Demonstrators call on the Indonesian government to release Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) leader Muhammad Rizieq Shihab on December 18, 2020. Image: Magnus Hendratmo / Anadolu Agency via AFP Forum

JAKARTA – Indonesia’s Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) has tossed a political hot potato back in the lap of President Joko Widodo by accusing police of the unlawful killing of four members of the extremist Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) during an early morning highway altercation last December.

In a January 8 report, the commission found that two FPI bodyguards were gunned down during an exchange of fire on the Jakarta-Cikampek toll road, but that four others were detained and later shot in what the FPI has always called an “extrajudicial killing.”

 As nominal head of the National Police, the president must now decide how to react to the commission’s demands for a full-scale investigation into the December 7 shooting and to prosecute the as-yet-unnamed undercover officers who allegedly carried it out.

Despite widespread public ambivalence towards a violent group that had long been a law unto itself, well-placed sources say a more comprehensive report, apparently covering many of the obvious holes in the initial report, will be handed to Widodo this week. 

Former attorney general Marzuki Darusman, who has been involved in United Nations probes into human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and North Korea, believes Komnas HAM will be tasked with forming its own team of independent investigators to pursue the case.

“This has been a fast-track investigation and lacks a timeline,” said Darusman, a member of the first human rights commission formed by president Suharto in 1994. “There are too many gaps. They have to bring out the context because it doesn’t go back far enough.”

The six victims were in two cars that sought to block a police surveillance team from overtaking a convoy containing the family of FPI leader Rizieq Shihab, who had ignored two police summons to answer complaints of breaching Covid-19 health protocols.

Rizieq Shihab (C) arrives at Jakarta Police Head Quarters in Jakarta, Indonesia on December 12, 2020. Photo: Eko Siswono Toyudho / Anadolu Agency via AFP

The 55-year-old cleric had returned only a month before from three years’ exile in Saudi Arabia after fleeing Indonesia to escape what he claims were a string of politically-inspired charges, including one accusing him of sex-texting on the internet.

The tumultuous airport welcome he received from 50,000 unruly supporters shocked Widodo and has since led to a concerted crackdown on the FPI, with Shihab now facing a six-year prison term for inciting a crime by holding a series of mass gatherings in the days after his return.

On December 30, the government outlawed his organization, saying it had no legal standing since its permit expired in mid-2019 and citing links to terrorism and violent acts against civilians, which go back more than  20 years.

The Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (PPATK), established in 2002 to combat money laundering and other financial crimes, has since identified and blocked 68 bank accounts related to the FPI and affiliated groups. 

Komnas HAM reacted surprisingly quickly to the early morning shooting. The following day, its searchers found shell casings, shards of car parts and broken glass strewn along the side of the highway, which police had apparently made no effort to collect.

According to the commission, two of the FPI members died in a shootout when ramming maneuvers brought the cars to a halt after a prolonged, high-speed game of cat and mouse. But it questions the official version of what happened next. 

Police claim the four others were taken to a nearby rest area, where they were transferred to another vehicle. It was then, they say, that one of the detainees tried to seize an officer’s weapon, triggering a scuffle that ended in the shooting of all four at close range.

Komnas HAM quoted witnesses as saying that the detainees had not been handcuffed when they were pushed into the vehicle through the rear and side doors, but the report does not explain events leading up to the shooting itself and where it actually took place.

The commission said witnesses claimed police had cleaned up blood from the scene and had directed bystanders to remove images and recordings of the incident from their phones, telling them it was variously a “drug” and “terrorism” operation. 

Pathologists found 18 gunshot wounds in the bodies of the six victims. But Komnas HAM stopped short of confirming media reports that each of them had taken between two and four shots on the left side of the chest, all of the wounds bearing tell-tale powder burns.

Security officials take down a banner of Shibab Razieq in Jakarta in January 2021. Image: Facebook

Witnesses also recalled observing separate police teams at the Kilometer 50 rest area and at several other rest sites closer to the town of Karawang, Shihab’s eventual destination, from as early as midday on the day of the shooting.

The report questioned the malfunction of toll road operator Jasa Maga’s CCTV network on the 23-kilometer stretch of the expressway where the pursuit took place and also the origins of the two home-made .38 caliber revolvers that were allegedly seized from the FPI.

“Komnas HAM demands accountable, objective and transparent law enforcement in the case in accordance with human rights standards,” Muhammad Choirul Anam, the commissioner in charge of the investigation, told a press conference.

It is generally accepted that any credible inquiry cannot involve the police, particularly after detectives failed to uncover the identity of the high-ranking officer suspected of ordering the 2017 acid attack on Anti-Corruption Commission (KPK) investigator Novel Baswedan.

Analysts say there is little confidence in the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) either. That leaves Komnas HAM, which has the authority to mount an investigation under the 2000 Human Rights Law, but would have to draw on credible figures from outside the commission.

Back in 2018, Komnas HAM joined a chorus of concern over the rise of religious extremism, warning that it had got to the point where many children were refusing to play with friends of other faiths.

“In future, our country is facing a serious problem from systematically-manufactured extremist views that can be manipulated for various purposes, not just elections,” said commissioner Sandrayati Moniaga at the time.