Indonesia: Workers’ Death in Malaysia Sparks Outcry

Mataram – As the bodies of four Indonesians shot dead by Malaysian police last week arrived and were subsequently buried in their hometown here on Thursday, demands are mounting for the Indonesian government to lodge a protest and seek explanation for the deadly incident.

The bodies of the men, identified as Hafat bin Angang, 44, Heri Setiawan, 33, Ikno Riansyah bin M. Saleh, 25, Wahyudi bin Kuling, 28, were returned to their families shortly after arriving at Lombok International Airport in West Nusa Tenggara on Wednesday evening.

Cradling a toddler in her arms, Ikno’s wife Ika screamed and cried hysterically as the coffin carrying her husband’s body was packed into the hearse that would carry his body home to Sumbawa for the last time.

Ika first heard about her husband’s death on television, and said she did not believe the Malaysian police’s claim that her husband was shot dead because he was a part of a gang of armed robbers.

“My husband was working in Malaysia as a construction worker. How is it possible he was accused of being a robber? If he really was a robber we would have been rich by now, but we can only afford a rented room,” Ika told the Jakarta Globe.

Families said the funeral for the four men were held on Thursday afternoon because Indonesian authorities had not requested an autopsy.

Dino Nurwahyudin, a counselor at the Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, assisted repatriation of the men’s bodies. He said that Indonesia had retained several lawyers to handle the case and was now awaiting results of the official autopsy conducted by Malaysian authorities.

“This is definitely not the first time such an incident has happened. Last year, three Indonesian migrant workers were shot dead in Malaysia,” Dino said.

He said it was very possible for Indonesia to lodge a formal protest in Malaysia to prevent similar incidents in the future.

“For now let’s wait for the autopsy results. The Malaysian government said it would take one or two weeks,” he said.

Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has expressed concern that the incident is the latest in a series of frequent shootings that have been taking place since 2007.

In 2012, Malaysia’s then-minister of home affairs, Hishammuddin Hussein, confirmed that 300 people had been shot to death since 2007. More than half — 151 — of those killed were Indonesians.

Indonesian human rights activists and legal experts are skeptical of Malaysian authorities’ claims that lethal force was necessary against all of the Indonesians shot dead in recent years.

“We don’t know what really happened. The media quoted only the Malaysian police as sources. That’s why we need a thorough investigation. The Indonesian Embassy should demand it,” lawyer and activist Frans H. Winarta said.

“They should not just shoot people because they are Indonesians,” he added.

Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the Malaysian minister responsible for internal security, suggested at a gathering last Friday that police should “shoot first” when confronting criminal suspects.

“What is the situation of robbery victims, murder victims during shootings? I think that the best way is we no longer compromise with them.

“There is no need to give them any warning. If we get the evidence, we shoot first,” he was quoted as saying in an audio recording made public by the online news portal Malaysiakini.

Outraged Malaysian opposition and rights groups quickly demanded the minister’s resignation over the remarks.

Malaysian police have staged a nationwide crackdown on criminal organizations in recent months as a wave of violent crime stoked a public outcry.

More than a dozen criminal suspects have reportedly been killed in police shoot-outs in recent weeks.

Haris Azhar, the chairman of the Jakarta-based Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), called on the Indonesian government to conduct a criminal investigation into all the shooting deaths of its citizens.

He said the government should actively pursue all information to ensure the shootings were justified in each case.

“This is not the first time this has happened. There should be a very rigid mechanism to ensure that Malaysian authorities follow proper procedures, considering the large number of Indonesians living in Malaysia, both legally and illegally,” he said.

“A similar incident occurred last year. It suggests the Indonesian government has not learned from past experience.”

Haris said Indonesia should demand that Malaysia explain the apparently disproportionate use of immediate lethal force on Indonesian citizens, and provide justification for each killing.

“If Malaysian police can arrest them, why the need to kill them? We need to find out everything that was really happening. The families deserve that much,” he said.

If it is later revealed that Malaysian authorities used excessive force against the four men, then Indonesian should file a strong protest with Malaysia, Haris said.

“If it’s true that the shootings were not done according to procedure, Indonesia should fight for justice and bring this to the United Nations level,” he said.

Were Indonesia to seek recourse in the United Nations, it is unclear if any mechanism exists to handle its complaint. Neither Indonesia nor Malaysia is a party to the Rome Statute, the treaty underlying the International Criminal Court.

Even if both states accepted the court’s jurisdiction, Indonesia would likely have difficulty making a case that crimes against humanity were committed.

Rights group Voice of the Malaysian People (Suaram) called for a complete overhaul of standard operating procedures for police before more people were killed.

“We call on civil society to join the campaign calling for the immediate sacking of Zahid as home minister,” said Nalini Elumalai, the executive director of Suaram.

Last year, three Indonesian migrant workers from Lombok were shot dead by police in Port Dickson, a city in Malaysia’s Sembilan state.

The incident prompted calls to reinstate Indonesia’s moratorium on sending migrant workers to Malaysia.

Families of the men accused Malaysia of organ harvesting after discovering long scars and sutures on the bodies of the deceased. The National Police’s medical chief, Brig. Gen. Musaddeq Ishaq, said the stitches came from the initial autopsies conducted in Malaysia.

The men’s families demanded copies of the autopsy reports from both countries, and remain suspicious.

The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) challenged the police explanation, and vowed to conduct its own investigation.