Indonesia Arrests 13 Soldiers in Investigation of Papua Torture Video

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Indonesia Arrests 13 Soldiers in Investigation of Papua Torture Video

The armed forces were forced to issue a rare apology after a video showing soldiers torturing a Papuan separatist fighter was posted online.

Indonesia Arrests 13 Soldiers in Investigation of Papua Torture Video
Credit: Flickr/lussqueittt

Indonesia’s military says that it has arrested 13 soldiers after the emergence of a video showing the torture of a man believed to be a member of a Papuan separatist group.

The video, which has been doing the rounds on social media since last month, shows men kicking, beating, and dunking a man in a barrel of water. The men appear to be Indonesian soldiers and their victim an indigenous Papuan, but the origin of the footage had not been previously authenticated.

In a lengthy news conference yesterday, army spokesperson Brig. Gen. Kristomei Sianturi said that the incident in the video had occurred on February 3 at a military outpost in Puncak, a rugged region of Central Papua province.

“This is a violation of the law and we will act according to the applicable laws and regulations,” Sianturi said. “This is what we regret, that the Indonesian military or Indonesian army never taught, never approved any violence in asking for information.” Sianturi said all 13 suspects had been detained at the military police’s maximum security detention center in West Java for further investigation.

The military’s top figure in Papua, Maj. Gen. Izak Pangemanan, said that in addition to the 13 detained military personnel, more than 40 were being questioned as part of an ongoing investigation.

“We regret what happened, it shouldn’t have happened,” The Guardian quoted him as saying. “We condemn this action. It’s a violation of the law and it has tarnished the military’s reputation.” he added, “We apologize to all Papuans.”

In several video clips of the incident, at least five men are seen punching and beating the man, who is tied up in a 44-gallon barrel filled with water. They taunt him with racist slurs and then lacerate his back with a machete. According to Pangemanan, the incident took place after a shootout between Indonesian soldiers and West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) rebels suspected of burning a public health facility in Omukia district in Puncak.

Pangemanan said that three men were arrested after the shootout, one of whom died when he jumped from the car with his hands tied behind his back and hit his head on a rock. Definus Kogoya, whom the Indonesian military identified as the man in the video, also tried to escape, Pangemanan said. Security forces recaptured him and then tortured him at a military post in Gome district, in an effort to get information on the whereabouts of other TPNPB insurgents.

There is some dispute as to whether Kogoya survived the ordeal. The Indonesian military said that he has recovered after medical treatment and has been returned to the custody of local police. The human rights group Amnesty International alleged that he has since died.

A separatist insurgency has raged in Papua since the region was absorbed by Indonesia after what independence activists say was a flawed U.N. referendum in 1969. But the conflict has worsened considerably in recent years, as the Indonesian state has extended infrastructure and transport links into the heart of highland Papua. This has inflamed resistance, prompting more sophisticated and successful attacks by TPNPB and other pro-independence groups, which has been followed by further Indonesian military deployments, in a spiral of conflict that shows no signs of ending anytime soon.

The fact that the military made such a rare admission reflects the public outcry that greeted the leaking of the video. A spokesperson from the Presidential Staff Office encouraged firm action against the people in the video if it was proven they were military personnel.

The video clips opened a rare portal into the reality of the situation in Papua, access to which is tightly controlled by the security forces. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has been barred from the region, and access by the press is difficult. Local governments have also imposed internet and telecommunications blackouts during past episodes of unrest.

While both Sianturi and Pangemanan claimed that torture is not Indonesian policy, past reporting by human rights groups suggests that the incident was just one in a long line of confirmed and suspected cases of torture and abuse that have accompanied Jakarta’s pacification campaign.

Usman Hamid of Amnesty International told ABC News that he had received many videos depicting the alleged torture of Papuans in the past. “In the past five years there has been an increasing escalation of violence involving the Indonesian army and the pro-independence armed rebels,” he told the news outlet.

The fact that the soldiers allegedly responsible for the horrific act of torture have been arrested, and their heinous acts made public, is certainly a sign of progress, but it is also clear that the military’s hand was forced by bad publicity. Had the video not been leaked, would the soldiers have been held to account? Many years of precedent suggest that it is unlikely.