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Indonesia accused of reporter's murder acquitted

Reuters - November 29, 1997

Jakarta – An Indonesian man accused of the high-profile murder of an investigative journalist has been acquitted by a Central Java court, the Jakarta Post newspaper reported on Saturday.

The Bantul District Court found on Thursday there was no case against Dwi Sumaji alias Iwik for the murder of Fuad Muhammad Syafrudin, better known as Udin, on August 13 last year. Udin was known for critical reports on local government corruption.

Prosecutors had earlier asked the panel of three judges that the charges be withdrawn against Iwik after their case collapsed from unreliable police evidence.

The official National Commission of Human Rights had called for a review of the case after their inquiries revealed concerns about the police investigation.

The paper said Iwik's arrest drew wide criticism after it became known the police used some questionable practices including the use of alcohol, intimidation and a call girl to force a confession from Iwik.

In addition, police investigator Eddy Wuryanto reportedly threw a sample of Udin's blood into the sea to ask for divine help in solving the case, it said.

National Police Chief General Dibyo Widodo was quoted as saying police accepted the verdict in the case in which prosecutors had repeatedly sent back police dossiers because of a number of perceived flaws in the investigation.

"We respect the ruling but we remain steadfast in our conviction, based on evidence and testimonies, that Iwik was the one who ....caused Udin's death," Widodo said.

Human Rights Watch/Asia - December 6, 1997

[The following is the summary section only of the full report - James Balowski.]

Between December 1996 and the beginning of March 1997, one of the worst outbreaks of communal violence in Indonesia in decades broke out in the province of West Kalimantan between indigenous Dayak people and immigrants from the island of Madura, off the coast of East Java. In the aftermath of a fight between Dayak and Madurese youths in a town called Sanggau Ledo, in which two Dayak youths were stabbed, the Dayaks waged what appeared to be a ritual war against Madurese communities, burning houses, killing inhabitants, and in some cases severing the heads and eating the livers of those killed. The death toll was probably about 500 by the time the killing ceased, appallingly high but still much lower than some early estimates of 2,000 or more; the Indonesian government has discouraged any effort to determine an accurate count. The majority of those killed were Madurese, but several dozen Dayaks died as well, some in revenge attacks by Madurese, most in clashes that took place when army units tried to stop Dayak war parties from reaching Madurese settlements. About 20,000 Madurese were displaced.

Almost a year after an uneasy calm returned, and after innumerable government-supervised "peace treaties" between the two communities were concluded across the province, tensions remain so high that another outbreak could be triggered at any time. Given the precarious state of inter-ethnic relations in the region and the potential for future outbreaks of communal violence, it is imperative that the government take steps to investigate the conflict and answer the questions raised about the performance of the army and police.

There is concern in Kalimantan that this may not have been simply another eruption between the two groups, despite the fact that there is a history of Madurese-Dayak conflict in West Kalimantan. This clash was so much worse in terms of casualties than its predecessors and so much more geographically widespread that several people we spoke with, both Dayak and Madurese, saw as the precedent to this outbreak not the previous Madurese-Dayak conflicts but the Dayak war against ethnic Chinese in West Kalimantan between October and November 1967. The army claimed (and still claims) that the 1967 attack, which cost about 300 lives and led to the displacement of more than 55,000 Chinese, was a spontaneous uprising by the Dayak people against Communist guerrillas who had strong support among the local ethnic Chinese. In fact, the ritual war, in which ethnic Chinese of all political persuasions were killed, is now widely believed to have been deliberately sparked by the army.

Even though there is no hard evidence of manipulation in this outbreak, people of every background and belief seem to believe that there must have been, from the army commander who talks of an oknum penghasut, a scoundrel instigator, to those who believe the violence was related to a pre-election quest by the ruling party, Golkar, for dominance. It is the lack of obvious answers to hard questions that have led different people to propose a provocateur as the only explanation; a policy of greater transparency on the part of the government and a thorough investigation by the National Human Rights Commission, in collaboration with appropriate Indonesian or international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), might provide some of those answers. Not only has there been no such investigation, but at the time of the conflict, the government actively discouraged reporting, apparently out of concern that accurate information would only make the situation worse.

