Father Worries for His Now Partially Blind Son, A Victim of Violence and Abuse in a Papuan Prison

Father Worries for His Now Partially Blind Son, A Victim of Violence and Abuse in a Papuan Prison

The Jakarta Globe
by Nivell Rayda

Two traumatic events have haunted 50-year-old Petrus Pakage for the past three years — the day his son Ferdinand was arrested for a murder he said he did not commit, and the day his son lost sight in his right eye, after allegedly having been physically abused by prison guards in Abepura, Papua, last September.

"I was in my office when I got a call from a hospital in Jayapura," Petrus, a civil servant, told the Jakarta Globe. "They told me that [Ferdinand] was hospitalized following a prison brawl."

When Petrus arrived at the Dock Dua hospital in Jayapura, Ferdinand had already been there for two days without receiving any real treatment.

"It was only after I arrived that they began surgery to save his right eye. But it was too late," he said. "The doctors told me that the guards had hit my son with a set of keys. One of the keys apparently slipped and lodged in his eye."

Ferdinand is only one of the two dozen cases of torture, violence and abuse at the Abepura state penitentiary reported by the US-based Human Rights Watch last week.

The watchdog alleged that the tortures began soon after Anthonius Ayorbaba, a former official of the Jayapura office of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, became the prison warden in August 2008.

In another case cited by the rights group, a prison guard allegedly used a wrench to beach the head of a prisoner named Nurcholid after he was found in possession of a mobile phone.

The beating caused Nurcholid severe head injuries and partial loss of hearing in his left ear.

The same guard had also forced a prisoner’s hands into a pot of boiling water, Human Rights Watch alleged.

Petrus said he reported his son’s case to the police. "But no action was ever taken. I even reported the case to the prison and they promised that the guards involved in the incident would be fired."

However, he said he discovered months later that the guards supposedly behind his son’s partial blindness were still working in the prison.

"They looked at me and smiled, as though they were taunting me," Petrus said. "I was outraged. I could only squeeze my hands in despair."

Ayorbaba, the prison warden, however, has a different version of the story. In a letter to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights — a copy of which was obtained by the Jakarta Globe — Ayorbaba wrote that Ferdinand, who is three years into a 15-year jail term, had escaped prison at least three times.

He said in the letter that it was during Ferdinand’s most recent escape that the beating occurred.

Ayorbaba wrote that on Sept. 19, a civil servant named Lukas Pakono saw Ferdinand in a mall in Jayapura and reported it to the prison. When prison officials arrived to arrest him, Ferdinand threatened them with a knife he stole from a street vendor, forcing the officials to physically subdue him.

However, Pakono later denied that he had seen Ferdinand in a mall or reported anything to prison officials.

Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, called on the government to replace the prison warden and open up the penitentiary to international monitoring. The prison currently holds about 230 prisoners, including more than a dozen incarcerated because of their political activities.

"We want a full investigation into these cases, both by the police and the Ministry of Justice," Adams said.

But Untung Sugiono, the director general for penitentiary affairs at the ministry, said they would not be responding to the allegations from Human Rights Watch.

"We have confirmed the allegations with our office in Papua and the warden. They have submitted a complete chronology of what happened and several witnesses have confirmed the warden’s story," Sugiono said.

"We can pretty much say that the allegations are not true. However, we will respond to the request from international bodies to examine the prison, so they can see for themselves that there have been no human rights violations."

Reports of torture in Abepura prison also existed before Ayorbaba became head of the facility. In a letter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Office in Geneva, the Evangelical Christian Church of Papua in April 2008 reported five cases of alleged prison torture.