The detention of scores of political prisoners often in abusive and inhumane conditions is an “ugly stain” on Indonesian democracy, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday.
A new report by The New York-based watchdog urged Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to immediately release more than 100 Papuan and Moluccan political prisoners and revoke the laws under which they were jailed.
“Imprisoning activists for peacefully voicing their political views is an ugly stain on Indonesia’s recent improvements in human rights,” HRW deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said in a statement.
“It’s out of step with Indonesia’s growing aspirations as a democratic and rights-respecting country.”
The report titled “Prosecuting Political Aspiration” said continued persecution of peaceful political activists undermined democratic reforms since the fall of military strongman Suharto in 1998.
When it came to independence activists from Papua or the southern Moluccas — restive regions where separatist tensions have simmered for decades — Suharto-era practices of “lumping together peaceful activists and armed militants” persisted, along with torture and abuse.
The report profiles 10 prominent political prisoners from Papua and the Moluccas, all of whom complained of ill-treatment and abuse including beatings with wooden bats and cables.
“I was tortured for 14 days in Tantui (prison), day and night. They picked me up in the morning and returned me, bleeding, to my cell in the evening,” Moluccan activist Reimond Tuapattinaya was quoted as saying in the report.
Many of the prisoners were convicted under draconian laws which set heavy punishments for displaying outlawed separatist symbols such as the Papuan Morning Star and the South Moluccan rebel flags.
HRW called on the European Union to take up the issue when it launches a human rights dialogue with Indonesia in Jakarta next Tuesday.
It also called on Australia and the United States to stop providing training assistance to the counter-terror police force known as Detachment 88, blamed for some of the worst abuses in the Moluccas.