General Prabowo is one of President Widodo’s trusted men. His appointment is also backed by Indonesia’s main Islamic organisations. His priorities include the fight against extremism and the “promotion of diversity” as well as enforcing COVID-19 restrictions whilst respecting civil liberties.
Jakarta (AsiaNews) – After more than 40 years, a Christian has been appointed as head of the Indonesian National Police. General Listyo Sigit Prabowo, who was sworn in today at a ceremony led by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, replaces General Idham Azis, who has retired.
Prabowo, a 51-year-old Protestant, was promoted to the top post of the police after heading the Criminal Investigation Agency (Bareskrim[*]).
He was President Jokowi’s only candidate, and his appointment was unanimously approved on January 20 by the People's Representative Council, Indonesia’s lower house of parliament.
The super policeman also received the support of leading Muslim organisations and Islamic clerics in Banten, the province bordering the capital known for its religious conservatism, where he led the local police.
The last Christian to head the national police force was Widodo Budidarmo, who held the post from 1974 to 1978.
Prabowo's appointment did not surprise observers. As a former aide to Jokowi, he led the Surakarta police in Central Java when the president was mayor of the city.
Speaking after his appointment, Prabowo promised to improve the police force and “promote diversity” to counter the discrimination Indonesian minorities often endure.
According to the Setara Institute, a human rights research and advocacy NGO, 200 incidents of intolerance were reported in Indonesia in 2019; between October 2019 and October 2020, 157 cases were reported, including violence against Christians.
The Attorney General filed charges against Shihab who was arrested on 12 December for hate speech and violating anti-pandemic measures, especially with regard to the ban on public gatherings.
On 30 December, the government went a step further and banned Shihab’s group, one of President Jokowi's boldest moves against Islamic extremism.
The new police chief wants to involve “former terrorists in prison” who are willing to help the authorities in their efforts against extremism.
Pradowo’s campaign against extremism, however, is starting as an uphill battle since he must decide whether to defend or prosecute policemen accused of the “unlawful” killing of four FPI members.
The incident took place on 7 December during an alleged gunfight near the capital; according to police, the militants were protecting Shihab.
The police operation ended up in the crosshairs of public opinion, as did the authorities’ handling of the pandemic emergency. The country yesterday topped more than a million cases.
As national police chief Prabowo will be called to enforce health protocols whilst respecting civil liberties.
[*] Badan Reserse Kriminal.
[†] Front Pembela Islam.