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Indonesia's military pledges to investigate brutal torture video of Papuan man

ABC News - March 25, 2024

Bill Birtles in Jakarta – Indonesia's military has pledged to investigate after videos described as "barbaric" circulated online showing what appear to be soldiers punching, kicking and slicing a Papuan man in a steel barrel.

The short videos depict a man in a barrel of water unable to defend himself being brutally beaten by a group of five men, who also taunt him with racist slurs.

One man tells the others to be patient because they'll all have their turn. A separate clip shows the men cutting into his back with a machete, as the water he's sitting in turns a deep red.

The clips only emerged online in recent days, but they were recorded in early February in a central area of Papua called Puncak regency.

Human rights group Amnesty International believes the man is one of three ethnic Papuans who were tortured at the time by members of a military unit from Central Java. Amnesty says the man being tortured in the video, identified as Definus Kogoya, later died.

The clips have prompted an unusual level of public response from Indonesia's government and military, with a spokesman from the Presidential Staff Office encouraging firm action against the people in the video if it is proven they are military personnel.

"Of course, it's our hope that our soldiers would not be involved in this barbaric act, but if it's proven true, the individuals must be dealt with firmly in accordance with the applicable rules and regulations," said Ramadi Ahmad, the vice-chief of presidential staff.

Indonesia's Human Rights Commission said the incident in the videos shows "there are more victims of violence as a result of the conflict in Papua".

Violence in video follows pattern in Papua

Despite initial denials from a regional commander in Papua about the videos, the head of the Indonesian military's Information Centre, Major General Nugraha Gumilar, confirmed to local media that the men in the videos are military personnel.

"The Indonesian military is seriously handling this matter and an investigation is underway," he told media outlet Kompas.

He also said the victim is a member of Papua's armed rebel group, which has been waging a decades-long effort for an independent state in Papua.

"Even if he is a member of the armed rebels, you can't torture him," said Usman Ahmid, Amnesty's spokesman in Jakarta. "Even in wartime, you can't torture people."

While the brutality of the video has shocked many observers in Indonesia, the violence continues a pattern of attacks and retaliation that has claimed dozens of lives over the past year.

In early February, a faction of the rebel group called the West Papua National Liberation Army, said its fighters in Yahukimo, a district next to Puncak, shot three soldiers in what may have been a retaliatory attack for the killing of one of its fighters.

In recent weeks, the pro-independence group also claims to have killed an Indonesian soldier and wounded another in the central highlands area of Mulia.

Another two special operations police were reportedly killed by rebels near a small airport in Paniai regency.

The armed rebels view such attacks as resistance against colonial rule, with Indonesia's government long relying on using the military and other security forces to combat what it deems a terrorist insurgency.

"In the past five years there has been an increasing escalation of violence involving the Indonesian army and the pro-independence armed rebels," said Amnesty's Mr Hamid.

He said he had received many videos depicting the torture of Papuans in the past, including some that involved snakes or the use of electric shocks.

The latest video has prompted exiled pro-independence leaders to renew calls for a United Nations team to visit Papua to examine the human rights situation.

"Though it is extreme and shocking, this video merely exposes how Indonesia behaves every day in my country," wrote Benny Wenda, the exiled leader of the umbrella group for pro-independence movements.

Change at the top but not on the ground

The conflict in Papua dates back decades, and there's little expectation that an upcoming change of national leader in Jakarta will lead to a more peaceful situation in the region.

Last month Indonesian voters overwhelmingly elected former general Prabowo Subianto to be sworn in as the nation's next president in October this year.

The 72-year-old is personally accused of using brutal tactics in Papua during his time in the military, and he is currently defence minister, overseeing the army during the past five years while violence has been rising.

"Many of us fear he will even increase the intensity of the military deployment to West Papua," said Mr Hamid.

Mr Subianto hasn't commented on the torture video, but during the recent election campaign, he was asked about his approach to the violence in Papua.

"Papua is complicated," he said during a debate in December. "And we see foreign intervention behind the separatist movement. They want disintegration of Indonesia. So we need to prioritise anti-terrorism because those terrorism groups are attacking innocent people."

He also vowed to uphold the law, human rights and improve economic conditions, noting that that was the strategy of incumbent leader Joko Widodo.

While calling for the perpetrators of the torture to be held accountable, a spokesman for Mr Widodo also defended the government's approach to Papua.

"The government has an extraordinary commitment to accelerating Papua's development... fulfilling human rights and upholding the law is fundamental and essential," said Mr Ahmad.

The ABC has contacted the office of Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles, who is currently negotiating a closer military cooperation deal with Indonesia, for comment.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2024-03-25/indonesia-investigate-viral-video-west-papua-torture/10363064