Indonesia’s vigilante mobs deliver brutal ‘justice’

Above, the mosque in Jakarta where a man was beaten to death by a mob for stealing money from a donation box. (AFP)
Updated 16 November 2018
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Indonesia’s vigilante mobs deliver brutal ‘justice’

  • Mob violence has also been aggravated by rapid urbanization that brings together strangers from across the Southeast Asian nation
  • Stealing from a mosque is seen by some as an attack on Islam itself

JAKARTA: It was just after dawn prayers when the caretaker at a Jakarta mosque noticed a man stealing from the donation box, prompting a furious mob to beat him to death — for taking the equivalent of $130.
The lynching was one of hundreds of vigilante killings across Indonesia in recent years, highlighting a brutal trend driven by rising religious conservatism and low faith in a corruption-riddled justice system.
Mob violence has also been aggravated by rapid urbanization that brings together strangers from across the Southeast Asian nation in often poor, overcrowded neighborhoods, raising stress levels and fueling mistrust, observers say.
The lynching had echoes of the grisly 2017 murder of 30-year-old Muhammad Al-Zahra who was set ablaze for allegedly stealing a mosque’s amplifier in the hardscrabble Jakarta suburb Bekasi, as onlookers cheered and filmed the scene on mobile phones.
As the electronics repairman pleaded for his life, insisting he was not a thief, the frenzied mob poured gasoline over him and took his life.
His widow, who miscarried their second child days after his death, told reporters that her husband often fixed damaged equipment — including amplifiers — before reselling them.
Half a dozen people were sentenced to between six and seven years in prison over the attack, as doubts about his guilt lingered.
Stealing from a mosque is seen by some as an attack on Islam itself, and helps explain the eruption of such violence in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country, according to Heru Susetyo, a law professor at the University of Indonesia.
“(Many vigilantes) are Muslims who aren’t necessarily that devout, but they are easily provoked by these incidents,” he said.
“They are even willing to commit violence for the sake of ‘defending’ Islam.”
In the neighborhood where the more recent attack happened, one man said he understood the desire to punish those who steal from a place of worship.
“(But) thieves should be caught and handed over to police,” said Sahanan, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.
Few in Indonesia, however, espouse any faith in the graft-riddled justice system.
“The main problem is a lack of trust in the authorities,” said Agustinus Pohan, a law professor at Indonesia’s Parahyangan University.
“Those with power or money get special treatment. That’s why people refuse to trust the police and decide to take matters into their own hands.”
Another factor is the disproportionate impact of theft on the poor, who lack insurance or a cushion of savings — coupled with the relatively light sentences handed out to many petty criminals.
Indonesia’s government does not release figures on mob violence.
But according to World Bank data, the country recorded nearly 34,000 vigilante attacks involving serious injury or death between 2005 and 2014.
The eye-watering figures — including over 1,600 killings — were based on local media reports drawn from regions which are home to only about half of Indonesia’s 260 million people, suggesting that the real numbers could be even higher.
Sana Jaffrey, a University of Chicago doctoral researcher who led the World Bank team, said a range of factors were responsible for stoking mob violence, including poverty and a lack of trust in police.
But she rejected the notion that such attacks were spontaneous bursts of violence by a wild-eyed mob, saying they usually involved an element of planning and sometimes a powerful local figure.
In July, a gun-toting village leader in East Java reportedly encouraged seven men to attack a suspected motorcycle thief with sticks and rocks before his gasoline-soaked body was set on fire.
“The police only take action against vigilantes when the victim of the mob does not fit the profile of a criminal and the family protests or when there is an ethnic angle ... and they fear escalation into a larger, communal conflict,” Jaffrey said.
Although mob violence usually rises in lockstep with social and political chaos, Indonesia, which has transitioned to stable democracy over the past two decades, has bucked the trend, Jaffrey said.
“More institutional stability and more (violence) — these two things don’t go together in most parts of the world.”
Suspected criminals are not the only victims of mob justice in Indonesia.
This year, half a dozen men beat and stripped a young couple before parading them naked around their neighborhood over suspicions the pair had premarital sex.
In Aceh province, which is ruled by Islamic law, public humiliations by citizen groups — and sometimes even police — have become increasingly common.
A viral video in April showed a young, unmarried Aceh couple being doused with raw sewage after they were seen alone — an offense punishable by caning in the conservative province.
None of the young men who attacked them were punished.
Authorities say rising vigilantism is a grim indictment of Indonesian society rather than a reflection of their failure to deliver justice.
“These incidents show that the social system isn’t working well,” said Jakarta Police spokesman Argo Yuwono.
“We need to promote a sense of mutual cooperation and respect.”


