Stab Magazine | Inside Bali’s Deadly Brand Of Mob Justice

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Inside Bali’s Deadly Brand Of Mob Justice

“The thing is if you get caught, you pretty much get killed,” Betet Merta tells Stab. 

news // Jan 24, 2017
Words by stab
Reading Time: 3 minutes

“Put the cake in front of them, they’re gonna eat it,” explains Michael Martin, a second-generation expat, whose lived on the island for over 20 years, of the simple equation that has lead to Bali’s never-ending run of thefts and robbery. All despite the very real prospect of being mercilessly beaten to death in public by an angry mob if you’re caught. 

“With so many foreigners moving to Bali and so much tourism and so much money and development, you know, they’re just opportunists,” says Martin. 

Earlier this month a 22-year-old Indonesian man by the name of Bagas, was beaten to death by a violent mob in Kuta after he and another 25-year-old man were caught attempting a bag snatch on an American tourist. As is customary for thieves caught by the public in Bali, the pair were descended upon by up to 15 local people who took turns beating the pair until Bagas was dead and the 25-year-old man was in a critical condition. No charges were laid on the mob by police. 

“The thing is if you get caught, pretty much you get killed. It’s seen as karma for you. It’s very heavy,” explains Bali-based pro surfer, Betet ‘Da Guy’ Merta.  

Betet has been privy to at least two public lynchings and says behind it all is a fierce sense of island and community pride. 

“I’ve seen a couple of times. It’s pretty nuts. If somebody is stealing all the people in the area want to get him. They want to punch him. I ask them why, they say we hate them, they make Bali look bad,” he says.   

According to one expat brazen attempts at thefts are a monthly if not weekly occurrence on the island. Earlier this week a French woman was pulled her from her bike in an attempted drive-by bag snatch, the contents of which were strewn across the ground. When a man came to help he then made off with several of her items in what appears to have been a sophisticated tag-team effort. 

A 15-year-old captured being beaten on film in a shocking incident of mob justice at the famed surf spot of Padang last march wasn’t as lucky.

The stories of mob justice are endless. Another relayed to Stab by an Australian tourist involved a pair of robbers caught on dusk in the famed Jalan Legian strip, just outside Warung Ocha. Once again a mob of local men congregated around the pair taking turns beating them between sips of coffee and cigarettes. When the police arrived they spoke to the village elders before tossing the thieves into the back of their pickup and leaving the scene without further investigation. The witness told Stab he believed one of them was dead by the time police arrived. 

“The police not wanna do nothing. It’s useless for the cop because it not make money for them,” says Betet.

The thieves are often said to be from neighbouring Java, having arrived on the island in search of work on one of the many hotel and tourist construction projects. Javanese construction workers are paid on average between USD $7-10 a day, much of which is sent back to their families.

Balinese police, meanwhile, have been embroiled in countless corruption and extortion scandals. While it has also been alleged that organised crime has been linked to the trafficking of stolen goods. 

So bad did Bali’s crimewave get an unprecedented meeting was called in 2014 between the island’s various powerbrokers to discuss a solution. From left to right they sat at a long press-conference-style table: a police officer, a military man, several heavies from the local mafia group, Laskar, and a number religious elders from the Banjar – a respected Hindu group. In front of them were a couple hundred of the island’s wealthiest and most influential expats – various owners of hotels, bars, cafes and fashion boutiques – all there to find out what could be done to defend themselves against the crime wave.

The meeting was called after a schoolteacher from Leicestershire, England, was strangled to death in her luxury villa. A week prior a 17-year-old Korean woman was also dragged from her bike in an attempted bag snatch, before being run over and killed by an oncoming motorist. Their grizzly demise had sent shockwaves through the island’s large expat community and as the days wore on more and more accounts of similarly violent muggings, rapes and home invasions had begun to be shared through social media. The community’s hand was forced by the inadequacy of police on the island to do anything.

“The only thing you can do if you’re an expat in Bali is pay the cops,” a local journalist who preferred to remain nameless told me. “Even if you’re family got murdered if you don’t give the cops money they are not going to investigate. That is the real truth of the Indo police force and I know this because I have relatives who are a part of it,” she said. 


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