Three Indonesia soldiers on trial over torture

Three Indonesia soldiers on trial over torture
AFP, 13 January 2011

JAYAPURA, Indonesia — Three Indonesian soldiers appeared before a military tribunal on Thursday charged with disobeying orders over the brutal videoed torture of two Papuans.

The footage, posted last year on YouTube, shows soldiers applying a burning stick to the genitals of an unarmed man and threatening another with a knife as they interrogate them about the location of a weapons cache.

The incident and the authorities' alleged reluctance to investigate has cast doubt on the Indonesian government's pledges to rein in military abuses in return for renewed US military exchanges.

When the long-awaited trial began in a military court, the soldiers were charged only with the minor offence of disobeying orders. They were not formally accused of the more serious crimes of illegal detention and abuse.

"They defied the orders of their commander. They failed to follow commands and as such, they committed abuse," military prosecutor Mayor Soemantri told the court.

"Without testimonies from the victims, we cannot prove the abuse. We need to prove it officially that they sustained wounds and burn scars through a medical examination," he added.

"So far, we only have the CD (of the Internet video) as official evidence of the abuse."

It was unclear why the prosecution lacked evidence of torture when the victims -- Tunaliwor Kiwo and Telingga Gire -- have made detailed statements about their gruesome ordeal to human rights groups.

National Human Rights Commission chairman Ifdhal Kasim told AFP the men would like to testify but they were terrified of military reprisals and had not received adequate safety guarantees.

"We're in contact with the victims but they are still traumatised and don't dare to testify before the court," he said.

The three accused soldiers -- Second Sergeant Irwan Rizkiyanto, First Private Yakson Agu and First Private Tamrin Mahan Giri -- told the judge they thought they were being prosecuted for torture.

They could face a maximum sentence of two and half years in jail for disobeying orders.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice but rights activists have condemned the trial as a "kangaroo court".

The graphic video drew international attention to allegations of widespread abuses by the security forces in restive regions such as Papua and the Maluku islands.

Indonesian authorities claim they are merely responding to threats from "terrorists" and armed insurgents in regions with simmering separatist aspirations.

Rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say there is an entrenched culture of impunity in the country's security forces.

Despite such concerns, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates last year lifted a 12-year suspension of contacts with the Indonesian special forces as a result of what he called "recent actions... to address human rights issues".

Few Indonesian military officers have faced justice for rights abuses dating back decades, including alleged crimes against humanity in East Timor and the killing of thousands of political activists during the Suharto dictatorship.

Papua and the Malukus have underground separatist movements which Indonesia regards as threats to its territorial unity. Political activists are regularly given lengthy jail terms for crimes such as possessing outlawed rebel flags.

Foreign journalists are not allowed to visit the resource-rich eastern region of Papua to investigate human rights issues.