Thursday, September 02, 2004

The Indonesian Way

The Indonesian Way

While the Malaysian cyberspace is abuzz with news of our most famous prisoner's release, the father of one of the Bali bombing victims was certainly not amused when Ali Imron, the guy convicted for his role in the 2002 terrorist incident, was spotted having his brief moment of freedom too, sipping coffee at Starbucks in Plaza Indonesia with a senior police officer.

Police spokesmen claimed that they were not breaking any law by doing so; Ali Imron was merely helping them in the investigation. To the outside world, this kind of thing might seem rather strange and unbelieavable--why in the world do they have to bring him to Starbucks to interrogate him??

Not too long ago, many foreign reporters were also shocked when the so-called "smiling bomber" Amrozi was seen shaking hands and chatting in a friendly manner with the Police Chiefs during his detention.

After observing Indonesia and Indonesians for so many years, I'm not really surprised by these things anymore. You see, these incidents do not in any way indicate that the Indonesian police are in complicity or are sympathetic with these terrorists. It is just the Indonesian way. Even the Australian Foreign Minister accepts the fact that "things are done in different countries in different ways".

I had the opportunity once to accompany a friend to file a police report at a Jakarta police station. There in the investigation room, I saw many detainees in their prison uniform walking in and out of the office freely, as if they were also employees there. I suppose these were the "well-behaved" ones.

Tommy Suharto, who is now "languishing" in the Nusakambangan prison, is said to have an air-conditioned cell with attached bathroom, equipped with cable TV and exercise bike. He even receives guests everyday in two special air-conditioned guest-rooms, not to mention conjugal visits by his many girlfriends.

But not all prisoners are so privileged. In The Mute's Soliloquy, Pramoedya Ananta Toer gave a heart-wrenching account of his 14 years of hard labour and starvation in the penal colony of Buru. People in Aceh and East Timor will also have lots to tell about the alleged atrocities commited against them by the Indonesian army.

Indonesia is a strange and intriguing country indeed. An everyday, I'm learning a little bit more.

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