigned to police General Ferdy Sambo, as an aide. The General had altogether eight adjutants. At the age of 28, police Brigadier Nofryansah Josua Hutabarat was murdered (The rank of brigadier in the Indonesian police force is roughly equivalent to that of a corporal in the army).

People remember Josua as a very modest person and easy to get along with. He looked after his younger brother, Reza who admired him in the way that only a younger brother can – and followed him into the police force. Josua loved his brother and his family, and sent small videos or photographs nearly every day sharing the events of his day and thereby regularly updating his family in Jambi. His parents still have a video that he sent them where he carries a birthday cake, singing happy birthday to his brother whose face has utter delight written all over it. The last WhatsApp message about Josua from General Sambo’s wife, Ibu Putri Candrawathi  to Josua’s brother Reza has a photograph of Josua helping to iron her children’s clothes where she comments, “Look, what a good lad he is. You should be here helping him.”

The Hutabarats are a Batak family with four children who had migrated to Jambi, South Sumatra.  Josua was born in Muara Jambi and raised in the village of Desa Suka Makmur – a village that is still not easy to reach today. His parents Samuel Hutabarat and Rosti Simanjuntak live there. Rosti Hutabarat is a school teacher at the Sungei Bahar Primary School and she saw to it that all her children received higher education. Her sons became policemen and her two daughters became civil servants. Despite very little money, she managed to educate all her children and see to it that they had good jobs, so they could be independent. Josua’s girlfriend, Vera who is a Simanjuntak like his mother, had waited eight years for him. They planned to marry seven months after his graduation from the Open University when he would have risen in rank. She is a midwife in Jambi. Josua was scheduled to graduate on the 23rd of August and his parents planned to come to Jakarta to attend their son’s graduation ceremony.

But something very horrible …something terrible happened to that good boy.

On the 8th of July 2022 Joshua Hutabarat was killed. His family in Jambi were informed that he had been killed in a shoot-out with Bharada Richard Eliezer, another lower ranking aide to General Sambo. They were told that the shoot-out occurred because Josua had tried to sexually molest General Sambo’s wife, Putri Candrawathi. The police autopsy report said that he had died of gunshot wounds to the back of his head and his chest. He was shot five times. The police delivered Josua’s body in a sealed white coffin with instructions to his family in Jambi that they were forbidden to open the casket.

‘Do not kill’ is a good rule. To this perhaps should be added, ‘And never kill a Batak’ – because someone in their clan will find you and ensure that justice is done – and they will be relentless and fearless in doing so. And that is exactly what happened with Josua. His father is a Hutabarat and his mother is a Simanjuntak and two prominent members of both these Batak clans have stood up and are fighting hard for him. They demand justice for Josua – and the Indonesian nation apparently, agrees with them.

Irma Hutabarat at 40th day vigil for Josua. Photo credit: Hendra/IO

In 1999, Irma Hutabarat was the campaign coordinator for Indonesia Corruption Watch or ICW and in 2000 she became the leader of the national consultants who under an ADB and Ministry of Law project set up Indonesia’s Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi or Anti-Corruption Commission, usually known as the KPK. She was the presenter for the first political talk show ever on Indonesian television i.e. ‘Today’s Dialogue’ on Metro TV. This was followed by political talk shows presented by her on other Indonesian television stations. She is also a Hutabarat and although she had never heard of him or his family before this, Josua Hutabarat was a member of her clan.

Irma viewed Joshua as millions of other Indonesian mothers did. She saw him as a son. “How can a mother bury her son without seeing him and bidding him farewell for the last time?” Irma asked. “When I heard that the police had forbidden the family to open the casket, I immediately sensed that something was wrong, and that there had been an abuse of human rights.”

Joshua’s family felt the same and insisted on opening his coffin, refusing to sign the form stating that they had received his body. In front of their neighbours and the police who had delivered his casket, they opened the coffin and videoed what they found. Their son had been shot five times, but there were also what looked like multiple cuts, bruises and wounds on his face and body. It looked as though Josua had been beaten before he was shot. Public reaction to the news was enormous. If there had been a shoot-out with another aide, how was it that Josua had been hit five times and the other adjutant, not at all? The public was told that the other aide, Richard Eliezer was a sharp shooter but this turned out to be untrue. Eliezer had just begun serving as a policeman. He was of the lowest rank. In fact, the sharp shooter was Josua. The family insisted on a new autopsy. (A second autopsy appears to confirm the findings of the first autopsy and the family although unhappy with the results have now said that they will accept those findings).

“In Batak tradition there is a ceremony called mangandungi where the mother will sit beside her child’s coffin and weep and mourn for him. She will speak of his life from when she carried him in her womb, through his childhood, as he grew up to his time as an adult. She will recite her memories of him and remind us of his whole life,” explained Irma. “I watched Josua’s mother on television and social media and I was devastated seeing and listening to her. It was so painful.”

There were tears in Irma’s eyes as she described Rosti Simanjuntak Hutabarat sitting beside her son’s coffin with her arms spread out as though to embrace him and how she cried, “My son, my son…my good boy… I cannot bear… I cannot bear … that I could not help you as they did this to you… You were the guiding star for your brother who followed in your footsteps to become a policeman… Are we not a free and independent nation? How can it be that our people can still be treated like this?”

