Torture Overshadows Indonesian Police Birthday Celebrations

JAKARTA ~ Indonesia’s police force marked its 62nd birthday on Tuesday but few were celebrating across the vast archipelago where torture in police cells is accepted as routine, human rights activists said.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono avoided the open issue of widespread torture as he lavished praise on the force in an anniversary speech to officers at the national monument.

“I hope the National Police will continue to maintain stability and security in order to prevent physical conflict and anarchic actions,” he said according to the Antara news agency.

But rights activists said the police force was a feared institution which tortured citizens with impunity.

They said 10 years of political and institutional reform after the fall of the military-backed Suharto regime in 1998 had not left their mark on the police.

“We don’t see any reform in the Indonesian police because they continue to use violence to settle criminal cases and they use their power to do that,” said Legal Aid Foundation director of research Gatot.

“Why does this culture of impunity remain? It’s because there’s a deal between police officials to protect each other.”

Indonesia’s criminal code contains no definition of torture and even though the country is a signatory to the UN Convention against Torture it has no corresponding law against the practice.

UN special rapporteur for torture Manfred Nowak, who visited Indonesia late last year, found that police used torture as a “routine practice in Jakarta and other metropolitan areas of Java.”

Most of the abuse was in the form of beatings with sticks and iron bars, but it also involved stress positions, shots to the legs, electrocution and inhumane accommodation in overcrowded cells, he said in a report in March.

In a recent case, a student died in hospital last month after allegedly being beaten by police during a protest against rising fuel prices.

Forensic examinations of torture victims are almost never carried out but hospital staff quickly announced that the student had died of HIV/AIDS and not of wounds sustained in police custody.

“There was no autopsy but it was said that the student suffered HIV/AIDS,” Gatot said. “They create a new story to give protection to their colleagues.”

He also cited the example of a man who had been severely beaten by a group of police in Jakarta in March over a land dispute with a police officer.

“After the incident he frequently faints and he can’t move one of his arms,” Gatot said, identifying the man only as SJ.

The UN special rapporteur said victims such as SJ had no legal avenue for redress.

He noted that “severe beatings” were underway even as he visited police stations as part of his review, and concluded that there was “quasi-total impunity” from prosecution for police and soldiers.

He also complained that he had been followed by officials during his research, making surprise visits to police stations almost impossible, and had been prevented from inspecting some facilities.

Prominent human rights lawyer Hendardi, chairman of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, said part of the problem was that until 2000 the police had been under military control.

“Ten years after the fall of the dictator, the military culture still pervades their attitude,” he said.

“The police will continue to commit torture as long as there’s no law outlawing torture in Indonesia.”

In April, Amnesty International said it received regular reports of torture and other ill-treatment during arrests, interrogation and detention, “sometimes leading to deaths.”

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