Papuan torture trial 'red herring'

Papuan torture trial 'red herring' Tom Allard, Jakarta
The Age, 8 November 2010
By: Tom Allard


A MILITARY trial into abuses by soldiers in Papua, trumpeted by Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as evidence of the country's commitment to human rights ahead of Julia Gillard's visit, has proven to be a grand deception.

The trial of four soldiers began on Friday in Jayapura, the capital of Papua province, amid assurances from the Indonesian government and military that those appearing were involved in the torture of two Papuan men depicted in a graphic video.

But when the trial started, it became apparent that the four defendants had nothing to do with the incident depicted in the video, which took place in Papua on May 30. Instead, they were four soldiers involved in another incident, in March, which was also captured on video. While disturbing - it involves soldiers kicking and hitting detained Papuans - the abuses in the March incident are milder than the genital burning torture in the May video.

Advertisement: Story continues below Dubbed the ''red herring trial'' by The Jakarta Post, human rights advocates said the deception proved the matter must be investigated by Indonesia's human rights body and the perpetrators tried in Indonesia's Human Rights Court.

Papuan activists said the ''farcical'' military tribunal hearing was a deliberate strategy to deflect international condemnation ahead of the visits of Ms Gillard, who travelled to Jakarta last week, and US President Barack Obama, who arrives tomorrow.

A day before Ms Gillard's visit, Dr Yudhoyono announced the trial was to take place and urged Ms Gillard not to raise the topic when they spoke. ''There's no need to pressure Indonesia. We have conducted an investigation and are ready for a trial or anything that is required to uphold justice and discipline,'' he said.

But at the weekend, Lieutenant Colonel Susilo, spokesman for TNI's military command in Papua, admitted the soldiers before the tribunal had nothing to do with the torture.

''It is difficult for us to investigate the perpetrators in the second video because they did not show any attribute or uniform,'' he said. ''So what we could do was working on the first video. We could recognise their units and faces easily. ''

Ms Gillard's office and the Department of Foreign Affairs declined to comment.