Irma Hutabarat with Josua’s parents, Rosti Simanjuntak and Samuel Hutabarat, Photo courtesy of Irma Hutabarat

It was not just Irma Hutabarat who was moved by Josua Hutabarat’s fate and his mother’s tears but mothers all over Indonesia – and not just mothers. Ordinary people felt outraged. He was a good boy from the provinces following the Indonesian dream of elevating himself to a better life. Josua’s story was all over the main line media and social media was swamped with videos about his case and discussions with experts and people who had known him.

Comments poured in from netizens all over Indonesia criticizing the police. On social media a video appeared showing traffic halted as five or six trucks filled with police personnel passed along the road. Motor-cyclist raised their fists and shouted angrily at the police, “Sambo, Sambo!” In North Sumatra which is the home state of the Batak clans, masses gathered at the headquarters of the Kapolda Sumut or Chief of the North Sumatran Police, demanding that the National Head of Police, General Listyo Sigit Prabowo and Indonesian President Joko Widodo find the mastermind behind the murder of police Brigadier Josua Hutabarat and that they not accept at face value the arrest and murder charges against Richard Eliezer. Unlike other countries, where the police is under the jurisdiction of the Minister of the Interior or the Ministry of Law, in Indonesia the police is directly under the authority of the President who is advised by the Komisi Kepolisian Nasional (abbreviated to KOMPOLNAS) or National Police Commission. In the Commission sit amongst others the Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs, the Minister of the Interior and the Minister for Legal and Human Rights Affairs.

At first, the police only appeared to investigate the complaint against Josua. He was named as the primary suspect in the sexual harassment complaint, filled by General Sambo’s wife, Putri Candrawathi. “The police were investigating a dead man and they named a dead man as their primary suspect. So, the victim became the suspect. That seemed insane to me,” declared Irma and it was after this that Irma decided that she could no longer remain silent, and began to campaign for justice for Josua: beginning with a proper and thorough investigation of his murder rather than only the sexual harassment charges brought against him. (The police have since dropped the investigation into the sexual harassment/abuse complaint).

In Jakarta, Irma held a 30th day vigil for Joshua where 3000 candles were lit for him. His case had already garnered enormous attention both via the main-stream media as well as social media. Millions of Indonesians felt Irma’s indignation, revulsion and sadness. During her 30th day vigil Irma spoke passionately about justice for Josua. Videos of her went viral with more than 8 million views and a stream of television and other media interviewed her. Meanwhile, the Hutabarat clan did not just limit themselves to prayers but also began collecting donations for Josua’s cause. Irma flew to Jambi to meet with Josua’s family.

Kamarudin Hutabarat Photo credit: Hendra/IO

Beside Irma Hutabarat, another figure had emerged to fight for Josua. A courageous Batak lawyer named Kamaruddin Simanjuntak, stepped up to represent his clansman’s family in their quest for justice for Josua. Without charge he put together a team of lawyers to help Josua’s family find justice for their son. The well-spoken lawyer has not hesitated in speaking very directly not only about Josua’s case but about police abuse of the law. Later, when Irma held her second 40th day vigil for Josua, Simanjuntak pointed his finger firmly at the police by stating, “Josua’s death involved the police, men using police uniforms and weapons issued by the police. His murder was hidden by them for four days and they accused Josua of sexual misconduct and of waving a gun at Ibu Putri Candrawathi… Their involvement is at the level of the highest ranks and there are policemen who have told me that they are afraid. They say that there are three factions within the police force now: Those who are trying to cover-up the truth, those who want transparency and those who want to blame the lower ranks in the force and let them take the punishment for what happened…”

President Joko Widodo told the press that he had asked the police to be transparent and find out what happened. He asked that there be no-cover-ups. First, Richard Eliezer was arrested after admitting to having shot Josua but later, three other suspects were arrested including General Sambo who admitted to firing the shots that killed Josua. So far however, it has remained unclear what the motive was for killing Josua. All sorts of rumours from a love affair between Josua and Ibu Putri, to Josua discovering and threatening to reveal police involvement in online gambling, narcotics and money laundering have been in circulation. No motive has yet been proven. The police have said that they are having difficulty finding out the truth as the suspects keep changing their stories. (Although recently, both the head of the Indonesian National Police as well as the Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs have hinted to parliament that the motive was sexual, refusing however, to provide any further details in an ongoing investigation.)

Justice for Josua posters at the vigil. Photo credit: Hendra/IO

During the 40th day vigil on the 18th of August, in front of dozens of television cameras and videoing netizens, both Irma Hutabarat and Kamaruddin Simanjuntak asked for the same thing. They said that Ibu Putri Candrawathi had filed sexual misconduct charges against Josua Hutabarat and that she knew what had truly happened. She was now refusing to speak to the police investigators or to be examined by outside psychiatrists after claiming to be too traumatized and depressed be able to speak to anyone. They said that the police should not accept this and that she was in fact a suspect in Josua’s murder.

The next day, on the 19th of August the police declared Ibu Putri Candrawathi a suspect in the pre-meditated murder of Brigadier Nofryansah Josua Hutabarat. They said that they had found a copy of what had been thought to be a destroyed CCTV recording that appears to implicate Ibu Putri Candrawathi in Josua’s muder. Currently, the Criminal Investigation Division of the police or Bareskrim are investigating 83 members of the police for involvement in Josua Hutabarat’s murder.  Fifteen members of the police have been arrested for involvement in the murder and thirty-five are being held for further investigation. (Tamalia Alisjahbana)

If you enjoyed this article you may like to read more about Josua Hutabarat by the same writer in:
Part II: https://observerid.com/justice-for-josua-hutabarat-part-ii-police-reform/