Sat, 26 Apr 2003

`Police losing dignity and getting less respect'

Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The police are losing their authority and many people do not respect them -- as was evident in the escape of Islam Defenders Front (FPI) chairman Habib Rizieq Shihab, as well as in the attack on Tempo magazine's office and its journalists, a lawyer said.

Hendardi, coordinator of the Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Foundation (PBHI), made the statement during an interview with The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

Police received a slap in the face when FPI supporters snatched their chief, who was arrested for alleged vandalism, from underneath the noses of armed policemen in front of the prosecutor's office on Monday.

The case was similar to last month's attack on Tempo's office and its journalists by supporters of businessman Tomy Winata, which happened in the presence of police officers.

The police shifted the blame for Rizieq's escape by pointing their fingers at prosecutors, who had just received the case file from police earlier in the day. However, this only raised further criticism regarding the police force's authority.

"By not exercising its duty and authority, the police force is losing its dignity," Hendardi said.

The police were under fire for both Rizieq's escape and the attack on Tempo, because they were present during both incidents, but did nothing to prevent them.

Hendardi suspected that the police often took political interests into account when exercising their authority.

"Now, it has backfired, since the FPI members and thugs no longer respect the police," he said.

In Rizieq's case, he said, the police could not blame anyone but themselves, because the law had entrusted them with the power to anticipate any eventualities during the transferal of a suspect. Police should have had a contingency plan, especially given the large number of FPI supporters present.

Head of Jakarta Prosecutor's Office Muljohardjo deplored the police's stance on the incident, saying that there should be a continued cooperation between investigators and prosecutors in arranging security for the case.

On Monday, hundreds of FPI supporters "rescued" Rizieq from police as he was being transferred to the Jakarta Prosecutor's Office on Jl. HR Rasuna Said in South Jakarta. He was then taken away on a city bus, which had been hijacked as it was passing the office.

Later on the same day, the supporters returned Rizieq to prosecutors, and wrote a letter to the Attorney General on the next day to apologize for the "kidnapping".

City police spokesman Sr. Comr. Prasetyo said they would investigate the incident.

The incident occurred hours after the Muslim cleric was arrested by city police on Sunday evening at Soekarno-Hatta Airport, as he was returning from Jordan on a humanitarian mission -- as he claimed.

Rizieq was declared a fugitive after he ignored two summonses to report to police after his case file had been completed

He is charged with encouraging FPI members to vandalize a number of entertainment centers over the last three years, and for spreading hatred against the government. The charges carry a maximum punishment of seven years in jail.

On Thursday, the Jakarta Prosecutor's Office submitted his case file to the Central Jakarta Prosecutor's Office who would later represent the case at the Central Jakarta District Court.