Amateur video shows West Papuans tortured by Indonesian army

 Identified thanks to amateur videos, the three Indonesian soldiers who tortured West Papuans were sentenced to terms of up to ten months in prison by a court martial on January 24.



UPDATE – (24/01/2011): The three soldiers shown torturing villagers in this video were sentenced to terms of 8 to 10 months of prison for abuse and insubordination. The relatively light sentences prompted anger among human rights groups, who regretted that no torture charges were brought against the officers. 

A video showing Indonesian soldiers torturing indigenous people from West Papua was posted on the internet  in October 2010. According to our Observer, such acts are commonplace in a region where the military has free reign to suppress the slightest sign of rebellion.

The video posted on the Asian Human Rights Committee website is in two parts. In the first part Indonesian soldiers can be seen arresting a group of indigenous Papuans. The villagers, who are accused of having links to separatist organizations in the region, are insulted and receive several blows to the head.

In the second part of the video, two bound men are subjected to physical abuse and humiliation while being questioned about their supposed involvement with armed separatist groups. One of them is threatened with a knife to the throat. The other man, who is visibly older, has a plastic bag over his head and his genitals are being burned with a burning stick.

Warning: although the most violent sections of the video have been cut, viewers may still find these images distressing.

Due to the outrage provoked by the publication of these images, the Indonesian government has ordered an inquiry. On October 22, Djoko Suyanton, the Indonesian security minister, admitted that the torturers seen in the video were indeed Indonesian military personnel. He added that the actions were excessive and that the perpetrators would be punished. However, the minister also said that the soldiers had good reason to suspect that the interrogated villagers were armed and dangerous. Human rights organisations say the men were just simple farmers.

The province of West Papua, a former Dutch colony, was placed under Indonesian administration by the UN in 1963. It became a permanent territory of Indonesia after a referendum in 1969, which separatists say was rigged. Ever since, the Free Papua Movement (Organisasi Papua Merdeka, O.P.M.) has been fighting for West Papuan independence.

"The army says the presence of armed groups in the region justifies its actions"

Benny Wenda is one of the leaders of the separatist movement in West Papua. He is currently living in exile in Great Britain.

According to my sources on the ground, these images were filmed in the highland regions of West Papua, close to the village of Tingginambut. It is very close to the village in which I was born and where I used to live. I know the extent to which the people there are at the mercy of soldiers, who were deployed in the province in large numbers in 2004. All of the roads are blocked, people do not have the freedom to travel and they are constantly being stopped by the Indonesian army.

The army says the presence of armed groups in the region justifies its actions. Villages are frequently burned down [a video of a village reduced to ashes was posted on the Internet a few days ago], women are raped and men are tortured. The aim is to intimidate and to stifle all forms of freedom of expression.

Papuans are subjected to numerous humiliations. The soldiers cut the hair of men with traditional hairstyles. When they happen upon people who don't speak the language, they bully them. The communities are forced to flee their villages. The government stops journalists and NGOs from coming to work in this province to ensure the army can act as it pleases.  

"The army cares little about the people here, they just want control over the resources: petrol, copper and gold."

Exactly the same thing happened in East Timor [which gained its independence in 2002 after 27 years of Indonesian occupation marred by escalating violence]. Since the recognition of East Timor's independence, the military units which had been stationed there were redeployed in West Papua. The area is now totally militarized.

The army cares little about the people who are here. They just want control over the resources: copper, oil and gold (West Papua's Timika mine is the largest gold mine in the world).


Post written with France 24 journalist Ségolène Malterre.