When dealing with religious conflict in the field, police officers and other law enforcement officials tend to put their beliefs before their uniform, a researcher said on Wednesday.
Gadjah Mada University political analyst Samsu Rizal Panggabean said that several factors explained why field officers were reluctant to take action.
“The first is a problem of identity,” Samsu said in a public discussion titled Police, Civil Society, and Religious Conflicts in Indonesia. “During our interviews with [police] officers in Pandeglang [in Banten], they all said that when it comes to religious conflicts, their own religion comes first, then their uniform.”
Pandeglang includes the Cikeusik subdistrict, the scene of a brutal attack on Ahmadiyah community members last February. Three members of the minority Muslim sect died in the attack, gruesome footage of which was uploaded to YouTube.
The footage showed how police officers stood by watching as the Ahmadis were attacked.
“This situation is not unique. We also learned that during the conflict in Ambon [in Maluku], officers there were known to take sides according to their religion,” the researcher said.
Ambon was the scene of bloody interreligious conflict between 1999 to 2002 that left thousands of people dead.
The second factor behind police inaction in the face of religious conflict, Samsu said, was the lack of support from mainstream religious organizations.
“I’ve never seen the chief of police appear in public with leaders of NU and Muhammadiyah,” Samsu said, referring to the largest Indonesian religious organization, Nahdlatul Ulama, and the second-largest one.
Yosep Adi Prasetyo, deputy chairman of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), added that instead, police are often seen with hard-line groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI).
“They might say that they are doing it for the sake of getting information, but I have to say the current National Police chief’s track record isn’t exactly spotless,” Yosep said in reference to Gen. Timur Pradopo.
After the Cikeusik attack, Timur suggested in a hearing with lawmakers that the Ahmadis had only themselves to blame for the fatalities for failing to heed police advice to flee.
Yosep said that most of the time police failed to be impartial because they had vested interests: “Funding from outside the APBN [state budget] is actually much larger [than official funding],” he said.
Non-APBN sources of income for the police, he said, included unlawful “security payments” from private companies, acknowledged and called “understandable” by the National Police, and kickbacks from field officers.
But Mubarik Ahmad, a spokesman for the Indonesian Ahmadiyah Congregation (JAI), said that police in the recent past have proven that they could take a firm stand in religious conflicts.
“There was a time when the West Java Police chief gave a clear instruction to his men at Manis Lor village to not let any outsiders in,” Mubarik said.
In July 2010, thousands of anti-Ahmadiyah protesters flocked to the village where around 2,000 Ahmadis lived. “And they did their job, it was tense but nobody got hurt, no blood was shed,” Mubarik said.