Thursday, December 2, 2010

Indonesian Military Torturers Unpunished

President Yudhoyono's promise to prosecute torturers goes unmet

Human rights activists are characterizing a court-martial ostensibly conducted to punish Indonesian soldiers for torturing two Papuan farmers as a show trial to provide cover for the military during visits last month by US President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Posted anonymously on YouTube last month, video footage of the two farmers being tortured by Indonesian soldiers shocked the world, coming as it did just weeks before the Obama and Gillard visits. Although President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono pledged that those responsible would be prosecuted, a month on, investigations into the abuse appear to have been dropped.

In the video, farmer Anggen Pugu Kiwo screams in pain as a burning stick is held against his genitals. He is bound and naked as Indonesian military officers demand he give them information about weapons allegedly being stored by Papuan independence fighters in his village. It is just one of several brutal images in the footage.

Following outrage over the abuse, a court-martial did take place in Papua, but it was for a separate and far less serious incident. This confusion gave the government breathing space to entertain President Obama, who arrived several days after and made no mention of the case.

Andreas Harsono from Human Rights Watch says the trial was a joke. "I'm afraid the trial was made to respond to the prime minister's visit and also the US president's visit," Harsono said. "It was not even the right trial it was a trial of another video. I don't think they are serious about finding the perpetrators."

Another tape of Tunaliwor Kiwo explaining his torture ordeal has also been released following the court martial. In it, Kiwo explains in graphic detail how his captors beat him with a log, used pliers to pull the nails from his feet, cut his body with a razor and repeatedly held plastic bags over his head so he couldn't breathe. After that, he says, they rubbed salt and chilli into his wounds.

"The torture switched to the TNI soldier concocting this chilli sauce using a huge number of chillies, red onions, garlic, detergent and salt mixed with water. They poured it over my body from head to toe," Kiwo said. "I screamed because it hurt so much and they made sure not a single body part was missed."

Kiwo claims he eventually escaped after overhearing plans for his execution. Members of the Papuan Customary Council trekked for two days to reach his hideout and record the testimony, which was delivered to the National Commission on Human Rights in Jakarta.

The Indonesian military claims that they cannot identify the soldiers who tortured him because their faces were concealed in the video. But Yosep Adi Prasetyo, the deputy chairman of the National Commission, says that is a lie. "We identified them. They are from the battalion 753, from Nabiree."

Others in the military have repeatedly insisted that the matter was dealt with by the earlier court-martial. While allegations of torture at the hands of the military and police in Papua are not new, the video of Kiwo's torture was the first to have been broadcast on the internet and shown in the Indonesian media.

A team from the Human Rights Commission is scheduled to travel to Papua this month to collect more evidence. Yosep says they will also investigate claims that a tribal leader was beheaded and a woman raped during a military campaign in March this year. Yudhoyono was also in Papua last week but there was no suggestion the case or the prosecution of the perpetrators was on his agenda. Repeated attempts to contact a presidential spokesperson were apparently ignored.

As for Anggen Pugu Kiwo, he remains in hiding, deep in the Papuan jungle. He says the torture has caused permanent damage to his body, but he is grateful to be alive.

This article was first broadcast on Asia Calling, a regional current affairs radio program produced by Indonesia's independent radio news agency KBR68H and broadcast in local languages in 10 countries across Asia. You can find more stories from Asia Calling at

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