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ABRI admit torture in TV 'sting'

Sunday Telegraph (London) - January 17, 1999

Andrew Gilligan – The Indonesian army has admitted for the first time that it tortures people "sometimes", during an investigative "sting" by a television stand-up comedian.

Col Halim Nawi, the Indonesian defence attache to London, made the admission while attempting to hire the comedian-turned-investigative journalist, Mark Thomas, believing him to be a public relations consultant who could "turn around" the Indonesian army's "negative" image. The meeting, in London last month, was secretly filmed for broadcast on Channel 4 later this week.

Another senior officer, Major Gen Widjojo, is filmed at an arms fair telling Mr Thomas that "we did some tortures to protect the security of society. It is not widespread, but we do have to do it sometimes".

But Indonesian diplomatic sources complained strenuously last night that the two officers had been "entrapped" by the programme team. "We took them through a media training course," said Mr Thomas. "We told him that one of the best principles of PR was to admit a few of the things you're accused of, then you can deny the rest with greater credibility because it looks like you're honest. This advice was complete rubbish, of course. We had just made it up."

Gen Widjojo begins the meeting by denying all wrongdoing and denouncing Amnesty International claims of torture and human rights abuse as "fabrications". Mr Thomas, in his guise as a PR consultant, then tells the general: "If you want to hold that line, that's fine, but people will challenge it ... We're going to deal with a situation where you say torture does occur occasionally – if you feel that is the truth. Do you feel that is the truth?" Gen Widjojo says: "Yes." Mr Thomas says: "So, then, when people watch, keep it very short, say it does happen but without it we'd lose things."

Gen Widjojo then twice in a mock TV interview agrees to make the damning admissions. Amnesty International has accused the Indonesian armed forces of complicity in hundreds of thousands of deaths, torture and kidnapping.

Diplomatic sources in Jakarta said that the programme was a "set-up". "The officers were entrapped and were co-operating with the PR company in the spirit of a game, almost," said an Indonesian spokesman. "This does not prove anything." In a later interview, Col Halim, according to the programme-makers, admits to the use of British-manufactured equipment to crush dissidents in East Timor, illegally occupied by the Indonesians since the 1970s. "He was very keen on the idea that PR could be used to improve the Army's image without any change to its practices," said Mr Thomas, who set up an entire bogus PR firm, Mackintosh Morley, complete with offices and staff for the operation.