Video sheds light on rights abuses of Indonesian military

2010-08-04 08:14

The amateur video shows a prisoner lying in a jungle in eastern Indonesia moments after troops allegedly sliced open his abdomen with a bayonet.

Using the little life he has left in him, Yawan Wayeni lifts his arm into the air and shouts weakly: “Freedom! Papua ... Freedom!”

At the sound of his muffled voice, gun-toting, uniformed officers resting in the shade approach.

“Speak up,” one taunts.

“What? You all are never going to get freedom. As long as there are still soldiers.”

One year after the activist’s death, footage being circulated on line is providing a glimpse into the actions of Indonesia’s military in Papua, where an 100 000 people have been killed since the former Dutch colony was integrated into the country nearly 50 years ago.

A low-level insurgency in the province remains an extremely sensitive issue for the government, which restricts access to foreign journalists, human rights workers and academics.

Police have said that Wayeni, captured for allegedly vandalising several of their buildings and vehicles, was shot in the thigh and stomach while resisting arrest and that he died on the way to the hospital.

Harkristuti Harkrisnowo, a director-general at Indonesia’s Ministry of Law and Human Rights, said yesterday that she was unaware of the video, but promised to investigate.

Indonesia has made strides towards democracy since emerging from decades of dictatorship under General Suharto in 1998.

Citizens today can vote directly for president and the country has been praised for reforms that have freed the media and vastly improved human rights.

But government critics in Papua are still given lengthy prison terms for peacefully expressing their views, organising rallies or simply raising separatist flags.

Many say they have been tortured in detention with electric shocks, beatings and cigarette burns.

The central government, which granted Papua special autonomy in 2001, denies such atrocities take place.

An Amnesty International report cited incidents of torture, excessive force and executions by security forces in Papua last year.

Others said the killing pointed to the persistence of violence in governing the far-flung, desperately poor region.

“For all their talk about how things have changed since Suharto’s days, this particular murder is just another example reminding us how much remains the same,” said Richard Chauvel, a senior lecturer at Victoria University in Australia who has written extensively about Papua.

The video also points to broader feelings that special autonomy has done little to address key issues driving attitudes in the province.

Thousands have turned out in the streets in recent months demanding that candidates for elected office at the subprovincial level be indigenous Papuans, something senior officials in Jakarta flatly rejected as “discriminatory”.

Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think-tank, said government leaders, with few exceptions, “do not understand that the only way to stem an independence movement is through serious attention to political issues”.

“At the same time, the Papuans themselves tend to blame Jakarta for everything that has gone wrong.”

This is a huge gap, she said, that could only be bridged if high-level discussions were held about political issues.

Others believe outside pressure is required.

Fifty members of the US Congress signed a letter calling on President Barack Obama to make Papua – the half of New Guinea that was invaded by Indonesia in 1962 – “one of the highest priorities of the administration”.

Even so, as part of efforts to shore up influence in the region amid increasing challenges from China, Washington last month lifted a 10-year ban on military assistance to a notoriously violent commando unit, known as Kopassus, that operates in Papua.

The seven-minute video appears to have been made by the Korps Brigade Mobil, or Brimob, the paramilitary police who took part in the arrest.

It too has a legacy of abuse in Papua.

It’s not clear how the clip made its way to the internet.

The troops caught up with Wayeni at his home in the jungle village of Matembu on August 3 2009.

Wayeni’s wife told the Commission for Disappearances and Victims of Violence that they tied his arms and legs to a log, and forced him to chant “Free Papua!” before slicing him in the abdomen with a bayonet.

They all but ignored him as he stumbled to the ground, landing in a patch of rough grass and propping his head up on a log.

“Look, he’s tired,” one officer says as the prisoner’s head lolls back.

The police ask Wayeni if he is an atheist and call him a “savage”, saying his prayers will never be answered.

They then ask how, in his condition, he thinks Papua will ever shake free of Indonesian rule.

“It’s equally surreal and horrific watching as the grievously injured Yawan Wayeni answers teasing questions from uniformed Indonesia security forces about his political beliefs,” said Phil Robertson, a deputy director at the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Getting medical help, he notes, seems the furthest thing from their minds.

Despite his suffering, however, the dying man refuses to give in.

“This land was promised by God to us, the Papuan people,” Wayeni says.

“God, the suffering of the simple people, there are so many! They are crying, oh God!”

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