The systematic use of force by private militias could have an important bearing on this year’s elections. Parliament and regional assemblies will be chosen next month, the president in July.
The earliest wave of lynchings came in east Java late in 1998 when hundreds of practitioners of black magic were killed – some murdered in night-time attacks by mysterious ‘ninjas’, rumoured to be army assassins. Others were killed by bloodthirsty crowds and counter-attacks by local communities saw suspected ninjas beaten to death. Although the army eventually stepped in to halt the violence, the practice soon spread across the country, with petty criminals rather than magicians increasingly the victims.