JAKARTA, INDONESIA — A recently leaked videotape that allegedly shows members of Indonesia’s counterterrorism squad, Densus 88, torturing and beating terror suspects has renewed calls to re-evaluate the perceived impunity of the country’s anti-terror unit.
The video in question shows terrorism suspects, writhing on the ground with their hands bound behind their backs, being verbally tormented and physically abused by Densus 88 officers.
Reacting to the scenes of brutality, several of Indonesia’s most prominent Islamic organizations have called for the anti-terror squad to be dissolved.
The footage allegedly was shot in Poso, Central Sulawesi, also the location of an anti-terrorist operation that drew strong criticism from the national human rights body, Komnas HAM.
It is not the first time Densus 88 has been accused of trigger-happy tactics, rights abuses and extrajudicial killings.
Haris Azhar is the coordinator of Kontras, a human rights group that has investigated alleged rights abuses committed by Densus 88 in Poso, Maluku and Sumatra. He said the country’s counterterrorism squad has much for which to answer.
“Densus 88 has conducted a lot of torture, extrajudicial killings and also arbitrary harassment. For the last, I think, almost 10 years in Indonesia,” said Azhar.
Refusing calls to disband the anti-terror squad, partly funded and trained by the U.S. and Australia, the national police have responded to the wave of criticism by promising to investigate the alleged abuse.
What has received less attention so far is that the video is nothing new, and has been circulating since 2007.
Pointing out that the actions of Densus 88 raise legitimate questions, ICG terrorism analyst Sidney Jones said the current outcry is far from spontaneous. Jones said the real push to disband Densus 88 is coming from Islamic fundamentalists.
“I think there is a systematic campaign. It’s very clear there has been a systematic campaign led by some of the more radical organizations that see this as a way of effectively undermining the counterterrorism program of the government,” said Jones.
Jones regularly monitors content posted on radical websites and said such groups have been trying to co-opt mainstream Muslim organizations to support their campaign for more than a year.
Densus 88 was formed in 2003 after the Bali bombing, which claimed the lives of 202 people, including many foreigners.
While the squad has been lauded for its efforts to weaken Indonesia’s terror links, there is growing criticism of its poor human rights record.
The government says it is planning to establish a working committee to monitor the performance of Densus 88 in the near future.