Rights group angered by Indonesian sentences for Papua soldiers

JAKARTA Mon Jan 24, 2011 5:20am EST

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JAKARTA Jan 24 (Reuters) - Human rights groups have criticised sentences handed out on Monday to three low-ranking Indonesian soldiers whose alleged torture of indigenous Papuans caused a sensation on Youtube.

An Indonesian military court said there was insufficient evidence to charge the three with torture, and so had sentenced them to up to 10 months in jail for disobeying orders.

Western countries such as the United States and Australia are forging closer ties with the world's most populous Muslim country -- particularly on defence and security -- despite remaining watchful of its human rights situation.

Resource-rich Papua province, home to the world's largest gold mine, has a heavy military presence because of a simmering campaign for greater autonomy by its people who also want a greater slice of the benefits from its resources.

Journalists and rights workers are barred from the province,

which is Indonesia's easternmost territory and the western half of a big island with Papua New Guinea to the east.

The trial of the three was ordered after Youtube clips (bit.ly/9JSMsX) emerged that seemed to show them shoving burning sticks against the genitals of a Papuan man, and a knife against the neck of another.

"Their mistake was disobedience against their superiors," Lieutenant Colonel Harry Priyatna, a spokesman for the military command in Papua, said by telephone.

"There was not enough evidence (to charge them with torture), so to avoid them being acquitted we laid the disobedience charge," he said.

Rights groups said the trial showed how the military was reluctant to abide by human rights principles or to reform its courts.

"This is a miscarriage of justice, a manipulation of justice," said Usmad Hamid of New York-based International Center for Transitional Justice.

Another rights campaigner, Ridha Saleh of the National Commission on Human Rights, said: "The (military) has not learned a lesson. I think this goes to show, as the public believes, that the military court is not independent."

Saleh's group said this month it had recorded about 40 incidents of violence by military personnel in Papua between 2004 and 2010. (Reporting by Olivia Rondonuwu; Editing by David Fox and Robert Birsel)

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