A Glimpse of the Persistent, Widespread Practice of Torture in West Papua

A Glimpse of the Persistent, Widespread Practice of Torture in West Papua

A Glimpse of the Persistent, Widespread Practice of Torture in West Papua Indonesia, Netherlands, News, West Papua
April 16, 2013

Source: Regarding Rights – Academic and activist
perspectives on human rights / By Budi Hernawan

***Please join Amnesty International Australia’s petition to call on the Indonesian authorities to address these cases of torture in its restive province of Papua.

“He put electric shock on me”

On 15 February 2013, in the sub-district of Depapre (approximately 30 kilometres west of the Papuan provincial capital of Jayapura), six Papuan men were arrested and detained by the local police.


Daniel Gobay (30), Arsel Kobak (23), Eneko Pahabol (23), Yosafat Satto (41), and Salim Yaru (35) were in a car when the police stopped and searched them. Matan Klembiap (40), who was on his motorbike behind the car that the police stopped, was also detained.

During the police interrogation all of the men were tortured to confess that they knew the whereabouts of two key pro-Papuan independence activists, Sebby Sambom and Terrianus Sato, who have gone into hiding. On the following day, four of the men were released without any charge; Daniel Gobay and Matan Klembiap remain in police custody, charged with “possessing a sharp weapon” under the Emergency Regulation 12/1951, a legacy from the Dutch colonial laws.


In testimony to his lawyers, Ms. Anum Siregar and Ms. Cory Silpa from a local NGO, the Democratic Alliance for Papua, Klembiap complained that he was electrocuted on the back of his head and was beaten on his legs by the police during the interrogation, leaving visible black marks on his body.

Klembiap works as a cleaner at the local state hospital and knows nothing about the police accusation of the targeted Papuan fugitives. The police found him carrying an axe which he had found abandoned on the street when they stopped him. However, the police did not accept his explanation and instead charged him. His case will soon be tried in Jayapura magistrate’s court.

Papua torture

Put in a broader context of the politics of torture in Papua, the cases of Gobay and Klembiap are not uncommon or isolated. Rather, they reveal a glimpse of the ways the Indonesian state has governed Papua for the last fifty years.

In this context, torture is widespread and has become “a standard procedure” of the Indonesian state security apparatus in targeting pro-Papuan independence activists. As we notice here, the police use torture to extract confessions from suspects, to collect intelligence information and/or simply to exact shock and awe effects. If torture fails, suspects are charged with anachronistic laws such as Regulation 12/1951. This law was the product of the Dutch colonial power in its attempt to justify any arrest of pro-Indonesian activists back in early days of independence struggle. The maximum penalty of carrying a weapon is 10-year imprisonment.


The other four suspects were released after being tortured. This element is important to highlight. Torturing suspects and releasing them because they were found innocent exemplify the use of “shock and awe” by the Indonesian state. This element is quite distinct from utilitarian notions of torture (e.g. gaining confessions).

With shock and awe effects, the police are not interested in collecting intelligence information. Rather, they aim to display the unrestrained sovereign power of the Indonesian state over the bodies of the suspects. The police deliberately mark the bodies of the suspects despite the absence of any legal and moral reasons. The police act can be interpreted as the penetration of the sovereign power of the Indonesian state into Papuan bodies.


This pattern resonates with Darius Rejali’s 2010 description of torture as a “civic marker.” That is, torture serves as means of “separating gradations of citizenship.” In other words, torture is used to govern citizens and to discriminate against non-citizens throughout the history of humankind. What has changed, according to Rejali, is the technology. When states are more democratic, more hidden technologies of torture are employed.

As a civic marker, torture has become a mode of governance for the Indonesian state to establish and maintain its control over Papuan territory. Torture is not merely a technique to inflict pain over the body. Rather, it has become an effective machinery to colonise the Papuan space, which is marked with Papuan resistance movements. The direct and deliberate involvement of state apparatus suggests a disturbing feature of torture in Papua because the primary responsibility and obligation of state apparatus is to protect its own citizens, not to act as an agent of terror. It may not be surprising for us to learn that the Indonesian justice system seems unable to hold the state apparatus accountable. On the contrary, innocent Papuans, like Klembiap, are put on trial simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Both utilitarian and shock and awe torture not only leave deep scars in the body and psyche of Papuans but, more importantly, treat Papuans as non-citizens.


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