Indonesia, Jan 24 – A court martial Monday jailed three Indonesian soldiers for up to 10 months for abuse and insubordination after graphic video footage showed them torturing civilians in restive Papua.
The relatively light sentences prompted anger among campaigners, who accuse the Indonesian military of acting with brutal impunity against the indigenous Melanesian majority in the far-eastern province of Papua.
The military tribunal found them guilty of abuse and disobeying orders and sentenced Second Sergeant Irwan Rizkiyanto to 10 months in jail, First Private Yakson Agu to nine months and First Private Tamrin Mahan Giri to eight months.
In footage posted on YouTube last year, the soldiers were seen applying a burning stick to the genitals of an unarmed man and threatening another with a knife as they interrogated them about the location of a weapons cache.
In a videoed statement, victim Tunaliwor Kiwo said he thought he was going to die during two days of torture in which he was repeatedly beaten, suffocated, burned with cigarettes and cut with a razor.
"They caught two men who had no identification documents and took them to a military post. The men suffered torture there," chief judge Lieutenant-Colonel Adil Karokaro told the tribunal in Papua\’s provincial capital, Jayapura.
"The victims had their hands and legs bound and their faces stepped on. One victim had his genitals burnt with a burning stick and he was also suffocated with a plastic bag," Karokaro said.
The soldiers appeared solemn at their separate tribunals. They had previously confessed to their crimes and said they regretted their actions.
The United States has said it was "monitoring" the court martial after human rights activists criticised President Barack Obama\’s decision last year to re-open military links with Indonesia\’s notorious special forces.
Indonesia has no law against torture. The charge of insubordination carries a maximum penalty of two-and-a-half years in jail.
The minor charges and the authorities\’ alleged reluctance to investigate the torture have led rights activists to doubt Indonesian government pledges to rein in military abuse in return for renewed US military exchanges.
However, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Friday played down the abuse as a "small" incident that should not detract from the military\’s reform efforts.
He said Indonesia\’s armed forces had cleaned up their act since the fall of military strongman Suharto, who resigned in 1998 amid social unrest and economic turmoil.
No senior military officer has faced justice for murders and alleged crimes against humanity committed during Suharto\’s rule.
Rights activists say the military are behind widespread abuses of the Melanesian majority in Papua, some of whom have been waging a low-level insurgency against Indonesian rule for decades.
The trial demonstrated that military abuses in the province were again being whitewashed, campaigner Haris Azhar of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) said.
"This trial wasn\’t serious in meting out punishments that matched the severity of the crimes we saw in the video. The verdict didn\’t create a sense of justice for the public and victims," he told AFP.
"I worry this trial was an attempt to simplify and reduce the weight of the crime by scapegoating the low-ranking soldiers while saving the commanders."