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Violence and murder in Indonesia's cash cow
John Pratt wrote last week:
It is indeed.
I have never quite overcome my surprise that Indonesia, after Sukarno’s twelve year long rhetorical barrage about his country’s holy duty to liberate the Papuan brethren from their colonial yoke, started after that alleged liberation almost right away with a regime of terror that has lasted until this day.
Quite a few years ago I wrote a series in Webdiary about the history of the conflict that ultimately led to our Northern neighbour’s occupation of Papua.
Though I saw at first hand the unsavoury beginnings of its regime I did not foresee that this would soon lead to the genocidal practices that have been so inadequately reported in this country.
There have been various estimates of the number of victims. The French quality paper Le Monde Diplomatique reported in February 2010 that the last ‘official figures’ about this dated from 1983. These indicated that between 1963 and 1983 150,000 Papuans had been killed (this on a population of then about one million).
The main Dutch expert, Dr Kees Lagerberg, spoke in 2005 of a demographic gap of about 150,000 people, of whom he conservatively estimated that about 30,000 had been killed outright. The rest died as a result of gross neglect and starvation.
Solid reports about the region are scarce.
The Human Rights Watch report for Indonesia over 2011 stated:
“In 2010 Indonesia maintained restrictions on access to Papua by foreign human rights monitors and journalists, facilitating a climate of impunity. Indonesia expelled the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) from Papua in 2009; its office there remained closed in 2010”
One of the very scarce reports on what is going on in prisons in Papua came earlier from Oswald Iten, a journalist with the Swiss quality paper Neue Zuercher Zeitung, who was imprisoned in Jayapura for twelve days in December 2000. He had allegedly violated the conditions related to his tourist visa (he had been making photographs and since he was a journalist that counted as working without a work permit).
I can’t recall that that report got much attention in this country. Here is a very much shortened version of it:
Prison, Torture and Murder in Jayapura
When the door to the cell slammed shut behind me, the first thing I noticed was the stench of urine and other human excreta. Then I saw, through the dim, humidly hot air, bodies lying on the filthy concrete floor, packed one next to the other like sardines. It was one o'clock in the morning. Someone in the lineup of bodies handed me a cardboard box, so that I'd at least have something clean to lay my head on.
The police had taken me into custody the previous day and grilled me for nine hours, because on 1 December I had taken "political photos" ostensibly not permitted by my tourist visa. …
So there I was, in a cell with about 40 other prisoners. Among them were 26 members of the "Satgas Papua," a militia of the independence movement which had established posts throughout Irian Jaya and was responsible for guarding the freedom flag.
The members of the Satgas Papua were physically unharmed. That could not be said of all the prisoners. During my first night in the cell, a drunk was hauled in, and the guards punched and kicked him in the face. Almost every night some drunk was brought in to sober up and, this being the month of Ramadan, was treated to special physical abuse designed to leave him with a lasting souvenir in the form of a missing tooth or a broken nose. At first I tried to get the guards to ease up, but they grew angry and completed their violent work in the guardroom near the entrance to the cells. Dizzy from both alcohol and the beating, the victims were then thrown into our cell and released the following morning.
At 4:30 A.M. on Thursday, 7 December, noise from the guardroom penetrated the stuffing I'd put in my ears to help me sleep. At first I thought the guards were doing some rhythmic gymnastics, but it also sounded like blows landing on a body. My fellow prisoners were wide awake, and they tried to hold me back when I went to the entranceway of our cell block. The upper part of the door was merely barred, so I had a view of the guardroom. And what I saw there was unspeakably shocking. About half a dozen policemen were swinging their clubs at bodies that were lying on the floor and, oddly enough, did not cry out; at most, only soft groans issued from them. After a few long seconds, a guard saw me looking and struck his club against the bars of the cell block door. I quickly went back to my usual spot, from where I could still see the clubs, staffs and split bamboo whips at their work. Their ends were smeared with blood, and blood sprayed the walls all the way up to the ceiling. Sometimes I saw the policemen hopping up on benches, continuing to strike blows from there or jumping back down onto the bodies below (which I could not see from my cell).
