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Indonesia told to stop prison brutality in Papua

Associated Press - June 5, 2009

Jakarta – Indonesia should investigate allegations of prison brutality in insurgency-wracked Papua province, a rights group said Friday, citing rampant reports of torture, beatings, and mistreatment by guards.

The government "needs to put an end to this disgraceful behavior, punish those responsible," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

The Abepura prison holds about 230 inmates, more than a dozen of whom were jailed for peaceful political acts such as participating in anti-government demonstrations and waving the flag of a small, separatist movement.

The government – which is extremely sensitive to secessionist threats, no matter how small – bars foreign human rights monitors and foreign journalists from entering Papua unless they have special police permission, and prohibits them from carrying out research.

In March, the Red Cross was ordered to leave the easternmost province after its workers visited several suspected rebels in jail.

Officials with the Ministry of Law and Human Rights, which overseas prisons, could not be reached for comment Friday. And prison warden Anthonius Ayorbaba told The Associated Press "I can't talk about it now."

The New York-based rights group said it had received more than two dozen reports of beatings and physical abuse in the last year, including a Sept. 22, 2008 attack on one of the political prisoners, Ferdinand Pakage that caused him to lose an eye.

"The prison's security chief hit the prisoner with a rubber club six times in the head," the rights group wrote in a statement Friday. It said that two other guards pummeled him until he was unconscious, one while holding a key that penetrated his right eye.

The inmate was thrown into an isolation cell, it said, and waited more than 24 hours to get medical help.

The rights group detailed several other cases of abuse, including an attack on a prisoner for possessing a mobile phone, causing his left ear to bleed and resulting in partial hearing loss. Another guard forced an inmate to put his hand into boiling water, the group said.

Adams urged President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to set up an independent team to investigate the abuses.

Indonesia took over Papua from the Dutch in 1963 and formalized its sovereignty over the region six years later through a stage-managed vote by about 1,000 community leaders.

A small insurgency has battled Indonesian rule in the impoverished province ever since. About 100,000 Papuans – a sixth of the population – have died in military operations.