Petrus killings

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The Petrus killings were a series of extrajudicial executions in Indonesia that occurred between 1983 and 1985 under President Suharto's New Order regime. Without undergoing a trial, thousand of criminals were mysteriously shot to death by anonymous or undercover gunmen. Their bodies were then placed in public places which terrorized an unaware populace.[1] 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.

The killings are often perceived as an example of Suharto's authoritarianism, and was sometimes viewed[by whom?] as Indonesia's indirect equivalent to secret police commonly found on other authoritarian regimes such as the Soviet Union and East Germany.[citation needed]

Origin of name[edit]

The term Petrus was derived from the Indonesian acronym containing the words "mysterious shooters" (penembak misterius) or "mysterious shootings" (penembakan misterius). It is also known colloquially as "dar der dor", which is an Indonesian onomatopoeia for the sound of a gunshot[2]


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.[1]


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." [3]

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.[3] Many of the dead criminals wore tattoos which made it apparent to the public their status in society.[1] 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.

Petrus was a game changer in Indonesia, making an ultimatum to the public. Police intelligence supplied the garrison commander with a list naming hundreds of suspected criminals and ex-prisoners in the region. The garrison then put together a black list and issued a public ultimatum to all galis (without, however, naming names) to "surrender immediately" to the garrison headquarters. Those who did, and these numbered several hundred, were required to fill out detailed forms, providing their life history as well as data on all their family members and friends. They were also required to sign statements agreeing to refrain from criminal activities or face "firm action" from the authorities. Each gali was obliged to carry a special card and report to the garrison on a regular basis. Those who did not turn up to be registered, or did not keep their appointments with the garrison, were hunted down and killed by squads of military men.

As the list was shrouded in mystery, citizens had to question themselves if they were "criminals" and potentially on the list. This self-surveillance tactic made people very aware of their actions and tread carefully during this period. Moreover, unlike many other issues in Indonesia, nothing, not even money or powerful connections could erase a name off the mysterious list. However, some have argued that there was no actual list and this tactic lead to the Police identifying criminals based on their registration. [4]

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."[1][3]


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.[1] Research continues to reveal the extent of the Petrus Killings and how they applied to anti-crime efforts in many major Indonesian cities.[3]

Operations against criminals in the late 1980s had police claiming they would not be following on the earlier pattern.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Colombij, Freek (Spring 2002). "Explaining the Violent Solution in Indonesia" (PDF). The Brown Journal of World Affairs. Retrieved 17 March 2012. 
  2. ^ The Indonesian Intelligence State Characteristics and prospects See footnote 11
  3. ^ a b c d "Shooters in the Dark". Tempo Magazine. February 5–11, 2008. Retrieved 17 March 2012. 
  4. ^ Joshua Barker, State of Fear: Controlling the Criminal Contagion in Suharto's New Order Indonesia, No. 66 (Oct., 1998), pp. 6-43 Published by: Southeast Asia Program Publications
  5. ^ "ANTI-HOODLUM OPERATIONS NOT TO LEAD TO 'PETRUS' KILLINGS : POLICE", ANT - LKBN ANTARA (Indonesia), Asia Pulse Pty Ltd, 2008-11-19, retrieved 19 March 2012 

Further reading[edit]