Indonesian military probes viral video allegedly showing Papuan’s brutal torture by soldiers

Victor Mambor and Dandy Koswaraputra
Jayapura, Indonesia, and Jakarta
Indonesian military probes viral video allegedly showing Papuan’s brutal torture by soldiers A Papuan man (right) in traditional clothing, with his face painted in the colors of the Morning Star Flag, which is banned in Indonesia, stands next to a police officer during a demonstration demanding a referendum on the independence of Papua province in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, Dec. 1, 2023.
Devi Rahman/AFP

Military officials in Indonesia’s restive Papua region said Friday they were verifying the authenticity of a video that has gone viral and appears to show Indonesian servicemen beating and cutting with a bayonet a man believed to be an indigenous Papuan. 

Human rights activists demanded a swift inquiry to determine if soldiers were involved in what would be yet another case of torture and abuse, which is a longstanding accusation against Indonesian military and security forces in Papua.

The location and time of the alleged incident are unclear.

“We are verifying its authenticity,” Col. Gusti Nyoman Suriastawa, a military spokesman in Papua, told BenarNews. “If it is genuine, we need to determine where and when it occurred.”

The graphic video footage, viewed by BenarNews, shows men in trousers that resemble Indonesian military uniform fatigues, taunting the victim who is seen inside a water-filled drum.

“How does that feel? Head up! Head up,” the men say as they hit him and make incisions on his back with a bayonet.

As the men continue to inflict the wounds, the water in the drum can be seen turning red.

In a statement issued after the video was widely circulated, PAHAM Papua, a local human rights organization, issued a statement that makes the assumption that the abusers in the footage are members of the Indonesian Armed Forces [TNI].

“If the individual was suspected of criminal activity, the TNI should not have resorted to such brutal and sadistic torture as shown in the video,” PAHAM chairman Gustaf Kawer said.

“The act of torture inflicted on [the] civilian was extremely cruel, carried out by TNI [personnel without adhering to the principle of presumption of innocence.”

PAHAM urged the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) and the Indonesian military to conduct a “comprehensive investigation.”

A Papuan youth holds a signard that says, “The people of Papua support the freedom of Palestine,” as he takes part in a demonstration in Jakarta demanding a referendum on the independence of Papua from Indonesia, Dec. 1, 2023. [Bay Ismoyo/AFP]

Theo Hesegem, executive director of the Papua Human Justice and Integrity Foundation, urged authorities “to ensure that the perpetrators of the torture are processed swiftly.”

“It is clear that the individual subjected to torture is a native Papuan,” he said in a statement.

Komnas HAM, meanwhile, indicated that initial findings point to the incident taking place in the Puncak regency of Central Papua province. 

“This compounds the toll of violence from the ongoing conflict in Papua, with suspicions pointing to torture by authorities,” Komnas HAM chairwoman Atnike Nova Sigiro Atnika said in a statement. 

Rights groups have long accused Indonesian security forces of abuses in Papua, including arbitrary arrests, torture, and extrajudicial killings. 

Papua, at the far-eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago, has seen an escalation in violence following an insurgent attack that resulted in the deaths of 19 road construction workers and a soldier in 2018.

The heavy military presence and ongoing violence have stifled development in the region.

On Friday, Rumadi Ahmad, a deputy chief of the Indonesian presidential staff, said that President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo had committed to accelerating development in Papua, but these efforts would be hampered if the military was responsible for the violence in the video.

“While we hold a strong hope that our soldiers are not involved in such reprehensible acts, if proven true, the individuals responsible must be held accountable in accordance with the applicable rules and regulations,” Rumadi said in a statement.

He said the military played a strategic role “in bringing about a sense of security” in Papua.

“If the video is proven to be true, the actions by a few irresponsible individuals could be very disruptive to the development that has been planned and implemented so well,” Rumadi said.

A man wears an armband featuring the Morning Star Flag, which is banned in Indonesia, as he attends a protest demanding polling stations be placed in villages in Timika, Central Papua, Indonesia, Feb. 12, 2024, ahead of the general election. [Adek Berry/AFP]

Insurgents have also been responsible for civilian fatalities, targeting those they suspect of espionage for the authorities. In 2022, rebels killed eight employees of Telkomsel, the nation’s leading telecommunications provider, who were constructing cellular towers in the Puncak regency.

However, one armed separatist group, the West Papua National Liberation Army, quickly distanced itself from the incident in the video and condemned the acts therein, which spokesman Sebby Sambom attributed to the TNI.

“The actions of the Indonesian military and police are akin to [those of] ISIS terrorists,” Sambom said, referring to the Islamic State militant group.

Papua, a mineral-rich and underdeveloped region, has been grappling with a separatist insurgency for decades. The mineral extraction and alleged discrimination against indigenous Papuans by the Indonesian government have fueled the conflict. 

Papuans have long felt marginalized economically and politically, despite the immense wealth their land generates.

The territory was incorporated into Indonesia in the 1960s after a controversial United Nations-backed plebiscite. 

Many Papuans allege the vote was rigged and have since fought for independence.


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