Putri Fitria | February 17, 2011
Sleman, Yogyakarta. Arief Johar Cahyadi Permana is at a loss for words. The 24-year-old university student has not been able to make sense of the events that have unfolded since he and 18 others were searched by police officers in Sleman last November.
Arief worked as a volunteer during the devastating eruptions of Mount Merapi that began last October. The eruptions forced more than 150,000 people living within 20 kilometers of Merapi’s crater to flee their homes, putting a severe strain on the government and relief agencies. Arief was among the volunteers trained by search and rescue officials in Yogyakarta who served as a lifeline for the evacuees.
On Nov. 23, Arief was detained by the police. His crime? He was in possession of a pocketknife. The pocketknife was equipped with a flashlight, one of the required tools used in SAR evacuation operations during the Mount Merapi eruptions. On Wednesday, judges at the Sleman District Court adjourned Arief’s trial until Tuesday, when the court will hear from witnesses for the prosecution and defense.
Prosecutors have accused Arief of violating the 1951 Emergency Law on the possession of weapons and explosives, which carries a maximum jail term of 10 years.
The hearing on Wednesday was attended by dozens of search and rescue workers from Yogyakarta who came out in a show of support for Arief. They arrived at the courthouse wearing their uniforms and carrying the standard SAR equipment, including pocketknives, electric saws, ropes and body bags. The protest was led by the head of SAR Yogyakarta, Brotoseno.
“We have brought our equipment along with us so that the police realize that these are the tools we use in evacuation operations,” Brotoseno said.
“Sleman Police have clearly overreacted,” he said. “It was simply a pocketknife. It’s a standard instrument for evacuations.”
The protest ended with prominent Islamic intellectual Emha Ainun Najib leading hundreds of Arief’s supporters in prayer outside the courthouse.
Petrus Sadiyo, one of Sleman’s top prosecutors, has said Arief was detained and put on trial because he was unable to show a legal license allowing him to carry the knife.
Police detained Arief at a roadblock set up near Timbang Bridge in Maguwoharjo, Sleman. Officers were searching for illegal drugs and weapons.
“That night, police told me that I would not be detained and I just needed to follow them back to the station to record the day’s events,” Arief said. “So I followed them to the police station.
“But when I reached the station, I was not allowed to leave. My belongings and my mobile phone were confiscated. The next morning, I was forced to sign a police dossier.”
Arief, who studies accounting at the Islamic University of Yogyakarta, acknowledged that he failed to immediately inform the officers that he was carrying the knife because he was a volunteer for Yogyakarta’s SAR team.
“Everything happened so fast and I panicked,” he said.
He said that before being picked up at the roadblock he had spent the day burning the carcasses of cows killed in Merapi’s eruptions and cutting down damaged tree branches, and that all he wanted to do was go home and sleep. However, Arief and some colleagues were ordered to prepare food and lodging for evacuees at a relief command post.
Arief said he had a morning class at the university the next day so he wanted to head back to Yogyakarta. His route home led him across Timbang Bridge.
Arief, who is being detained at Cebongan Penitentiary in Sleman, said he was trying to stay optimistic.
“My being detained is a rare occurrence. Let this be my once in a lifetime experience,” he said with a laugh.