Military on the Defensive Over Papua Torture Case Court-Martial Switch

Military on the Defensive Over Papua Torture Case Court-Martial Switch
, 8 November 2010


By: Markus Junianto Sihaloho


The military has failed to say why it switched Friday’s announced court-martial of five soldiers accused of torturing two detainees in Papua but has said they will face justice.

The military had said Friday’s court-martial would be that of the five soldiers implicated in an incident in May that came to light after being posted on YouTube in mid-October.


In the 10-minute video, as many as six soldiers could be seen torturing two men, applying a burning stick to one of the men’s genitals and threatening them with a knife and a gun. 

However, four soldiers who faced Friday’s court-martial in Jayapura have been implicated in the March beating of a man suspected of hiding weapons.

The torture incident was recorded on one of the soldier’s cellphones.

Human Rights Watch slammed the switch, which it blamed on “Indonesia’s opaque military court system.”

Army spokesman Brig. Gen. Soewarno Widjonarko said on Sunday there was no reason for the military to prevent the court-martial.

“It’s better to wait because I don’t know exactly the crux of the investigation or the charge,” he said.

“The trial will start according to official procedures.”

Soewarno said it “will show the public our commitment to settling this case fairly. Human Rights Watch can say what it wants, but the world will know the truth.” 

However, Andreas Harsono, from HRW’s Indonesian office, said the military was never really willing to try the case fairly, despite orders to do so from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

He blamed factions within the military for “trying to fool everyone concerned with this case.”

“I don’t know whether they’re just pretending to be stupid or if they’re willfully trying to fool the president and other officials,” Andreas said.

“Someone in the military is very probably trying to fool the mass media.”

Ramadhan Pohan, from the House of Representatives’ Commission I, overseeing defense and foreign affairs, called on the military to hold a fair court-martial, but also slammed HRW for putting “too much political pressure on the case.”

He said such pressure could be seen as outside interference and could lead to an unfair verdict.

Ramadhan, from the Democratic Party, said the main point of the legal process was to serve as a deterrent for other soldiers serving in Papua. “

Just because HRW is an international NGO doesn’t mean it can pass judgement on what’s fair,” he said.

“We need to see it in the proper light, in that the investigation has been carried out and the perpetrators will face the maximum sanctions.” Andreas Hugo Pareira, defense and foreign affairs spokesman with the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), urged the military to investigate the culture of abuse against Papuans by the armed forces.

To prove such incidents were isolated and not ordered by top brass, the perpetrators must be tried in a human rights tribunal.

“It’s important for the military to clarify that these are isolated cases and not an institutional problem, and that’s why they should let a human rights tribunal try the suspects,” he said.

The video prompted an outcry from both at home and abroad.