The Petrus Killings refers to a series of executions in Indonesia between 1983 and 1985 under Indonesian President Suharto's New Order regime. Without undergoing a trial, three to ten thousand criminals were put to death. Their bodies were then placed in public places which terrorized an unaware populace. The executions were part of a government effort to reduce crime and the actual death toll or extent of the killings remains a mystery today.
Origin of name
The term petrus was derived from the Indonesian acronym containing the words "mysterious shooters" (penembak misterius) or "mysterious shootings" (penembakan misterius).
Suharto came to power in 1967 and created his New Order policy to separate his regime from what he called the Old Order or his predecessor Sukarno's policy. The new policies brought much change to Indonesia, including a stronger, more influential military. This often leads to violence and the Petrus Killings stand as one of the most outrageous examples.
In the early 1980s, Indonesian citizens began witnessing an increase of dead bodies in public. At first, the government and other security authorities would not reveal the cause or reason behind the deaths. Commander of Indonesia's Armed Forces, General Leonardus Benjamin Moerdani initially blamed the killings on gang wars. Moerdani later claimed the government committed the murders, but that "some were gunned down by security men, but it was because they resisted arrest." 
Unannounced to the public, the Petrus Killings were carried out as a mechanism to reduce the crime rate. The operation was planned in March 1983 by the Yogyakarta garrison commander Lt. Col. M. Hasbi. Soon, the it would spread; some criminals surrendered, some were shot, some fled and others quit a life of crime. Many of the dead criminals wore tattoos which made it apparent to the public their status in society. The Petrus Killings caused crime to drop significantly. Specifically in 1983, violent crime in Yogyakarta decreased from 57 to 20 and Semarang saw a 78 to 50 decline. This perceived success led to the government to expand the killings.
Suharto himself would not acknowledge the killings and the fact that they were carried out by the military until his biography, Pikiran, Ucapan, dan Tindakan Saya (My Thoughts, Words, and Deeds) was published in 1988. In the book, Suharto explains: "The incidents were not mysterious. The real problem was that the incidents were preceded by public fears." Because some people had exceeded norms in society, "we had to initiate some treatment, some stern action", Suharto claimed. "What kind of action? Well, we had to resort to force. But it was not just execution by shootings. No! Those who resisted had to be shot. They were gunned down because they fought back."
As the mystery behind the Petrus Killings unfolds, no specific death toll has been established. In 1983, it was estimated that 300 corpses were found throughout Indonesia. Due to the fact that many criminals were still missing, that number is likely inaccurate and understated. A notable Indonesian criminologist, Mulyana W. Kusumah, places the death toll of more than 2,000. In 1984, Hans van den Broek, the former Foreign Minister of the Netherlands asked the Indonesian government to place the death toll around 3,000. Other reports put the death toll around 10,000. Research continues to reveal the extent of the Petrus Killings and how they applied to anti-crime efforts in many major Indonesian cities.
Operations against criminals in the late 1980s had police claiming they would not be following on the earlier pattern.
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- The Indonesian Intelligence State Characteristics and prospects See footnote 11
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- Justus M. van der Kroef "Petrus": Patterns of Prophylactic Murder in Indonesia in Asian Survey Vol. 25, No. 7 (Jul., 1985), pp. 745–759 Published by: University of California Press
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