Fears Expressed Over Treatment of Suspected Indonesian Separatists

Fears Expressed Over Treatment of Suspected Indonesian Separatists

The Jakarta Globe, 8 August 2010


Publicized incidents of suspected torture of separatists in eastern Indonesia have alarmed rights groups, who say further reform is needed to eradicate the kind of brutality tolerated under former President Suharto.

Indonesia has embraced democracy since the fall of the autocratic Suharto in 1998 and is attracting strong interest from foreign investors, thanks largely to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s market-friendly reforms.

The United States recently lifted a ban on ties with Kopassus, Indonesia’s once-notorious special forces unit, citing the military’s improved human rights record.

But military and police efforts to crush long-running separatist movements in resource-rich Papua and the Moluccas in easternmost Indonesia have alarmed human rights activists.

“Indonesia now is not Indonesia 10 years ago and there have been significant institutional reforms that protect human rights. But we do have some elements of the old Indonesia,” said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. “I think it shows how far the Yudhoyono administration has to go.”

Earlier this month, a gruesome video clip on Youtube showed a Papuan separatist lying in the jungle after his abdomen had been sliced open by a bayonet as he was questioned by uniformed officers.

National police spokesman Edward Aritonang was quoted in a report as saying that police had made the video to document their arrest of the man, Yawan Wayeni, a member of the secessionist Free Papua Organization.

Local media also reported last month that a Papuan journalist had been found dead with signs of torture on his body and that other Papuan journalists had received phone threats.

In another incident, seven people were arrested in the Moluccas in early August for owning banned separatist flags and “a political book”, said Johanis Huwae, spokesman for the Moluccan provincial police.

Indigenous groups in the southern Moluccas, particularly on Ambon island, have long agitated for the creation of an independent Republic of the Southern Moluccas. Some have been jailed in the past for performing a war dance associated with the movement.

The incidents showed more needed to be done to protect the rights of peaceful protesters, said New York-based Human Rights Watch. Amnesty International last week raised concerns that the recently arrested Moluccan people may be at risk of torture but this allegation was rejected by police.

Teuku Faizasyah, spokesman for Indonesia’s foreign ministry, said it was unfair to make generalizations based on cases with different circumstances.

“Things are far better compared to the old ways,” he said.

International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, last week published a report urging the Indonesian government to address political discontent and migration in Papua urgently if it was to avoid fuelling the separatist movement.