Trump: No amnesty for US ‘Dreamers,’ signals support in broader deal

Updated 7 min ago
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Trump: No amnesty for US ‘Dreamers,’ signals support in broader deal

  • In a morning Twitter storm, Trump also said he would not seek the removal of millions of illegal immigrants living in the US
  • ‘Amnesty will be used only on a much bigger deal, whether on immigration or something else’
WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump said on Sunday his proposed immigration deal to end a 30-day partial government shutdown would not lead to amnesty for “Dreamers,” but he appeared to signal support for amnesty as part of a broader immigration agreement.
In a morning Twitter storm, Trump also said he would not seek the removal of millions of illegal immigrants living in the US, while bashing House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her fellow Democrats for turning down an offer he made on Saturday, including for Dreamers, the immigrants brought to the US illegally as children.
“No, Amnesty is not a part of my offer. It is a 3-year extension of DACA. Amnesty will be used only on a much bigger deal, whether on immigration or something else,” Trump said on Twitter.
“Likewise there will be no big push to remove the 11,000,000 plus people who are here illegally-but be careful Nancy!”
The Dreamers are protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
DACA was put in place under former President Barack Obama. The Trump administration said in September 2017 it would rescind DACA, but it remains in effect under court order.
Trump did not make clear what he was referring to regarding the 11 million people mentioned in his tweet. About 12 million people are living in the US illegally, according to US Department of Homeland Security estimates.
In a Saturday speech from the White House, Trump offered three years of protections for Dreamers and for holders of temporary protected status (TPS), another class of immigrants from designated countries affected by armed conflict, natural disaster or other strife.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell welcomed the plan as a “bold solution,” while a spokesman said McConnell would seek Senate passage of the proposal this week.
The legislation will include bills to fund government departments that have been closed during the shutdown, as well as some disaster aid and the president’s immigration proposal, a McConnell aide said. The plan will contain $12.7 billion in disaster aid, said another Senate source who asked not to be named.
But Trump’s amnesty tweet caught some Republicans off guard.
“I don’t know what the president’s calling amnesty,” Senator James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican, told ABC’s “This Week” program. “That’s a longer debate and obviously not something we can solve quickly.”
Trump appeared to be responding to conservative critics who accused him of proposing amnesty and reneging on a campaign promise, which could alienate his right-wing base.
About one-quarter of the US government shut down on Dec. 22 over Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion to fund a wall along the border with Mexico, which Democrats have refused to consider. Some 800,000 federal workers have been ordered to stay home or work without pay during the shutdown.
The promise of a border wall was a mainstay of Trump’s 2016 presidential election campaign. As a candidate, he said Mexico would pay for the barrier, but the Mexican government has refused.
The shutdown has caused widespread disruptions.
The Transportation Security Administration on Sunday reported an 8 percent national rate of unscheduled absences on Saturday, compared with 3 percent a year ago. More than 50,000 TSA officers are working without pay.
Some airports experienced longer wait times at security checkpoints, and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport closed one of its checkpoints because of excessive absences.
On Sunday, a day after Trump’s DACA proposal, there appeared to be signs of movement, even as Democrats insisted the government should reopen before proceeding with talks over border security.
“What the president proposed yesterday — increasing border security, looking at TPS, looking at the Dreamers — I’ll use that as a starting point. But you’ve got to start by reopening the government,” US Senator Mark Warner said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Warner, a Virginia Democrat, also said Congress should approve pay for federal workers affected by the shutdown before they miss another paycheck this week.
Bennie Thompson, the Democratic chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, said Democrats were not opposed to physical barriers on the southern border but that Trump’s changing position posed a problem for resolving the border security issue.
“I would not rule out a wall in certain instances,” Thompson said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.