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.”


At least three dead in multiple shooting in Utrecht, police hunting Turkish-born man

Updated 12 min 15 sec ago
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At least three dead in multiple shooting in Utrecht, police hunting Turkish-born man

  • Police are not ruling out terrorism as a possible motive
  • ‘Threat level has gone to 5, exclusively for the Utrecht province’

DUBAI: At least three people have been killed and five others injured in a shooting incident in Utrecht, in The Netherlands on Monday morning.

Dutch security forces were hunting for a 37-year-old Turkish man in connection with the incident, in what authorities said appeared to be a terrorist attack. The city's mayor confirmed the death of three people on Monday afternoon.

"At this stage, we can confirm three deaths and nine wounded, three of them seriously," Utrecht Mayor Jan van Zanen said in a video statement on Twitter. The number of injured was later reduced to five.

"We are working on the principle that it was a terrorist attack," he added.

Police forces walk near a tram at the 24 Oktoberplace in Utrecht, on March 18, 2019 where a shooting took place. (AFP/ANP)

Dozens of armed police plus canine units later surrounded a building a few hundred metres away, an AFP reporter at the scene said, but it was not clear if the gunman was inside.

Police said they believed a red Renault Clio had been carjacked around the time of the shooting and had been found abandoned later.

The Utrecht municipality said it advised "everyone to stay indoors until more is known, new incidents are not excluded," but this was withdrawn at around 4:30pm local time. The local hospital said it had set up a crisis centre. Tram traffic in the area was halted.

Emergency services stand at the 24 Oktoberplace in Utrecht, on March 18, 2019 where a shooting took place. (AFP)

Authorities raised the terrorism threat to its highest level in Utrecht province, schools were told to shut their doors and paramilitary police increased security at airports and other vital infrastructure, and also at mosques.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte convened crisis talks, saying he was deeply concerned about the incident.

Utrecht Police tweeted an image of a man named Gökmen Tanis, asking people for information on him in connection with the incident — but warned members of the public not to approach him.

The main counterterrorism unit in The Netherlands, the  National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV), told the Dutch public broadcaster that the incident had all the characteristics of a terrorist attack.

Counter-terrorism forces have surrounded a building where the gunman may be located, local broadcaster NOS News reported.

There was gunfire at several locations in the city, the Dutch national counter-terrorism chief said.

“Shooting took place this morning at several locations in Utrecht,” Dutch anti-terror coordinator Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg told a news conference in The Hague. “A major police operation is under way to arrest the gunman.”

Aalbersberg said in a statement that the “threat level has gone to 5, exclusively for the Utrecht province,” referring to the highest level. 

“The culprit is still on the run. A terror motive cannot be excluded,” he said in a Twitter message. He called on citizens to closely follow the indications of the local police. 

Police spokesman Bernhard Jens did not exclude more people might be involved. 

“We want to try to catch the person responsible as soon as possible,” Jens said.

A hotline to address queries about the situation. The Netherlands has one of the strictest gun laws and ownership is limited to law enforcement, hunters and target shooters.

Local media reports have said counter-terrorism police were seen at the scene.

“Shooting incident... Several injured people reported. Assistance started,” the Utrecht police Twitter account said. “It is a shooting incident in a tram. Several trauma helicopters have been deployed to provide help.”

The 24 Oktoberplein is a busy Utrecht traffic junction, with a tram stop. Tram traffic was temporarily stopped due to the incident, but the trams are currently running again between Zuilenstein, Nieuwegein and IJsselstein.

(With AFP and Reuters)