Outrage follows video showing torture of Papuans

AP News
Posted: Oct 19, 2010 10:55 AM
Outrage follows video showing torture of Papuans

A grisly video that shows Indonesian security forces torturing suspected separatists in Papua province _ burning the genitals of one and running a knife across the neck of another _ sparked public outcry Tuesday after circulating on the Internet.

For many in the young democracy, the images were a reminder of the dark days of former dictator Suharto, who often used the military and police to stifle dissent, especially in far-flung regions with aspirations of independence.

Stories about the video were prominent in local newspapers Tuesday and expressions of anger filled commentary pages.

"It was shocking, every scene was barbaric," said Haris Azhar of the human rights group, Kontras. "The government has to find out who is behind such violence in Papua and bring them to court."

One of the suspected separatists is shown lying naked on patch of gravel in the remote village of Puncak Jaya. An interrogator steps roughly on his chest, as another repeatedly asks where he and his friends have stashed their weapons.

"You're a liar. Get the fire. Burn him," the interrogator says and a soldier jumps up to carry out an order to burn the victim's genitals.

There were conflicting reports Tuesday about the man's identity.

Matius Murib, of the independent National Commission on Human Rights, said he was Werius Selenggen, a local church council official, whose body was found soon after he was tortured in late 2009.

But Andreas Harsono, of New York-based Human Rights Watch, said the timing and dialogue on the video suggest someone else. A metadata analysis indicated it was filmed on a 3G cell phone camera on May 30, 2010, he said.

The second victim, also not yet formally identified, is shown being threatened with a knife.

Indonesia, a predominantly Muslim nation of more than 237 million people, has made tremendous strides toward democracy since Suharto was ousted just over a decade ago, implementing reforms that have freed the media and vastly improved human rights.

The government is highly sensitive to the ongoing separatist struggle in Papua, however, giving lengthy prison terms to activists for peacefully expressing their views, organizing rallies or for simply raising pro-independence flags.

It bars access to foreign journalists, human rights workers and academics, making it difficult to verify claims of abuse.

The 10-minute clip said to be of Selenggen _ a copy of which was obtained by the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission _ is one of several videos that have surfaced on the Internet in recent months.

But none has created such a stir, in part because many people insist the perpetrators were not police _ who are still struggling with a reputation for arbitrary arrests and torture _ but soldiers.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, himself a former four-star general, has been largely successful in cleaning up the image of the armed forces since taking power six years ago.

The U.S. even responded by restoring military ties, long severed over concerns of abuse.

"It probably happened in a different era and someone leaked it to make us look bad," said Lt. Col. Susilo, a provincial military spokesman, adding that an investigation will determine if the men, who were dressed in plain clothes, were soldiers or police.

"I promise you, if it does turn out these abuses were carried out recently, we'll find out who was responsible and we'll come down hard."

Indonesia took over Papua from the Dutch in 1963 and formalized its sovereignty six years later through a stage-managed vote by about 1,000 community leaders.

Human rights groups say more than 100,000 people _ a fifth of the impoverished province's population _ have died as result of military action.




(This version CORRECTS that victim has not been formally identified.)