Papua Abuse Trial a Military ‘Showcase,’ Activists Say

Papua Abuse Trial a Military ‘Showcase,’ Activists Say

, 11 November 2010


By: Banjir Ambarita & Nivell Rayda


Jayapura. A military tribunal on Thursday sentenced four soldiers filmed beating unarmed civilians to between five and seven months in prison, but human rights activists remain unappeased by the “showcase” trial.

The case revolves around the beating in March of 30 civilians from Gurage village in Papua’s Puncak Jaya district by four soldiers from the Army’s Yonif 753 Arga Vira Tama Unit, based out of Nabire district.

The incident was recorded on the cellphone of one of the defendants, Second Lt. Cosmos, the only officer to be charged in the case, and posted by unknown parties to YouTube on Oct. 17.

Judges at the court-martial sentenced Cosmos to seven months for allowing his subordinates to physically abuse and degrade the civilians at a military checkpoint near Gurage.

“Cosmos has been found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of allowing his men to commit acts of physical abuse against civilians,” Lt. Col. Madjid Adnan, who presided over Cosmos’s court-martial, said at Thursday’s sentencing.

The other three defendants, who were court-martialed separately from Cosmos, were each given five months in prison.

The sentences were more severe than what had been sought by prosecutors, who had recommended a four-month stint for Cosmos and three months for the others.

The trial has been widely criticized by rights groups since it began last Friday, partly because it was seen as a token move ahead of the visit by US President Barack Obama this week.

Mostly, though, rights activists were angry that the military had not tried another case, centering on the far more brutal torture of two Papuan men, that had been promised to be brought to a tribunal.

That incident was also taped and later posted to YouTube. As many as six soldiers could be seen in the video torturing two men, applying a burning stick to one of the men’s genitals and threatening them with a knife and a gun.

Several military officers have argued that the identities of the soldiers in that video were less clear, while others have rejected the authenticity of the video altogether.
Andreas Harsono, from Human Rights Watch, said the prosecution of torture cases involving the military in Papua was extremely rare, and even then could not be taken to mean that justice had been served.

“We will have to wait until the legal process is truly over,” he said of Thursday’s verdict. “The appeals process is even less transparent, and often the public isn’t informed when the defendants are acquitted.”

He cited the court-martial of Lt. Col. Tri Hartomo, who was accused of killing Papuan leader Theys Hiyo Eluay in 2001.

Hartomo was initially sentenced to three and a half years in prison in 2003, but was acquitted upon appeal.

Shortly after, he was promoted to the rank of full colonel.

Haris Azhar, chairman of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), said the investigation into the latest case had not been transparent. “It creates the impression that the investigation was done as a showcase to coincide with Obama’s visit,” he said.

He also pointed out that only one witness, a soldier, was ever summoned to testify, while none of the victims were called to the stand.

“We demand that the perpetrators of the torture be tried in a civilian court,” he said.