Military Court Tries Soldiers Accused of Papua Torture

Military Court Tries Soldiers Accused of Papua Torture
Jakarta Globe, 14 January 2011

By: Banjir Ambarita, Markus Junianto Sihaloho & Nivell Rayda


Jayapura. Three soldiers faced a military court here on Thursday over the torture of two Papuan men that was captured on video and circulated on the Internet, prompting an international furor late last year.

The soldiers, from the Army’s 753rd Infantry Battalion in Nabire, Papua, were identified as Second Sgt. Irwan Rizkiyanto, First Pvt. Jackson Agu and First Pvt. Thamrin Mahamiri.

The soldiers were manning a military checkpoint near Gurage village in the restive mountainous region of Puncak Jaya when the torture occurred.

Military prosecutors have charged the men with insubordination, which carries a maximum penalty of 30 months in prison.

“Before they were sent to their post, their commander instructed them not to commit any acts of physical or emotional violence against civilians. But they were disobedient,” said the lead prosecutor, Maj. Soemantri.

He added that the men could have been charged with the more serious offense of assault under the civilian Criminal Code, but prosecutors had been unable to obtain the necessary physical evidence and statements from the victims.

“We need physical evidence like medical examinations and witness testimonies, that is what we failed to get,” he said.

“We only have the video to rely on as evidence.”

The three defendants were among a group of six soldiers featured in a 10-minute video that depicted soldiers interrogating two bound Papuans. The video was uploaded onto YouTube last October and quickly went viral.

Military officials promised swift action to organize a court-martial and rights activists were pleased when a trial was announced in November. But that court-martial turned out to be for a different case, involving four soldiers accused of assaulting Papuan civilians in March.

The video posted on YouTube in October showed one of the victims, Tunaliwor Kiwo, being burned on the genitals with a smoldering stick. Telangga Gire, the other victim, was seen being threatened with a large knife.

Members of the Papuan Customary Council were able to meet with Kiwo, who had gone into hiding, and record his testimony.

In the testimony, Kiwo said he had been tortured for more than 48 hours, was repeatedly beaten, suffocated and burned with cigarettes. He said his toes were crushed with pliers and that soldiers rubbed chili paste, detergent and salt into his open wounds.

Prosecutor Lt. Col. Edy I said the defendants believed the victims were members of the Free Papua Movement (OPM), an armed separatist group, because Kiwo was wearing a type of blue necklace commonly worn by members of the organization.

The closed-door trial is scheduled to resume on Monday.

Haris Azhar, chairman of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), said he respected the victims’ reluctance to cooperate with the military investigation.

“This trial is biased, unreliable and offers no protection for the victims,” he said.

The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), he added, should declare the incident a gross human rights violation, take over the investigation and push for the military chief to move the prosecution to the civilian courts.

Separately, Rafendi Djamin, Indonesia’s representative to the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, said the government needed to hand out harsher punishments to stop such violations occurring.

The Military Tribunal Law is not enough of a deterrent and should be revised, he said. Most of the articles in the law treat infringements by soldiers as disciplinary violations, he added.

Rafendi warned that if the county failed to act, then victims and civil society groups could take these cases to international bodies.

“Violators,” he said, “could face court in foreign countries.”