Tenggara Strategics, Jakarta – The death of a junior police officer has caught the nation's attention this past week, with the media and the public increasingly skeptical of the National Police's claim he had been killed in a gunfight with another lower-ranking officer after he tried to sexually assault the wife of Insp. Gen. Ferdy Sambo, the chief of internal affairs.
The explanation left many unanswered questions and the family of Brig. Nofriansyah Yoshua Hutabarat, the dead officer, has gone on the offensive by questioning the police's story. They have demanded an independent inquiry, with their lawyers now filing a complaint, inevitably with the police, claiming that his death had been a case of premeditated murder.
The National Police's credibility is hanging in the balance as the public is being fed by relentless media coverage since the case came to light on July 11 about the unusual circumstances of the officer's death. The tone of the coverage questions the police's explanation, and now the suggestion of a cover-up is undermining the public's trust in the country's law enforcement agency. Even President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has weighed in on the case, telling National Police chief Gen. Lystio Sigit Prabowo to make sure the case is investigated thoroughly.
This week, Lystio relieved Ferdy of his duty in internal affairs pending the investigation, apparently at the order of the President. Analysts have said the suspension should have been done immediately given Ferdy's powerful and influential position in the force.
The police have asked the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas-HAM) to conduct an independent investigation, but going by recent practices, the commission was brought in more to calm the public and take the pressure off the police. In 2021, Komnas-HAM was invited to conduct an independent investigation into the death of four members of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), but its findings of unlawful killing were ignored and the police's claim of self-defense stood in court. No officer was convicted.
Publicity-seeking politicians are quick to get in on the act, some speaking in defense of the National Police and others critical of their handling of the case. But their real motive is the 2024 general election.
Lawyers representing Yoshua's family have been holding regular press briefings, sharing some of the evidence they found to support their claim of premeditated murder. The lawyers release the details in bits and pieces, leading netizens to reconstruct their own versions of the events that match the plot of the best Korean TV cop dramas.
The police allege that on July 8, Yoshua, who was designated as Ferdy's driver, tried to sexually assault Putri Candrawathi at the general's official home in Jakarta. An adjutant, Second Patrolman Richard Eliezer Pudihang Lumiu, who was in the house, reportedly heard Putri's screams for help and rushed to the scene. A gunfight ensued with Eliezer planting five bullets in Yoshua. Yoshua, the more senior of the two, fired seven times but completely missed his target.
The police took three days before releasing the story to the public, and even then, apparently because people within and outside the force were already whispering about the incident.
More damaging evidence came from Yoshua's family in Jambi. They said some 50 police officers from Jakarta had escorted the body and told the family not to open the coffin. They reportedly began shouting at a family member for asking questions at one point.
The family defied the order and opened the coffin, initially to embalm Yoshua as they were planning to bury him a few days later. That's when they discovered bruises on the body, suggesting torture and possibly the real cause of his death.
They took photos and videos of the wounds and their lawyers have since shared them not only with journalists but also on social media, garnering widespread public support for their cause of seeking justice.
Other events suggest a coverup, according to the lawyers, including
- All phone messages that family members received from Yoshua's mobile phone three days before his death were deleted, a hacking capability possessed by only a few institutions in Indonesia, including the police.
- Police said the CCTV system at Fredy's house was out of order. The CCTV recorder for the residential area, operated by the neighborhood association chief, was replaced the day after Yoshua's death.
- The family also questioned the time and place of Yoshua's death. They had received a phone call from Yoshua the morning that he was on duty in Magelang, Central Java, and was returning to Jakarta, which would have been a seven-to-eight-hour drive. This did not match with the police's story that he had died in Jakarta in the early evening.
Responding to public pressures, now police say they have found the CCTV recording from Fredy's house, after initially saying that it had been out of order. But they have refused to disclose what they learned from the footage.
Police have also agreed to Yoshua's family's demand for a new autopsy. But the family has asked the Indonesian Military to conduct the autopsy.
Meanwhile, heads began to roll within the National Police because of growing public pressure. On Wednesday, police said they had suspended:
- Gen. Hendra Kurniawan, the head of the Internal Security Agency, whom the Yoshua family had identified as the officer who came to Jambi and told them not to open the coffin.
- Grand Com. Budhi Herdi Susianto, the chief of the South Jakarta Police, who had led the initial investigation of the case.
The case has been taken off the hands of the Jakarta Police and given to the National Police. Lystyo has set up a special team led by his deputy Com. Gen. Gatot Edy Pramono.
The public will likely have to watch a few more episodes of this real-life drama before it comes to a close, one way or another. Korean drama fans in Indonesia are happy to sit and watch it all unfold episode by episode.
But the police now desperately need to win back the public's trust and restore their credibility.
What we've heard
A source at the National Police said the police chief. Gen. Listyo Sigit Prabowo, suspended several police officers, including Ferdy Sambo, in order to uphold transparency in the investigation into the fatal shootout.
The source said Listyo was also aware of irregularities in the death of Yoshua. An investigator said a number of injuries apart from gunshot wounds were found on Yoshua's body that led to suspicions he had been tortured prior to his death. "We will match the findings with the statements of the forensic doctor," said the police investigator.
A number of sources familiar with this incident said that Yoshua's killing was allegedly related to Sambo's wife, Putri Chandrawati. They said Ferdy had suspected of an affair between Yoshua and his wife. Ferdy's suspicion grew after he decided to replace Yoshua only to meet with Putri's rejection. "Putri said Yoshua has understood and cared for the family well," said the source.
Another source revealed the oddity in the case was the use of a Glock pistol, which normally goes to at least a middle-ranking officer, not a low-ranking one like Prv E, who the police said had killed Yoshua in the shootout. Police investigators are finding out how come the pistol went to Prv. E.
Another source said investigators faced psychological barriers in finding the truth, due to Ferdy's close ties with Listyo and his predecessors, Idham Azis and Tito Karnavian. Ferdy is even dubbed "the darling" of the senior officers and a rising star in the police force.
Ferdy joined a team of officers who drafted Listyo's vision and mission to be presented before the House of Representatives lawmakers during the confirmation hearing after President Jokowi named him the sole candidate for the police chief post in January last year. Ferdy was representing Police Academy graduates of 1990s. Other team members were the current deputy police chief, Comr. Gen. Gatot Eddy Pramono (1988 graduate), Comr. Gen. Agus Andrianto (1989 graduate) and Comr. Gen. Arief Sulistyanto (1987 graduate).
Ferdy is also close to Listyo, as well as Idham, because the last two headed the National Police Internal Affairs Department before Ferdy took charge.
Apart from the proximity to the current and past police leadership, Ferdy settled a number of high-profile cases that contributed significantly to his seniors' achievements. The cases include the killing of six Islam Defenders Front (FPI) members at the hands of the police in December 2020. Even though the case could be classified as extra judicial killings, the police won public support and the court acquitted the police personnel accused of the shooting, thanks in part to Ferdy's role in the internal investigation.
Within the National Police, Ferdy is bridging the two camps, namely the so-called "pro-nationalist" and "pro-radicals".
There is no doubt about Ferdy's professionalism, according to the source. "He plays his card well among the police camps. He is trusted not only by the "pro-nationalist" generals, but also to the camp that maintains connection with Islamic fundamentalist groups, the source said.