February 15, 2023
JAKARTA – The death sentence handed down to former National Police internal affairs chief Ferdy Sambo has resonated strongly with a number of Indonesians as the country reckons with distrust of its law enforcement institutions.
But police reform advocates have said that capital punishment may not push the country toward progress, considering how systemic many of the force’s problems are.
In a hearing on Monday, the South Jakarta District Court found Ferdy guilty of the premeditated murder of his aide-de-camp, Brig. Nofriansyah Yosua Hutabarat, and of tampering with evidence to orchestrate a cover-up. He was sentenced to death, well beyond the life imprisonment demanded by prosecutors.
The verdict was greeted by cheers from spectators in the courtroom. Expressions of relief were also prevalent on social media, with many commending presiding judge Wahyu Imam Santoso for giving the former police general a punishment that many thought fair.
Rosti Simanjuntak, the mother of murder victim Yosua, was in the audience when the judge read out Ferdy’s verdict and sentence, holding onto a framed photograph of her son.
She broke down in tears and was swiftly escorted out amid the barrage of reporters and spectators who surrounded her.
“Our family is pleased to say that we are satisfied, since [the ruling] is in line with our expectations,” Rosti later told the press, as quoted by Kompas.com.
Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD, too, took to Twitter to comment on the case, saying the prosecution’s work was “near perfect” and that the defense had “dramatized the facts”.
“The bench was competent, independent and worked without an ounce of burden. Hence the sentence was attuned to the public’s sense of justice; [Ferdy] Sambo was handed the death sentence,” Mahfud tweeted.
Other commentators noted that there would be more to come, that Ferdy would likely lodge an appeal and that the judiciary could still commute his sentence once public attention waned. Ferdy has seven days to appeal the ruling.
Analysts were not surprised by the swell of public support for the sentence, with Ian Wilson of Murdoch University in Australia citing the widespread perception of police impunity as a contributing factor.
“I think this will be a popular decision, since the death sentence conforms to [many Indonesians’] idea of justice,” said Wilson, whose research focuses on Indonesian politics, on Monday.
But the codirector of the Indo-Pacific Research Center at Murdoch also believed the verdict could derail mounting calls for reform within the National Police.
“[Ferdy’s case] might just be symbolic of a high-ranking officer not getting away with his crimes and that the system works,” Wilson told The Jakarta Post.
“So now there is a strong incentive to leave it at that. Meanwhile, the problems [that need addressing to enact] reforms are deep and structural.”
Bambang Rukminto, a security analyst at the Institute for Security and Strategic Studies (ISESS), said police chief Gen. Listyo Sigit Prabowo still faced an uphill battle to reform the institution, even after Ferdy’s sentencing.
“Without any significant change to the force’s structure, aimed at building a more progressive and professional policing culture, the National Police will continue to degrade,” he told the Post on Monday.
Bambang suggested that the recent trial’s verdict demonstrated the need for a stricter screening process for the promotion of officers to high-ranking positions.
“This is the first time in the country’s history that a police general has been sentenced to death,” he said. “The force needs to be more stringent if they want to avoid promoting other Ferdy Sambos in the future.”
Human rights defenders, meanwhile, bemoaned the resurgence of capital punishment.
Amnesty International Indonesia (AII) executive director Usman Hamid said that the death sentence would not help efforts to reform the police.
“[Ferdy] Sambo’s actions are a serious crime, but he still has the right to live,” Usman said. “Amnesty is not against punishment; we agree that all crimes must receive a just punishment, but it should be done without having to impose the death penalty,” he added.
The biggest National Police scandal in recent memory has gripped the public’s attention for months.
The initial police investigation suggested that Yosua was killed in a shoot-out with 2nd Patrolman Richard Eliezer, another of Ferdy’s adjutants, at the two-star general’s official residence in South Jakarta in July of last year.
The judges said on Monday, however, that they were convinced Ferdy had fired the deadly shot into Yosua’s head after Richard injured the victim at his boss’ command.
The bench also dismissed Ferdy’s claim that his actions had been prompted by Yosua’s sexual assault of his wife, Putri Chandrawati, saying there was no convincing evidence to back the claim.
They also found that Ferdy had instructed police officers to destroy any CCTV footage showing Yosua still alive when Ferdy entered his home.
The three-member bench considered Ferdy’s senior role within the police force and the disgrace he had brought upon the institution as aggravating factors and failed to find mitigating circumstances that might lighten his sentence.
Later on Monday evening, the same court sentenced Putri to 20 years in prison, more than double the eight years demanded by prosecutors, for aiding and abetting in the plot to murder Yosua.
The bench cited Putri’s positioning of herself as a sexual abuse victim and the fact that the police force had incurred “material and moral” losses from her acts as aggravating factors, among other considerations. The judges also found no reason to grant her a lighter sentence.
Ferdy’s alleged accomplices, private chauffeur Kuat Ma’ruf and adjutant Brig. Ricky Rizal, were to have their verdicts delivered on Tuesday.
Richard, who eventually assisted the prosecution as a justice collaborator, will hear his verdict on Wednesday. (tjs)