Twitter Users Ridicule Indonesian Police
Social network users mock police for incompetence
By: Ainur Rohmah
The Indonesian police have recently become the target of massive ridicule by users of social media, particularly Twitter, after a series of incidents in October 2021 showed that their performance was unprofessional and they tended to use violence to deal with protests.
Established on July 1, 1946, the police institution is one of the country's oldest agencies. Despite its success in fighting terrorism, the institution is regarded universally as corrupt, incompetent, and often using violence against its citizens.
A country risk report published by the Risk & Compliance Portal, a production of GAN Integrity, is typical of commentaries on the national police force, finding them “plagued by corruption, bribery is widespread, presenting companies with high risks. Police officers solicit bribes on every level, ranging from traffic violations to criminal investigations. Two out of five people perceive most or all of the police to be corrupt and one in four Indonesians report having paid a bribe to the police services in the past 12 months.” Their reputation wasn’t helped by the 2015 nomination by President Joko Widodo of Budi Gunawan to head the national force while he was under investigation for taking bribes, which was met with a national uproar.
The National Human Rights Commission recorded that from a total of 2,841 cases of complaints by the public related to the performance of government agencies during 2020, 758 of them protest the police, the most compared to other government institutions.
The hashtag movement stems from a report released on October 6 by a public journalism website Project Multatuli, which follows the plight of a mother who claims to have reported her ex-husband for allegedly sexually abusing her children to the police, only to be dismissed as “schizophrenic.” The report was uploaded on Twitter with the hashtag #PercumaLaporPolisi, (no use report to the police) which became a trending topic. The predominantly young Twitter users expressed their disappointment by tweeting several hashtags in addition to #PercumaLaporPolisi including #1Hari1Oknum (one day one person), #NoViralNoJustice (not viral then there is no justice).
One of the tweets that went viral mocked the police, saying their performance was no better than the security guards at Bank Central Asia (BCA). "Can the police throughout Indonesia be replaced by BCA security guards," tweeted Fachrial Kautsar via his account @fchkautsar on October 13, 2021. The tweet, which has now got more than 100,000 likes and 29,000 shares, has received widespread support from others who feel that security guards at BCA are more responsive and friendly than police officers at police stations. However, after tweeting the criticism, Fahrizal received many threats and hacking attempts.
Twitter has since been inundated with user complaints from the country’s 17.5 million Twitter users about how they dealt with corrupt and incompetent cops. Hashtags like #1hari1oknum continue to be used even now. "In 2018, my brother lost his car. When he went to the police station to make a report, he was told to pay Rp10 million if he wanted the case to be handled," tweeted an account @khokomint on December 20, 2021.
"My father's car was lost at home. It was stolen by a syndicate. When the syndicate was caught, my father came to the police station. The car was there. When he wanted to pick it up, (father) had to pay half the price of the car," said another account @uniniki_ on the same day. "If you lose a chicken and then report it to the police, you will lose a cow," mocked @pisesa2.
The #PercumaLaporPolisi was followed by several other hashtags, such as #1Hari1Oknum, which is used to mark the frequent violations by the police, including the brutal action of an officer who beat a protester unconscious on October 13. The hashtag #NoViralNoJustice also emerged as people described a pattern in which police investigate a case or punish members who commit violations only when the case has gone viral on social media.
National Police Chief Gen. Listyo Sigit Prabowo apologized for the force’s behavior, which triggered the emergence of a number of hashtags on social media. He ensured that his institution was open to criticism and would take firm action against officers who commit violations.
Whether Listyo’s apology and pledge hold up is arguable. The Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence, known as KontraS, said that the police often use violent means in carrying out their duties. In an annual report published last June, KontraS recorded 651 acts of violence perpetrated by police officers during June 2020-May 2021, with shootings being the most common offense (390 cases). That followed the arbitrary arrests of protesters (75 cases), persecution (66 cases), and the forced disbandment of demonstrations (58 cases).
KontraS found that many violations were carried out by the police to defend the government's interests, such as the arrest of demonstrators who demanded the cancellation of the controversial omnibus bill on job creation, as well as the disbandment of demonstrations against the special autonomy of Papua Province.
"The space for civil liberties is getting narrower and there are fewer and fewer safe spaces where people can express their opinions without fear, associate without terror, and gather without threats," said KontraS.
Call for Reform
Among tweets by critics, one officer was found to have shot a fellow officer; a second sexually assaulted his girlfriend without punishment; a third was involved in student car robbery; a fourth slammed a protester; some police were during a drug party; an officer molested the suspect's wife. These are just a few examples of violations committed by police officers that have been published in the media in recent months. Many see that the violations are the opposite of their duties of enforcing the law, fostering public order and security, and serving as public servants.
Rivanlee Anandar, a human rights activist at KontraS, argues that the hashtag movement is an expression of public criticisms that have actually been voiced many times, but recently the chorus has been growing louder. The number of violations by police are thought to be a result of a weakened monitoring system, both internally and externally, as well as the practice of impunity for violators.
Adrianus Meliala, a professor of criminology at the University of Indonesia (UI) said that although police institution practices have improved, mostly structurally and instrumentally, various violations remain entrenched in the agency. While action against violators is short-term problem solving, in the long term, the police must consistently enforce a code of ethics and punish violators indiscriminately, he said. The president and the House of Representatives must immediately accelerate the police reform agenda by revising the law that regulates them in terms of cultural, structural, and instrumental aspects.
Police and Politics
Indonesia divorced the police and army institutions in 1999 after the end of the Suharto dictatorship. Since then, the police have had authority over internal security and are directly responsible to the president. During the seven years of President Joko Widodo's administration, the national police received many privileges, especially in terms of budget increases and extra personnel.
The budget has continued to increase from year to year, starting at Rp62 trillion (US$4.33 billion) in 2015, and has reached IDR 104.7 trillion in 2020. The force continues to grow, from 470,391 in 2019 to around 570,000 today, the biggest in Southeast Asia.
However, based on the results of a survey by several independent survey agencies, some people think that the performance of the police during the pandemic outshined other law enforcers. The results of the Indonesian Political Indicators survey, for example, stated that 82.6 percent of 1200 respondents said they were satisfied with the performance of the National Police, who during the pandemic, the police were not only tasked with maintaining security, but also helping distribute aid and support vaccination policies.