Jakarta – The siege of police headquarters in Medan, North Sumatra by some 40 military soldiers last week shows not only the continuing sibling rivalry between the two forces since their separation in 1998, but also contempt for the criminal justice system by Indonesian Military (TNI) personnel.
TNI Commander Adm. Yudo Margono has ordered the Military Police to conduct a thorough investigation into Maj. Dedi Hasibuan and his troops from Bukit Barisan Military Command in connection with the Aug. 4 incident. Led by Dedi, the soldiers, clad in military fatigues, surrounded the police office to demand the release of a suspect in a land certificate fraud case on bail. Dedi is the suspect's uncle as well as defense attorney.
No blood was shed, and nobody was wounded during the siege, but the case indicates that the decades-long conflict between the police and the military, at least below the surface, has remained unaddressed. Peace deals and joint activities that followed a clash between the two institutions proved to be superficial.
In May of this year, a group of soldiers attacked three police posts in Kupang, the capital of East Nusa Tenggara, following an argument during a futsal match between the two. At least four police officers were injured, and several vehicles were burned during the attack.
Previously, in April, dozens of unidentified people, allegedly military personnel, ransacked the Janeponto police precinct in South Sulawesi following the assault of a soldier by a number of police officers. A cop suffered gunshot wounds in the mob attack.
Late in 2018, dozens of soldiers burned two vehicles at Ciracas Police Station in East Jakarta and vandalized nearby stores on a nearby street, after an Army private who was injured in a car accident told his friends his wounds were a result of an attack by a group of people believed to be Ciracas police officers.
The incident at the Medan police headquarters was not the first alleged obstruction of justice involving Bukit Barisan Military Command personnel. In September 2002, dozens of troops from the regional military command raided a police station in Binjai, North Sumatra, after the police rejected a release on bail demanded by a soldier for his civilian friend who had been arrested for alleged possession of drugs. A firefight ensued, killing 10, including six police officers and a military soldier.
The police have recorded 28 conflicts between the TNI and police personnel from 2020 to 2022 alone, while human rights group KontraS data revealed 19 cases over the last two years. It's safe to say that because of their frequency, clashes between the two forces will continue unless the nation can find the root cause of the hostility and settle it.
One possible cause could be the unfinished reforms within the military and the police. We have often heard the TNI and scholars call for reform that will put the police force under the supervision of the home minister, just as the military is under the defense minister's oversight.
But the two do not hold all the blame for the half-hearted reforms. The political elite have deliberately dragged them into their political struggle, as is evident in strategic posts in ministries and government agencies being awarded to police and military generals. There are reports of several police and military officers being considered for positions as interim governors, regents and mayors to replace regional heads whose terms end in September.
The Medan case serves as another reminder for policymakers of the need to revise the 1997 Military Court Law, which the TNI has resisted. The soldiers disrespected the criminal justice system as they knew they were beyond the reach of civilian law. Worse, military tribunals often fail to hand maximum sentences, thus maintaining impunity.
Our goal of transforming the TNI into a reliable defense force, and the police into a strong apparatus maintaining security and order, are still a long way off.