Thu, 18 Sep 2003

Relatives of detained activists told to sue police

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Minister of Justice and Human Rights Yusril Ihza Mahendra urged the wives and relatives of Muslim activists in detention to file lawsuits against the police if they think there is sufficient evidence that the arrests violated any legal procedures.

He stressed that any arrest of a suspected terrorist could be made in line with the country's Criminal Code, not necessarily the Antiterrorism Law.

"I admit that currently, controversies have been swirling about among the people on what exactly happened, even though Police Chief (Gen. Da'i Bachtiar) has already explained that the police did arrest the activists, and did not kidnap them.

"But, maybe the police failed to make a public explanation on the arrest and it later created a misunderstanding among relatives of those activists who claimed that their family members had been kidnapped," Yusril explained.

"I don't exactly understand what has been going on...whether or not the arrests have been done without warrants. But I agree with Chief Da'i that the wives and relatives of those activists can file a lawsuit to determine whether or not the arrests have legal basis," said Yusril, adding that it was possible that the police had violated the procedure.

The Criminal Code Procedure requires material evidence and arrest warrants before police investigators can arrest any suspected criminal or terrorist, while the Antiterrorism Law requires only an approval from a local district court head.

Police investigators have, in the past few weeks, arrested dozens of Muslim activists in Jakarta, Lampung and Central Java using the Antiterrorism Law, but allegedly without securing permission from the heads of the local court.

They also said that the activists were arrested for their alleged links to, or possible role in a string of terrorist attacks in the country.

The arrests have drawn strong reactions from religious leaders and House of Representatives legislators, who demand a thorough explanation from police authorities.

Chairman of the country's biggest Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) Hasyim Muzadi said on Wednesday that he would meet Da'i in the next two days to ask for an explanation about the arrests.

Mahendradatta, a lawyer from the Muslim Defense Team said on Wednesday that he would file a civil suit against the police and seek financial compensation over the arrests.

National Police Detective chief Comr. Gen. Erwin Mappaseng, however, said the arrests of the 15 suspects followed required procedures, and thus were entirely legal.

"The arrests are legal. Those who we've arrested are clear, police investigators are also clear about them. They (police investigators) are equipped with the necessary investigation documents," Erwin stressed.

"We cannot tolerate the use of the term abduction," said Erwin, in an apparent reference to several commentators who have recently called it "abduction" or "kidnapping" and likened the arrests to the methods of the repressive New Order.

Erwin claimed that police had sufficient evidence to arrest the 15 terrorist suspects, but declined to give details. "Most of the evidence that is part of the police investigation cannot be made public at this time. It will all be divulged later in court," he said.

National Police spokesman Insp. Gen. Basyir Barmawi agreed with Erwin, saying that the police used Law No. 152003 on terrorism as the legal basis for the arrests.

Meanwhile, in Central Java, police disclosed on Wednesday that one of the three terrorist suspects arrested on Tuesday, Bambang Tutuko, 38, had once studied in Malaysia for about four months sometime between 1998 and 1999.

In addition to Bambang, police have also arrested a person identified as Thamin, a Malaysian national, and Syamsul Bachri, a Jakarta resident.

Bambang was a lecturer at Semarang University in Central Java.

"He has been teaching at the University since 1991. He earned a master's degree at Gadjah Mada University in 1988. He left for Malaysia without approval from the university," Semarang University Rector Imam Soewadi told reporters on Wednesday.

"Bambang did not even tell his wife about his trip to Malaysia," Imam added.