Justice for Josua Hutabarat. Part II: Police Reform

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Indonesian Head of Police, Listyo Sigit Prabowo at a press conference regarding the Josua Hutabarat murder case. The case has implications for police reform. Photo credit: Republic of Indonesia National Police Headquarters, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

General (ret.) Agus Widjojo who formulated military reform for Indonesia says that the police have become untouchable and need to be placed under democratic authority.

IO – When talking about Josua Hutabarat, the 28-year old police adjutant whose murder was planned and carried out by his superior, police General Ferdy Sambo, Irma Hutabarat speaks not as a political activist but as a mother or an ibu-ibu, a term  used dismissively at times by Indonesian politicians and even television presenters for older women. However, they forget that it was the mothers of Russian soldiers who helped bring an end to the Russian War in Afghanistan and that it was Irish mothers who held a pivotal role in bringing about peace in Ireland.

Speaking on CNN Indonesia last Sunday, Irma who was one of the founders of the KPK or Indonesian Anti-Corruption Commission, pointed out once more the sort of person Josua Hutabarat was. “Of the four Hutabarat siblings, Josua was the oldest and the most responsible and conscientious. He never missed church or Sunday school. He obeyed his parents and loved his family in the little village of Desa Suka Makmur, Jambi, with whom he communicated daily by WhatsApp. He saved his money and followed his mother’s tradition – which is a Batak tradition of always pursuing education. In fact, it was not just Josua who was enrolled at the Open University but also his mother and three other siblings are studying there. He was a mama’s boy and that is why he also got on well with General Sambo’s wife, Putri Candrawathi who at one point telephoned Josua’s mother Rosti Simanjuntak and said to her, ‘You are the mother who gave birth to Josua. Allow me to be the mother who takes care of him while he is here,’ to which Rosti gladly agreed. It is extremely difficult to believe that such a lad would have sexually molested her.”

Josua’s father, Samuel Hutabarat close to tears displaying Josua’s degree. Photo courtesy of Irma Hutabarat

When Josua graduated posthumously last week, his father travelled from Suka Makmur to accept Josua’s law degree from the Open University. Rosti Simanjuntak was too distraught to attend, and their lawyer, Kamarudin Simanjuntak asked Irma to accompany Josua’s father, Samuel Simanjuntak. The Batak’s are a very expressive people and Samuel had created a song for his son, Josua. It is about his son’s death and the pain of losing a son. For the Bataks, the death of an oldest son before he could marry and have heirs, is the greatest loss. During the ceremony, the Batak song Na Burju or ‘My Good, Generous-Hearted Boy’ was played and there was barely a dry eye in the auditorium. Even the rector was seen wiping away tears.

Meanwhile, outside General Ferdy Sambo’s residence a lone supporter of the police general now in custody for the pre-meditated murder of his 28-year old adjutant, Brigadier Josua Hutabarat, had sent a floral arrangement. The board was covered in flowers and lettering stating support for General Sambo’s actions in defending the honour and dignity of his family. It stood outside the residence for some time before finally being removed.

Police General Ferdy Sambo has appealed his dishonourable dismissal by the Police Ethics Commission, last week. He apologized to the Ethics Commission for the disgrace he had brought the police but nevertheless, still insisted on appealing the decision. General Sambo has admitted to ordering and assisting in the murder of his 28-year old adjutant, Brigadier Josua Hutabarat and part of his argument for doing so appears to be that he was defending the honour and dignity of his family because Josua sexually molested his wife, Putri Candrawathi. Sambo apparently, argued that under the adat or customary law of the area of Sulawesi from where he originates, a man is entitled to kill anyone who sexually dishonours his wife, in order to defend the honour and dignity of his family.

This is an astounding defense from not only a policeman but one of the highest ranking officers in the internal investigations division of the Indonesian police. The police know full well that adat law does not apply in matters of criminal law, and Indonesia’s Criminal Code does not recognize honour killings. To do so, would be a step backward in the development of law and order in Indonesia.

