Indonesian Press Slammed for Buying Military’s Line in Torture Trial

Indonesian Press Slammed for Buying Military’s Line in Torture Trial
Jakarta Globe, 2 December 2010

By: Ismira Lutfia


Journalists protest police intimidation in Jayapura, where the trial was held. International media access to Papua is restricted. (Antara Photo)


Human Rights Watch on Thursday chastised the media for propagating misleading news that five soldiers caught on tape torturing two Papuan men had been summarily court-martialed.

Elain Pearson, deputy Asia director for New York-based HRW, said “the media was led to believe” by military officials that the soldiers had been court-martialed. Instead, personnel from another abuse case were tried.

“The media people got confused because of the misleading statement from military officials,” she said, adding both local and international media had been bamboozled.

The case centers on a 10-minute video, believed to be filmed in May, that showed the soldiers beating the two men, apply a burning stick to the genitals of one, and pressing a knife against the neck of the other.

The video caused an international uproar when it was posted on YouTube in October, prompting the Indonesian military to promise a swift court-martial of the soldiers in question.

However, the tribunal that was later convened tried four other soldiers filmed beating a group of unarmed civilians, also in Papua.

That incident, of which images were also posted on the Internet, was believed to have occurred in March. The soldiers involved were sentenced to between five and seven months in prison in November.

The military has since said the torture issue should be dropped, but has refused to acknowledge that the more severe case was never brought to court-martial.

Previously, Army spokesman Brig. Gen. Soewarno Widjonarko said that as far as the Army was concerned, the soldiers accused of violence against Papuans had been court-martialed and sentenced to detention.

“The most important thing is that there has been punishment,” he said. However, he declined to acknowledge that the tribunal in question did not deal with the May case, but on the less-serious March incident.

The confusion and inaccuracies in media reports on the court-martial have been attributed to the remoteness of Papua and foreign news organizations not being allowed into the region.

Imam Wahyudi, chairman of the Indonesian Television Journalists Association (IJTI), said the sheer difficulty of getting to Jayapura, where the court-martial was held, was a major problem for TV journalists who needed to be at the scene in order to get footage of the tribunal.

“Bad weather and difficult access to places in Papua often force us to treat the statements issued by security officials as the truth, because we just don’t have access to the primary source,” Imam said.

He added this problem can be dealt with by properly ascribing quotations — in this case to stress that the report is based on an official’s account of the issue at stake.

However, Imam said journalists should not take official statements for granted and must try harder to get to the primary source, though he reiterated it is not always easy to get verification for all stories.

“That’s why attribution is important — to provide a clear reference of whose version of the story we’re reporting,” Imam said.

He added that reporting on security issues in Papua was now not as difficult as in the pre-reformation era, when the entire province was declared an area of military operations.”