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Two torture victims refuse to testify at trial

Agence France Presse - January 12, 1999

Jakarta – Two activists kidnapped in the last months of the Suharto regime Tuesday refused to testify about their ordeal at the court martial of 11 soldiers charged with the abduction of scores of political campaigners.

But a third witness, politician Haryanto Taslam of the Indonesian Democracy Party of opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri, agreed to give his testimony.

Aan Risdianto, 25 and Desmond Junaidi Mahesa, 33, both of whom have told the press of being tortured and threatened with death if they spoke out, followed the steps of two other activists, who declined to testify to the same court last week.

Taslam, Rusdianto and Mahesa were among 23 activists abducted and detained for weeks by unidentified men in early 1998. Only nine of them resurfaced. One was found dead and 13 others remained missing.

"I cannot yet testify ... what is certain is that I am not yet mentally prepared to testify, even more so under oath," Risdianto told the court. He said he could not do so until he knew the whereabouts and fate of the 13 missing people.

The trial of the 11 members of the elite Kopassus special forces unit on charges of abducting the nine has been blasted by rights groups as a ploy to cover up the involvement of top military officers and for failing to include charges of torture.

The National Commission on Human Rights has called for the court martial to be halted saying it appeared designed solely to protect the military high command and make scapegoats out of the accused, seven of them junior officers. The military prosecutor has said the 11 accused acted on their own initiative.

Risdianto and another activist, Nezar Patria, were grabbed by four plain-clothed men at night from the apartment they shared on March 13, frogmarched downstairs, blindfolded and manacled and driven to an unknown destination, Patria told the court last week.

Mahesa, 33, in refusing to testify, said he too first wanted information on the missing and said he did not recognize any of the defendants. "How can I be expected to testify, to aggravate or lighten the charges, for people that I do not know," Mahesa told the court, adding he had met with three of the 13 missing activists while detained at an unknown location.

He also protested that although a military council probing the abductions last year found three senior Kopassus officers, including Lieutenant General Prabowo Subianto, a son-in-law of former president Suharto, guilty of involvement, the officers had not been summoned. Prabowo, who headed the Kopassus at the time of the abductions, was last heard of in Jordan.

Chief military judge Colonel Santoso accepted the refusals, but said the two would be summoned to testify in the future.

Taslam told the court he was abducted by two men in East Jakarta on March 8, taken to an unknown location handcuffed and blindfolded and detained there until his release on April 16. But he was questioned only twice about his political activities and treated well, he said.

He added he could not recognize any of his captors because he was kept blindfolded in their presence. "Before my release I was asked to agree not to return immediately to Jakarta but to go to Surabaya (East Java) first and to tell anyone who asked that I had been touring the regions for the party," Taslam said.

When freed, he was driven around blindfolded for about three hours before being dropped at an airport in Bandung, some 180 kilometres (110 miles) southeast of here, from where he flew to Surabaya using a ticket given to him by his captors. Unlike previous witnesses, he said he was not tortured. "The only inconvenience was that I felt robbed of my freedom," he said.

Santoso asked the 11 accused, standing ramrod straight in their trademark red berets, if they had any comment on Taslam's statement. Each answered the witness' testimony "has nothing to do with me." The trial was set to resume on Tuesday.