Irma Hutabarat, one of the founders of the Indonesian Anti-Corruption Commission. Photo courtesy of Irma Hutabarat.

“If such an argument were acceptable under Indonesian law then it would also be acceptable for the Hutabarat clan to now kill General Sambo and his son in return, under Batak adat law. That makes no sense at all. It would simply create chaos and further violence in our society, declared Irma Hutabarat, a political activist who was once the campaign coordinator of Indonesia Corruption Watch. (Indonesia has over 300 tribal and ethnic groups most of which have their own adat laws)

“Frankly, I am amazed that such a high ranking police officer who has admitted to all the charges of the Police Ethics Commission and who claims to regret his actons and apologized for dishonouring the police force, would then waste tax-payers’ money by prolonging the proceedings of the Commission by appealing the decision with such an argument. This man clearly does not understand or does not care about the most basic tenets of policing in a democracy. It makes us question what the requirements of the police recruitment system are? Is there any psychological testing of police candidates?” demanded Irma Hutabarat passionately.

A further disturbing aspect of the case is that the police is now investigating 97 members of the police for involvement with the case mostly through obstruction of justice. A two star police general and two one-star police generals have been arrested for issuing orders to hide evidence of the crime committed by General Sambo and those assisting him. General Sambo has admitted to the pre-meditated murder of his young aid and this has been confirmed by several witnesses to the crime who helped General Sambo plan and carry out the execution-style murder.

Kamarudin Simanjuntak, lawyer for the family of Josua Hutabarat. Photo courtesy of Irma Hutabarat

Why would so many members of the police force participate in a cover-up of this scale? Kamarudin Simanjuntak, the Hutabarat family’s lawyer says that many policemen have told him that they were afraid of the consequences of not helping General Sambo. Why is that? There are several interesting facts that have emerged from the murder. The first is that according to Albertus Wahyurudhanto a member of the Kompolnas or National Police Commission which advises President Joko Widodo about police matters (for the police are directly under the President’s authority), the police found unaccounted for sums of money at the house that General Sambo gave his in-laws (the parents of his wife Putri Candrawathi). Presenter Aiman on Kompas TV (Misteri Bungker 900 Miliar Sambo – AIMAN. Premiered Aug 23, 2022 ) suggests that it was a very large sum (he even mentions the possibility of Rp 900 billion) which would be outside the means of people with the General and his in-laws’ official income. Secondly, the moment word of the General’s arrest hit the news all online gambling in Indonesia ceased. Thirdly, an amount of Rp 200 million was transferred from Brig. Josua’s account after his death.

Kamarudin Simanjuntak says that he was informed by credible sources that General Sambo was involved in online gambling, the sale of narcotics, money laundering and prostitution. The Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, Mafud MD who sits in the National Police Commission has referred to Sambo’s “(criminal) empire” and has said that when Sambo’s reason for murdering Josua Hutabarat comes out in court it is such that it would only be fit for the ears of adults. Presumably, what he means is that it would be shocking. Mulfachri Harahap, a member of parliamentary Komisi III or  Commission III, speaks of the internal depravity of the police reflected in the case against Ferdy Sambo.

The public will have to wait for the court trials of General Sambo and the four other persons arrested on suspicion of murder, assisting a murder and obstruction of justice – to know more of the full story of what truly happened. Nevertheless, there are certain aspects of the case that are already clear and that have a greater impact on Indonesia than simply one murder case.

Indonesia is the largest democracy as well as the most democratic nation in Southeast Asia. However, it is a flawed democracy. We have free elections every five years and we have a press that is free to criticize the government, the legislative body and the judiciary. In order to be a full and complete democracy however, there is one very important element that is still missing in Indonesia, and that is the rule of law which means well-functioning and transparent law enforcement agencies. Surveys indicate that the Indonesian public sees such law enforcement agencies namely, the courts, the public prosecutor’s office and the police as the most corrupt institutions in Indonesia.

