Three soldiers appeared before a military tribunal in Papua on Friday to face charges over the alleged torture of Papuan civilians which was captured on video.
The trial comes days ahead of a visit by US President Barack Obama to Indonesia, on the heels of the Pentagon’s announcement in July that it would resume ties with Indonesia’s special forces.
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 Second Private Syaminan Lubis, Second Private Joko Sulistyo and Second Private Dwi Purwanto from the 753 Arga Viratama infantry unit based in Nabire, 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.
The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, which first reported on the existence of the video, quoted one of the victims as saying the torture went on for days and was far worse than the brief internet clip suggests.
Quoting video testimony released by Papuan activists, it said Tunaliwor 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 report on Friday.
“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.”
Kiwo and fellow victim Telangga Gire are in hiding, fearing reprisals from the Indonesians, the report said.
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 demanded Indonesia punish the culprits and end an entrenched culture of impunity in the country’s security forces.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said on Monday there was “no immunity” for members of the country’s armed forces, ahead of talks in Jakarta with visiting Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates met Yudhoyono in Jakarta in July and announced the United States would lift a 12-year suspension of contacts with the Indonesian special forces as a result of “recent actions… to address human rights issues.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton 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 that 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.