The senior Indonesian police officer had ordered a subordinate to shoot his bodyguard. As the man lay on the floor, Ferdy Sambo fired at the back of his head another time to “make sure he was really dead.”
A former police general found guilty of ordering the killing of his bodyguard and covering up the murder was sentenced to death by a Jakarta court on Monday. The decision brings closure to one of the largest criminal trials in Indonesian history. But in a country known for police impunity, experts have cautioned against taking the judgment as a sign of serious reform.
Ferdy Sambo, the former head of the Profession and Security Division of the Indonesian National Police, was found “legally and convincingly guilty” of premeditated murder, South Jakarta District Court Judge Wahyu Iman Santoso said in his judgment on Monday.
On July 8, Sambo ordered one of his subordinates to shoot 27-year-old Nofriansyah Yosua Hutabarat, a police officer who served as his bodyguard and driver. Sambo would claim that Yosua sexually assaulted his wife, though the claim was later dismissed by the court.
As Yosua writhed in pain after being shot, Sambo, who was wearing black gloves, picked up a gun and shot the back of Yosua’s head to “make sure he was really dead,” prosecutors told the court in October. He then proceeded to destroy CCTV footage to cover up the murder. Sambo also fired extra shots into a wall to give the scene the appearance of a gunfight, the court heard from witness accounts.
Sambo and investigators initially claimed that Yosua had died in a shootout with another officer. But attempts by police to stop Yosua’s family from viewing his body, as well as suspicions over multiple bruises on his corpse, led his family to file a police report claiming he was the victim of premeditated murder.
Sambo’s wife and other accomplices were also convicted this week for their roles in the murder. His wife was sentenced 20 years in jail on Monday, while her personal assistant received 15 years. Sambo’s aide was given 13 years in jail on Tuesday, while the police officer who shot Yosua is expected to receive his sentence this week. It’s unclear if Sambo will appeal his sentence.
Jacqui Baker, a Southeast Asian studies lecturer at Australia’s Murdoch University, who specializes in policing and crime in Indonesia, told VICE World News that Sambo’s case only confirmed what the Indonesian public has long known about police impunity.
“Indonesians certainly perceive the Indonesian police as an unaccountable superbody whose power has only grown in the last two decades,” she said. “In some ways I think this is the court speaking to the people in a kind of populist way and responding with the harshest possible sentence.”
In public polls conducted by the Indonesian news outlet Kompas, police satisfaction dropped from 57.5 percent to 51.5 percent between June and October last year. The drop occurred amid public outcry over Sambo’s murder scandal and the Kanjuruhan Stadium disaster, which saw 135 killed in a stampede after police fired tear gas into the crowd after a heated football match.
As public pressure mounted in the Yosua murder case, Sambo and six other police officers suspected of tampering with evidence were dishonorably discharged in August last year. The public prosecutor had asked for life imprisonment for Sambo in January, arguing that his behavior had tainted the reputation of the national police force locally and internationally.
Sambo’s case has been singled out as one of the most egregious examples of police impunity in Indonesia, among other recent incidents that have sparked public anger against law enforcement.
In October last year, university student Hasya Atallah Syaputra was run over and killed by a retired police general in his car. Police investigators blamed the student for causing the accident in January, before announcing they were reopening the case amid intense public backlash to the ruling. Student representatives from Hasya’s university referred to the acquittal of the ex-cop as “Sambo volume two.”
Vishnu Juwono, an assistant professor of public administration at the University of Indonesia, told VICE World News in January that Hasya’s case demonstrated a “strong culture of impunity” among police officers, which was “causing the credibility of the police institution to recede.”
But while the conviction of the high-ranking police official may signal accountability to some in Indonesia, Baker criticized the “deeply inhumane punishment” handed to Sambo, who she believes was sacrificed to satisfy public anger.
“I think it’s a sad thing that Sambo has been sentenced to the death penalty. It’s not a levering of greater accountability,” she said, adding that it “panders to the populism within Indonesian society” and encourages the use of violence as punishment.
“It doesn’t make us more human. I don’t feel like this is justice at all.”