Indonesian police have acknowledged officers terrorised a Papuan man with a snake after a video of the incident circulated online showing the man screaming in fear while his interrogator laughed.
Police in Indonesia's easternmost Papua region apologised but also attempted to justify the officers' actions by saying the snake was not venomous and that they hadn't resorted to beating the man, who was suspected of theft.
Human rights lawyer Veronica Koman – who circulated the upsetting video – said on Sunday the interrogation methods were torture and violated police policies as well as several laws. She said it was only the latest of several reports of police and military officials using snakes to terrorise Papuan detainees and symptomatic of a culture of racism against indigenous Papuans.
Sam Lokon, a member of the West Papua National Committee, which advocates for independence from Indonesia, was put in a cell with a snake and also beaten after being arrested in January, Koman said.
Police indicated the incident with the alleged thief happened recently, during a crackdown on petty crime in Jayawijaya district.
The spread of the video had forced police into a "very rare" apology, Koman said, while also criticising the attempt to provide a justification.
The video lasts one minute and 20 seconds and shows the dark brown snake, at least two metres long, wrapped around the handcuffed suspect's neck and waist and an officer pushing the animal's head into the man's face as he becomes increasingly upset. Officers appear to be asking how many times he has stolen mobile phones.
Jayawijaya's police chief, Tonny Ananda Swadaya, said the officers had been given ethics training and moved to other locations.
The events are likely to further inflame tensions in the region where an insurgency has simmered since the early 1960s when Indonesia took control of the western half of the island of New Guinea, formerly a Dutch colony.
Police and military have carried out a sweeping crackdown on independence supporters after rebel fighters in December killed 19 people working on a construction site for the trans-Papua highway.
A Polish man who is being held in a Jayawijaya prison while on trial for treason said earlier this week he'd been assaulted by police officers visiting the prison as guards looked on.