HRW's torture reports may have been fabricated: Govt

HRW's torture reports may have been fabricated: Govt
The Jakarta Post, 25 June 2010

The Justice and Human Rights Ministry plans to take action on reports alleging the torture of Ambonese and Papuan prisoners arrested by the National Police's Detachment 88 antiterrorist squad, for having waved banned flags at rallies.

"If the torture really occurred, report it to me," Justice and Human Rights Minister Patrialis Akbar said Thursday, adding that torturing people, particularly prisoners, was a serious violation of human rights that could not be justified under Indonesian law.

However, according to Haris Azhar from Kontras, Human Rights Watch (HRW) had reported the case to the Directorate of Correctional Institutions under the ministry, but the report had been rejected.

On Wednesday, HRW released a report in Jakarta stating that Detachment 88 had tortured people arrested during peaceful rallies in Maluku and Papua. The report was based on interviews with more than 50 political prisoners that were conducted between December 2008 and May 2010.

According to human rights activists, the police had tortured prisoners to get them to renounce their separatist activities, such as hoisting the banned Papuan Morning Star flag and the South Maluku Republic (RMS) flags, in public.

The report shows that a school teacher, Johan Teterisa, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for treason for his role in the unfurling of an RMS flag during a traditional cakalele war dance performance in Ambon, Maluku, on June 29, 2007.

Teterisa was beaten repeatedly with sticks and kicked by police officials until he lost consciousness, it says.

In Papua, Filep Karma was sentenced to 15 years in jail in May 2005 for treason, for allegedly organizing a pro-independence rally and trying to raise the Morning Star flag in 2004. He is now suffering from prostate problems that require surgery, but the prison clinic has told him to just drink water and rest.

Teterisa and Filep are among 10 prisoners who were featured in the report which narrates their stories, including the torture.

"Why was an antiterror squad deployed to handle cases of people being charged with treason as political prisoners?" Haris told The Jakarta Post, adding that the government had formed Detachment 88 to combat terrorism in Indonesia.

"Why should the government send Detachment 88 to areas where there are no threats of terrorism?"

He said he believed the existence of terrorist threats in Indonesia was being used as a pretext for arresting people displaying banned regional flags in public places.

"The law on treason *under the Criminal Code* is often abused by the authorities," he said, adding that waving flags could not be construed as intending to establish a state separate from Indonesia.

Haris said the government should ensure that its law enforcement officers did not use violence because Indonesia had ratified the United Nations Convention against Torture in 1998.

"Indonesia claims to be more democratic, but has failed to accommodate the right to express political aspirations," Haris said. He added that the government should accommodate this right instead of criminalizing political activists.

Haris criticized the government saying it was supposed to be more responsive in handling such cases.

With regards to the allegations of torture, Patrialis said "this is what HRW claims, but we don't know whether the incidents really occurred."

National Police spokesman Insp. Gen. Edward Aritonang said he had not yet received any reports related to the torture of political prisoners.

"First we will check whether torture occurred or not," Aritonang said. (ipa)