By NINIEK KARMINI, Associated Press Jan 24, 2011
JAKARTA, Indonesia – Three Indonesian soldiers captured on video torturing
suspected separatists were sentenced Monday up to 10 months in prison,
angering rights activists who slammed the lenient ruling as a sham
underlining the military's impunity.
Critics said the verdict showed that Indonesia, which only recently
emerged from decades of a military-led dictatorship, still had a long way
to go toward implementing democratic reform.
Footage posted on YouTube last year showed three men in uniform in the
restive eastern region of Papua burning the genitals of one unarmed
suspected separatist, who lay bound and naked on the ground, and then
running a knife across the neck of another.
One of the victims later said in a video made available by New York-based
Human Rights Watch that they endured three more days of torture after
their interrogation at a military checkpoint.
"I thought I was going to die," said Anggen Pugu Kiwo, 50, adding that
soldiers wrapped barbed wire wrapped around his legs, stubbed cigarettes
out in his face, and beat him repeatedly with a wooden stick in the neck
"At one point I prayed they would just shoot me," he said.
The case sparked international outrage, prompting the Indonesian
government to make a rare acknowledgment of military abuses, and promising
that justice would be served.
However, in a court martial trial that wrapped up Monday in Papua's
provincial capital, Jayapura, the three soldiers were sentenced to between
eight and 10 months in jail, for the relatively minor offense of
disobeying orders to respect the rights of civilians and refrain from
violence in the field.
"They tortured two men who had no identification documents at a military
post," presiding judge Adil Karokaro said, but added that the soldiers
deserved some leniency because they had confessed to their crimes and
Government and military officials said the two-week trial was free and
fair, and called on all parties to respect the decision.
"There was no intervention from any institution. The decision fulfilled a
sense of justice both for the defendant and the victim," military
spokesman Rear Admiral Iskandar Sitompul told The Associated Press.
But rights activists slammed the sentences as a mockery of justice.
"It was a military tribunal," said Rafendi Djamin of the Jakarta-based
Human Rights Working Group, adding that the victims didn't show up for the
trial because they feared for their lives.
"The judges and prosecutors always side with the military ... everyone
Indonesia, a nation of more than 237 million people, has made tremendous
strides toward democracy since former dictator Suharto was ousted just
over a decade ago, but it remains highly sensitive to ongoing separatist
struggles in Papua and the Molucca islands.
The United States, which last year lifted a decade-old ban on military
assistance to a notoriously violent Indonesian commando unit, closely
monitored the trials.
"We are very concerned that the Indonesian military charged the soldiers
only with disobeying orders and that the sentences handed down ... do not
reflect the seriousness of the abuses depicted in the video," Paul
Belmont, a U.S. Embassy spokesman, said Tuesday.
"We have expressed these concerns to the Indonesian government," he said,
adding that Washington does welcome, however, the transparent judicial
process and statements from top leaders that rights abuses by the armed
forces would not be tolerated.