Protests across country against ‘police brutality’ in Bima riot

Protests flared up in parts of the country on Monday with demonstrators protesting against what they deemed as police brutality in the Bima riot, where two civilians died.

In Makassar, South Sulawesi, hundreds of protesters took to the streets, destroying three police posts and four traffic lights in the city.

The protesters, mostly students from universities in Makassar, also demanded that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono relieve from their duties National Police Chief Gen. Timur Pradopo, West Nusa Tenggara Police chief Brig. Gen. Arif Wachyunadi as well as heads of local police in Bima.

“Members of the police force should protect the people, not kill them,” Suhaini Mustamin, one of leaders in the protest said.

The protesters also called on the local government to revoke the mining permit issued to PT Sumber Mineral Nusantara (SMN) for Lambu and Sape districts.

Similar protests took place in Medan, North Sumatra, where demonstrators condemned what they perceived as the National Police protecting the interests of the business community.

The protesters said that police involvement in safeguarding the mining activities of Freeport, their alleged complicity in the murder of the Mesuji farmers and now the shooting of locals in Bima, all constituted gross violations of human rights.

Other than calling for the dismissal of Timur, protesters pleaded for the National Commission for Human Rights (Komnas HAM) to run a thorough investigation of the incident.

In Bima, lawyers and rights activists set up their own investigation team to probe the shooting of civilians during a protest against SMN.

A coordinator for a fact-finding team on the Bima riot, Dwi Sudarsono, said that so far there were 21 lawyers who had agreed to join the investigation team.

“We want to get the facts right. Police said only two people died. We have reports from families and relatives of the victims who said that more than five people had died in the incident,” Dwi said.

Authorities claimed that two students, Arif Rachman and Syaiful, had died when the police fired into the crowd of protesters, who were demanding the revocation of SMN’s mining permit, citing environmental concerns.

The mayhem began when hundreds of people from the People’s Front Against Mining (FRAT) confronted authorities on Saturday at 7 a.m. local time (6 a.m. Jakarta time), blocking the road to the nearby port.

The demonstrators had been rallying since Dec. 19, demanding that Bima Regent Ferry Zulkarnaen revoke the company’s mining permit.

The National Police announced on Monday that it had sent its own investigation team to Bima.

National Police spokesman Insp. Gen. Saud Usman Nasution said that the team was led by three generals, National Police Detective Chief Comr. Gen. Sutarman, the chief of the security maintenance division Comr. Gen. Imam Sujarwo and the inspector for general supervision Comr. Gen. Fajar Prihantoro.

“The team has been in Bima since Dec. 24,” Saud said.

Saud said that it was too premature to draw any conclusions as to whether local police had violated operational standards in handling the crowd.

Also on Monday, the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) said that it had dispatched its own investigation team to Bima.

“The team left this afternoon [on Monday], and will arrive in Bima, tomorrow,” Komnas HAM chairman Ifdhal Kasim said.

Komnas HAM also raised the number of dead victims to three. The third casualty, Arifuddin A. Rahman reportedly died in hospital soon after the clash.

Police said that the death may not have been as a result of police firing at protesters. “Autopsy results will indicate whether the deaths were caused by bullets or not,” National Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Boy Rafli Ahmad said.

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