Interrogation using a snake: The torture method Indonesian police use against Papuans

Screen capture from the video.
Screen capture from the video.

An interrogation technique used by the Indonesian police has caused a scandal after a video of it was uploaded online at the beginning of February. In the video, a police officer wraps a huge snake around a suspect in order to frighten him into confessing. It happened in a police station in Papua, in eastern Indonesia, on an unknown date.

"How many times have you stolen mobile phones?” the officer shouts at the man sitting on the floor, who is screaming and crying. “Only twice!” he responds.

All the way throughout this video, which lasts one minute and 20 seconds, the snake continues to wrap itself around the neck and body of the man. The snake is about two metres long. The police officer picks up the tail of the snake and shoves it towards the man’s face. In the background, the jeers and laughter of other police officers can be heard.

This video was shared widely on social media from February 6 onwards. Lawyer and human rights activist Veronica Koman shared the video on Twitter, and wrote, "It turns out that the use of snakes in interrogation is quite common.”

The scene took place in the district of Jayawijaya in the Papua province in the east of the country. The man filmed in the video is Melanesian, an ethnicity that is regularly discriminated against by Indonesian security forces, according to human rights organisations.

Veronica spoke to German media Deutsche Welle about the video. She said that the video corroborates the stories of Papuan activists who have been sounding the alarm for a long time about this dangerous practice.

The use of snakes as torture in interrogations is not new in the region. One of my clients, an activist who fights for independence, was thrown into a jail cell where there was a snake. He was beaten and forced to go near the snake – all to get him to say that he had stolen a scooter.

The police questioned

A police spokesperson, Ahmad Mustofa Kamal, told news agency AFP that a police officer was undergoing an internal investigation. The police officer’s identity was not released.

Tonny Ananda Swadaya, the police chief of the Jayawijaya district, acknowledged the incident and apologised in a statement. He said that “The snake was not venomous or dangerous” and that the police officers had got the idea in order to extract "confessions as quickly as possible". He also vowed that they would work in a more professional way in the future.