Whether or not communal tensions were deliberately whipped up, it is clear that human rights violations took place in the course of the conflict that have exacerbated ethnic tensions. These violations include reported extrajudicial executions of members of Dayak attack parties by soldiers, and arbitrary arrests of both Dayaks and Madurese in what appeared to be a misguided government attempt to prevent further conflict. There are also claims of police discrimination against the Madurese, failing to arrest the perpetrators of anti-Madurese violence or to respond to Madurese complaints.

In instances where the army stopped Dayak raiding parties from attacking Madurese settlements, the use of lethal force may have been justified, although how that force was applied and whether non-lethal alternatives were available need to be examined. The apparent extrajudicial executions took place not when the army opened fire on oncoming trucks full of Dayak raiders, some of whom were also armed and returned fire, but when soldiers reportedly shot and killed, at close range, individual Dayaks trying to surrender or those who were already in custody. Dayak sources believe some of these killings were carried out by or under the direction of Madurese soldiers, a perception that ensures communal tensions remain high even though it is not clear that the perception is accurate. The fact that some bodies were buried secretly, without a chance for families to hold traditional ceremonies, has also angered many in the Dayak community.

There is clear evidence of arbitrary arrest of both Dayak and Madurese under an anachronistic emergency regulation dating back to 1951 which effectively bans possession of sharp weapons. In a part of the country where most males carry a traditional knife and families keep various kinds of knives in their home, the regulation provides a pretext for arresting anyone at any time. Many of those arrested under this law were not involved in the conflict and are not charged with engaging in any violence; they were arrested by joint army-police teams who raided houses and work sites in the conflict area in late February or early March, looking for weapons. (All of those arrested under the 1951 law had been released by this writing.) There is insufficient evidence at this stage to support claims of discrimination by police against Madurese, but those claims need thorough investigation. Both Madurese and Dayaks believe that the police have been looking for an opportunity to get back at the Madurese ever since 1993, when Madurese in Pontianak went on a rampage against virtually every police station in the city after a Madurese man was tortured to death in custody, and the involvement of several individual police officers and ex-officers has fueled speculation that the police had a hand in encouraging Dayak attacks. Several Madurese told us that complaints they had filed with police were ignored. In one case we were able to follow up, the subjects of the complaint had in fact been arrested, but the complainant, displaced from his home and living with relatives in Pontianak, had never received the news. Still, if the perception is left to persist that the police discriminated against Madurese and the army targeted Dayaks, the government's ability to diminish communal tensions in the future will be severely hampered.

This is a case where government controls on information, however well-meaning, are not only misguided but dangerous. Four highly negative consequences of this conflict are already apparent: deepened enmity between Dayak and Madurese at a grassroots level; deepened distrust of the police by Madurese; deepened distrust of the army by Dayak; and a heightened sense of ethnicity, not just on the part of Dayak and Madurese but on the part of every ethnic group living in West Kalimantan. To safeguard themselves against attacks during the conflict, non-Madurese residents scrawled "Melayu" (Malay) or "Jawa" (Javanese) on their homes, and Chinese hung a strip of red cloth on their doors.

This report is a very preliminary analysis of the conflict. It does not come to any hard conclusions about the causes but instead suggests questions that an investigation, preferably one conducted by a neutral body not linked to either ethnic group but trusted by both must answer if communal tensions are to be reduced. We set out the background to the conflict as well as a detailed description of its two phases, based on interviews with eyewitnesses and leaders of both Dayak and Madurese communities. The information was obtained on two visits to Kalimantan, in January and July 1997. We then look at the way in which the Indonesian government reacted to the conflict in terms of the military's use of lethal force, pattern of arrests, efforts to control information, and promotion of local and province-wide peace pacts. While most of the government's actions appear to have been undertaken in a genuine effort to calm tensions and eliminate possible sources of violence, the end result appears to have been precisely the opposite. It has created as much ill-will on the part of both parties toward the government as between the parties themselves.