Matan Klembiap (photo courtesy of Anum Siregar, Democratic Alliance for Papua
In the Indonesian province of West Papua, torture is used to demonstrate power and mark the bodies of its citizens, writes Budi Hernawan from the ANU.
In the contested province of West Papua – which sees local West Papuans calling for independence from Indonesia – torture is used to remind citizens who exactly is in charge. Its practice is persistent, widespread and has been used by the Indonesia state as a means of controlling locals for 50 years.
Most recently, in February this year six West Papuan men were arrested and detained by the local police just outside the province’s capital Jayapura.
During the police interrogation all six men were tortured to confess that they knew the whereabouts of two key pro-West 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 Emergency Regulation 12/1951 – an antiquated law dating from Dutch colonial days.
Klembiap works as a cleaner at the local state hospital and knows nothing about the targeted West 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.
In testimony to his lawyers from 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. The interrogation left black marks on his body.
Put in a broader context, the cases of Gobay and Klembiap are not uncommon or isolated. Rather, they reveal the way the Indonesian state has governed West Papua for the last 50 years. In this context, torture is widespread and has become a standard procedure of the Indonesian state and security forces targeting pro-West Papuan independence activists.
As in this most recent case, 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 out dated laws such as Regulation 12/1951. This law was the product of Dutch colonial powers attempting to justify any arrest of pro-Indonesian activists back in the early days of that nation’s own struggle against their European masters. The maximum penalty of carrying a weapon is 10 years imprisonment.
The fact that the other four suspects were released after being tortured is important. Torturing suspects and releasing them because they were found innocent exemplifies the use of shock and awe by the Indonesian state. This element is quite distinct from typical notions of torture’s purpose (such as 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 its own people. The police deliberately mark the bodies of the suspects despite the absence of any legal and moral reasons.
This pattern resonates with torture expert Darius Rejali’s description of torture as a civic marker. That is, torture serves as means of separating levels of citizenship. In other words, torture has been 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 way for the Indonesian state to establish and maintain its control over West Papua's territory. Torture is not merely a technique to inflict pain over the body. Rather, it has become an effective machinery to colonise the West Papuan space, which is marked with West Papuan resistance movements.
The direct and deliberate involvement of state controlled organisations is a disturbing feature of torture in West Papua; that’s because the primary responsibility and obligation of any state 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 accountable. On the contrary, innocent West 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 West Papuans but, more importantly, treat West Papuans as non-citizens and non-people.