News / Asia

Human Rights Groups Urge Indonesia to Stop Torture

On June 29, 2007 Johan Tererisa was arrested by Indonesian security officials for unfurling a banned flag that symbolizes Papua independence
On June 29, 2007 Johan Tererisa was arrested by Indonesian security officials for unfurling a banned flag that symbolizes Papua independence

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Brian Padden

Human-rights advocates are calling for the Indonesian government to release more than 100 imprisoned political activists and to end its use of torture. Human Rights Watch says it has documented abuse being used to silence peaceful advocates for independence in the Papua and Maluku regions of the country.

Rights activists criticized the Indonesian government for what they say is the arbitrary arrest and torture of political activists in Papua and Maluku.

In a recent report, Human Rights Watch says it has found more than 100 cases of wrongful imprisonment and several cases of prisoners being beaten and injured.

Phil Robertson with Human Rights Watch says that in the cases they documented, the people arrested were independence activists, but were not advocating violence against the government.

"In many cases they took actions like raising a flag which happened to be banned or give a public speech," Robertson said. "Human Rights Watch takes the position that these are not actions that people should be arrested for. They are not actions people should be tortured for. And they are certainly not actions that people should be locked away for anywhere from five to 15 years for."

He says Indonesia has made great progress in building democratic institutions and protecting human rights in most of the country. But, he says, the government's conduct in the Papua and Maluku regions is a stain on the country's reputation.

The Indonesian government denies abusing prisoners and has announced plans to release some Papua independence activists.

For decades pro-independence movements have existed in both Papua and the southern Maluku islands. In addition to non-violent organizations, there is also an armed guerrilla movement in Papua and there have been incidents of sectarian violence in the Maluku region.

The human rights advocates say the Indonesian government has used treason laws to persecute peaceful activists displaying a separatist flag. And Human Rights Watch talked to one prisoner who said police from the anti-terrorist unit Detachment 88 beat him with iron rods, stones and slashed him with a bayonet.

In addition to being a violation of the United Nations Convention Against Torture, Robertson says suppressing the moderate voices of peaceful activists will only increase support for extremists.

"A local official or a local policeman saying if you raise a flag it's automatically going to cause conflict, Robertson added. "What is quite clear if you arrest that person or put those people in jail, the people who are content to just waving a flag will be out of the picture leaving space for more radical elements to come in."

Human-rights groups urge the Indonesian government to not only release political prisoners and end all abusive practices, but to also prosecute officials involved in torture.

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