Report by Al Jazeera
Three Indonesian soldiers have appeared before a military tribunal in eastern Papua province to face charges over the alleged torture of Papuan civilians, which was captured on video.
Friday’s trial comes days ahead of a visit by Barack Obama, the US president, who seeks to resume ties with Indonesia.
The footage, posted online by human rights activists, showed soldiers applying a burning stick to the genitals of one of the unarmed men and threatening another with a knife.
The three defendants are from an infantry unit based in the city of Nabire in Papua province. Two other soldiers were called to appear as witnesses.
The graphic video drew international attention to allegations of widespread torture and abuse of activists and civilians in restive Indonesian regions such as Papua and the Maluku islands.
Victim speaks out
Al Jazeera has obtained a secretly filmed interview with Tunaliwor Kiwo, one of the torture victims who now lives in hiding in one of the most isolated areas in Papua.
Kiwo was burned with hot wires and cigarettes, repeatedly suffocated with a plastic bag and had a concoction of chili and salt rubbed into his open wounds.
“I kept screaming. But they didn’t care of the pain I suffered,” he was quoted as saying in the interview.
“The TNI (military) put gasoline and lit a fire and I was in the middle with the branches,” he said.
“I couldn’t move, the flames were approaching me, trying to burn my body and my legs and hands were still tied up. I was continuously hysterical, in pain.”
The incident occurred earlier this year in an area of Papua where Indonesian troops frequently clash with poorly armed separatist rebels from the indigenous Melanesian majority.
Rights groups including Amnesty International have called on Indonesia to punish the culprits and end an entrenched culture of impunity in the country’s security forces.
“From the beginning we have been demanding an independent investigation,” Marcus Haluk, a Papuan student leader, told Al Jazeera.
“The military can’t investigate a soldier. It would be like a thief investigating a thief,” he said.
Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the Indonesian president, said on Monday there was “no immunity” for members of the country’s armed forces, ahead of talks in Jakarta with Julia Gillard, the visiting Australian prime minister.
Marty Natalegawa, the Indonesian foreign minister, told Al Jazeera that Indonesia has put the soldiers on trial “not because some government is knocking on our door, or because someone is telling us what to do”.
“We have taken the lead [in the investigation],” he said.
Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen, reporting from Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, said that the testimony of the soldiers will further embarrass the Indonesian government.
Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen reporting on the torture of Papuan civilians
“It is just a few days ahead of president Obama’s visit. Never before [has] a military trial [been] held this fast,” she said.
Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, met Yudhoyono in Jakarta in July and announced the US would lift a 12-year suspension of contacts with the Indonesian special forces as a result of “recent actions… to address human rights issues”.
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, reportedly refused to comment on the specific torture allegations during a brief visit on Wednesday to Papua New Guinea, the independent eastern half of New Guinea island.
Indonesia incorporated the resource-rich but desperately poor western half of New Guinea in the 1960s after a UN-backed tribal vote, which separatists condemn as a sham.
Few Indonesian military officers have faced justice for rights abuses dating back decades, including alleged crimes against humanity in East Timor and the killing of thousands of political activists during the Suharto dictatorship.
Papua and the Malukus have underground separatist movements, which Indonesia regards as threats to its territorial unity.
Activists are regularly given lengthy jail terms for crimes such as possessing outlawed rebel flags.