Police arrest four for stealing temples’ sacred objects

by Peni Widarti on 2012-12-17

After months of fruitless investigation and mounting public pressure, Bali Police announced on Sunday that investigators had smashed a ring believed to be responsible for most of the thefts targeting sacred objects kept in Hindu temples across the island.

The first burglary of sacred objects this year took place in March. Since then, 30 burglaries have been reported to the police, with the three most recent cases taking place on Saturday in Melaya, Jembrana.

The police had been under a lot of pressure to solve the thefts, which for Balinese not only desecrated their places of worship but also insulted them. Following a visit from scores of noted religious and community leaders, Bali Police deputy chief Brig. Gen. I Ketut Untung Yoga declared the formation of a special team to hunt down the suspects.

At the Sunday press conference, senior-ranking detective Adj. Sr. Comr. Hari Hariadi disclosed that the police had arrested four individuals, who were allegedly directly involved or implicated in the thefts at up to 16 temples.

The suspects were identified only as IWD, IN, KB and MP. The investigators insisted on releasing only the suspects’ initials, fearing that releasing their full names would alert their colleagues, who are still at large. Even their faces were covered with balaclavas when they were being paraded before the journalists.

The police said that they were now hunting several individuals, who had allegedly bought the stolen items from the suspects, as well as other rings believed to be responsible for the remaining unsolved thefts.

Hari Hariadi disclosed that the investigators made the first breakthrough when they arrested IWD on Tuesday. The Balinese man was wanted for stealing Chinese coins and a diamond ring from a small temple in Iseh hamlet, Karangasem, and a kris dagger from the house of Adah Salip in Karangasem.

“During interrogation, the suspect crumbled and confessed that he had also committed burglaries targeting sacred objects at several temples in different regencies. He also named three other individuals involved in the crimes.”

The other three suspects were detained on Saturday. IWD stated that MP acted as the field coordinator during the burglaries, while KB acted as the boss, ordering the burglaries and selling the stolen objects to the fences. One of the fences has been identified as I Ketut MD, while members of the ring who are still at large were identified as S and A.

The suspects admitted that they had committed the burglaries at five temples in Karangasem, three in Bangli, two in Gianyar and one temple each in Tabanan and Badung. The suspects were not quite sure about the locations of the four remaining temples.

“We believe that this wave of burglaries may involve more than one ring and may also involve alone burglar.”

The temples’ sacred objects, in particular the pretima, or small statues made of precious woods usually bedecked with gold and gemstones, are very valuable items for Balinese Hindus because they serve as the earthly, physical presence of their gods.

The loss of a pretima cuts deeply into the psyche of the community, which feels violated by the theft and, at the same time, abandoned by the grace and protection of their deities. Creating a new pretima would be expensive for communities, and they would also have to conduct a series of major rituals to purify and enshrine the object.

It is for this reason that so many Balinese Hindus have demanded that the judiciary not treat such thefts as common criminal acts. Instead, they argue, the perpetrators must be tried for desecration.

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