After the fall of the Suharto government, the Indonesian military went through a massive reformation. General Agus Widjojo (ret.) is now the Indonesian Ambassador to the Philippines, but in the past held the posts of Chief of Staff (of the army) for Territorial Affairs, Military Assistant for General Planning and Deputy Speaker of the MPR or People’s Consultative Assembly. It was in these positions that General Agus played a major role in formulating the reform for the TNI or Indonesian National Army. He says that the reason the reform of the Indonesian military went so smoothly was because it was a self-initiated reform, “In Indonesia, the civilian authorities were not the ones who initiated reform of the military. It was the Indonesian military itself that opened the door for democracy in Indonesia without its interference. Otherwise, we would have ended up like Egypt or Turkey.”

The General explained that for the army that meant a re-purification of its role and authority in line with what the Indonesian Constitution mandates. This consisted of stripping the army of its social political role and its law enforcement role and then focusing the role and authority of the army solely on national defense as mandated by the Indonesian Constitution. The role of law enforcement was then left to the police (together with the prosecutor’s office and the courts).

Irma Hutabarat with Kamarudin Simanjuntak, lawyer for Josua’s family. Photo credit: Hendra/IO

In simple terms the Indonesian military gave up its dwi-fungsi or ‘double role’ in civilian and military matters. That double role was something that originated from the period of the struggle for independence when a deviation from the Constitution occurred. At the time Indonesia was in a state of emergency when a state or an army did not yet really exist. It was in fact a nation in arms which was going through a transformation from a freedom fighters’ military to a professional military in the context of a democratic political system.

“The Indonesian police however,” declared General Agus, “never tried to initiate any internal reform for themselves and the external civilian authority also never mandated them for reforms either, whereas law enforcement is now 100% in the hands of the police. The result is that the police are now more or less untouchable!’

He recommends that the police be placed under democratic control. The civilian authority must have authority over the police. That means that like the military, the police should be placed under a ministry. In some countries the police are under the Ministry of the Interior or the Ministry for Law or under the Public Prosecutor’s Office which is elevated to the status of a ministry. For Indonesia however, he recommends that the President create a new ministry for internal security. Several Latin American countries have done so and in the United States this is known as Homeland Security.

General Agus says, “It is our fault that no one controls the police because no one has placed the police under democratic control. Take for example the issuance of drivers’ licenses and car registration – this is a governmental task and the authority to do so should be shifted to the civilian government. However, when attempts were made to do so parliament would not give its approval.

This is not the first time the President has had to address police issues. In 2018 he addressed the press about riots involving the police mobile brigade. Photo credit: Cabinet Secretary of the Republic of Indonesia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Both the military and the police are directly under the authority of the President who is ex-officio the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces during a state of war. However, on a daily basis during peace time, the President has no time to manage the operational policies for institutions like the military or the police. The President manages policies at a national level; not at a ministerial level. Operational policies are part of the portfolio of cabinet ministers – not the President. For the military operational policies are set by the Minister of Defense. The police should also be placed under a ministry for operational policies.

Indonesia needs to wake up her politicians and her civilian authorities! There is right now simply not enough political will to place the police under democratic control!”

When Indonesia was hit by the great tsunami of 2004 it brought terrible destruction in its wake but the Indonesian people prayed that like the fertility that arises after volcanic eruptions, some good might also come in the aftermath of the tsunami in the form of peace in Aceh – and it did. Now with the terrible murder of Josua Hutabarat and the large amount of police that were directly and indirectly involved in this crime or in the obstruction of justice, so many in Indonesia hope that some good may still arise in its wake; that Josua’s terrible sacrifice will not have been in vain. They hope for police reform.

Mr President, is it not time for Indonesia to take the next step to becoming an unimpaired democracy? It is certainly not an easy task but surely reforming the police would be a greater legacy to leave behind, than moving the capital. (Tamalia Alisjahbana)

Indonesia hopes that Josua’s death will not have been in vain and that the civilian government will have the political will for police reform. Photo credit: Hendra/IO

If you enjoyed this article you may like to read more about Josua Hutabarat by the same writer in:
Part I: https://observerid.com/justice-for-josua-hutabarat-part-i-my-good-boy/