Thousands of blows must have descended on what was to me an unknown number of people. I thought: That's what it means to "thrash" somebody. By about 5:15 A.M. things quieted down and I heard the sound of water from a hose. But then the orgy of torture resumed, apparently with a new load of prisoners.
At 7:30 A.M. the torturers went outside for morning muster, things quieted down and I looked over into the guardroom: the floor was covered with blood, as in a slaughterhouse. Some of my fellow prisoners were ordered out to clean the place up. Shortly before 10 o'clock, noise broke out again. The cell block door was opened, and with the ends of their staffs the guards drove about three dozen new prisoners in, whose hair had been marked with white from a spray can, like sheep earmarked for shearing. The newcomers were jammed into a single cell. Then the cell block door was opened again and one body after another was tossed into our already crowded cell, some of them more dead than alive.
Most of them remained motionless where they fell, either unconscious or utterly exhausted. They must have been the men who had been tortured earlier that morning. A mask maker would find it difficult to conjure out of his imagination such horrifically distorted faces and damaged twisted bodies. One of the tortured men was virtually blind and had to be led in by the hand by another prisoner; I couldn't tell whether his eyes had been totally destroyed or were merely swollen shut. The last one to enter was a large man, who fell over the bodies on the floor and lay there groaning horribly. He tried repeatedly to straighten himself up, only to fall back down again. Now and again the faces of guards appeared at the barred window, looking down impassively at the tangle of maltreated bodies. In the back of the big man's head, there appeared to be a coin sized hole through which I believed to spot some brain tissue. After nearly an hour and a half of groaning and spasmodic movement, his suffering visibly neared its end. About two meters from me, his powerful body raised itself again and his head struck the wall. A final labored breath issued from him, then his head dropped down onto the cement floor. At last his agony was over. After a while, three lackeys came and dragged the body out.
Later I learned that the man who had been tortured to death was named Ori Dronggi.
Ori Dronggi was one of 18 men from the highland town of Wamena, all of whom had been arrested in a dormitory near the university in Abepura immediately following the attack on the police post. The chances are he had had nothing to do with the attack; the same was true of the 35 other men who had been tortured (I had counted them the following day).
In the night following the orgy of torture, the guards felt that I should no longer sleep in the cell with the other prisoners, whose number had by now swelled to 124 and many of whom were covered with suppurating wounds.
The next morning, Police Chief Daud Sihombing, who also served as superintendant of the prison, noticed that I had not slept in the cell. Furious, he ordered the guards to bring me back there. He also confiscated the mosquito net one guard had brought me. I asked Sihombing if he wanted me to contract malaria. In a voice brooking no contradiction, he replied: "You're no different from the other prisoners. If they get malaria, so will you."
The mistreatment of other prisoners continued. On 11 December I again witnessed a horrible scene. About 2:45 A.M., three new prisoners were brought in. Two of them were badly beaten outside my field of vision. The third Papuan fell right in front of the one-man cell to which Chief Sihombing had exiled me. A booted guard kicked the man in the head; the prisoner's head banged loudly against my cell door, blood spurting from it onto my leg. The guard was apparently fascinated by the head going back and forth between his boot and the bars of my cell door, like some outsized ping-pong ball, so he kicked it a few more times. A second guard joined in with a swift kick to the middle of the prisoner's face, knocking him unconscious. But that still wasn't enough. A third guard, who had been watching the scene with rifle in hand, now struck the butt of his weapon about five times into the senseless man's skull, which made a horrible sound. I could hardly believe it, but the victim was still alive the next day. He was taken away for interrogation.
The fact that I was not harmed in the prison at Jayapura was due, among other things, to the swift arrival of Norbert Bärlocher, the deputy mission chief of the Swiss embassy in Jakarta. He traveled 3,800 kilometers to the capital of Irian Jaya in order to extend his protection to me until my deportation on 16 December. But several dozen less privileged prisoners remained back in the cell, with the Satgas militiamen still among them. Their life in prison will doubtless continue to be as I experienced it, marked by violence.”