Police deny Densus 88 tortured detainees

Police deny Densus 88 tortured detainees
, 14 September 2010


Australia has sent an official to Maluku to investigate the alleged torture of political detainees by Indonesia’s elite antiterror unit Detachment 88 (Densus 88), an allegation quickly denied by the National Police.

Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald daily reported Monday that Australia had sent an official to provincial capital Ambon to investigate claims that the unit, which receives millions of dollars in funding from Australia each year, brutalized a group of separatists last month, beating and dehumanizing them in detention.

“The Australian government is aware and concerned about the activities of Detachment 88 officers, dispatching an official two weeks ago to Ambon, Maluku’s capital, to investigate the claims,” the Herald said.

The arrests of the Republic of South Maluku (RMS) separatists occurred in August after police and intelligence officers uncovered a plan to fly dozens of banned separatist flags and other politically sensitive material attached to helium-filled balloons over Ambon when President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and foreign guests were in the city for Sail Banda event.

Indonesian Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Marwoto Suto, however, denied that Detachment 88 had anything to do with the alleged arrests, saying it was not part of the unit’s job description, which is to specifically handle terrorism suspects.

“Separatist movements should be the responsibility of the local police, and or Brimob [Police Mobile Brigade] squads assigned to conflict areas, such as Aceh, Papua and Maluku,” Marwoto said. “Detachment 88 handles terrorists, not separatists.”

He did not deny, however, the possible mistreatment of prisoners by local police.

Marwoto said the police might conduct an internal investigation into the alleged torture, but only after the Australian government sent an official letter regarding the plan to investigate the case.

“It’s only normal that they come [to National Police headquarters] first to give the letter; otherwise the Maluku Police might reject the investigation,” he said, adding he had not heard about the arrival of an Australian official probing the case.

Marwoto confirmed that Detachment 88 was indeed supported by the Australian government.

“What I know is that the support is not cash, but in the form of training, education and equipment,” he told The Jakarta Post.

In June, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report saying that the unit, in cooperation with prison guards and local police, tortured political prisoners in Maluku.

The international watchdog conducted interviews with more than 50 political prisoners between December 2008 and May 2010. They found that Detachment 88 officers tortured those who tried to “peacefully wave banned symbols”.

In line with the report launch, HRW asked all benefactor countries, including Australia, the Netherlands and several EU countries, to stop funding Detachment 88 until there is an impartial investigation into its activities.