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January 23, 2011

Indonesian Soldiers Charged With Torture Sentenced to Prison

by Angela Dewan

Indonesian soldiers who were filmed torturing two men last year have been sentenced to prison. But human rights activists say the sentences are too short and call on the United States to reconsider its involvement in the Indonesian army.

The three Indonesian soldiers were sentenced to less than a year in jail Monday over the torture of two men in the restive province of West Papua.

Last October, a video showing soldiers torturing the civilians appeared on the Internet, sparking international condemnation.

The soldiers branded one of the men’s genitals with a burning stick and held a knife to the face of the other. One victim later said he was beaten and burned for three days.

The government promised swift justice, and arrested the three, charging them with disobeying orders. One was sentenced to 10 months in jail, one received a nine-month sentence and the third was sentenced to eight months.

“I think the outcome is extremely disappointing," said Elaine Pearson, the deputy director for the Asia division of Human Rights Watch. "This is a case where the men involved were supposedly tortured for a period of three days, and then what we see is the soldiers is being slapped on the wrist. The charges don’t even reflect the serious nature of the allegations. They have been tried for disobeying orders rather than the more serious offense of torture.”

Harry Priyanta, the military spokesman in Papua, said there was not enough evidence to charge the soldiers with torture.

He says the prosecutors sought half the maximum sentence for the charges. The soldiers will likely be able to return to their posts after serving their jail terms.

Indonesia has fought a low-level separatist insurgency in West Papua for decades.

The United States last year resumed training with the Indonesian military’s special forces unit, Kopassus, after a 12-year moratorium. The U.S. military had broken ties with the unit because of its human rights abuses. Australia resumed training with Kopassus in 2005.

"The U.S. and Australia, if they’re really serious about providing training that ensures that Indonesia’s security forces are professional and rights respecting, then they have to also speak out and say that this military tribunal was not sufficient," said Pearson.

The United States has said it is monitoring the case.

Despite the Papua case, many governments and rights groups say Indonesia has made progress in ending rights abuses since autocratic leader Suharto was forced out of office 1998. Since then, Indonesia has become a democracy.