7 in Indonesian army convicted of killing independence leader

Human rights advocates decry sentences, longest of which is 3 1/2 years

April 22, 2003|By Richard C. Paddock | Richard C. Paddock,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Seven members of Indonesia's special forces were convicted yesterday for their role in killing a prominent Papuan independence leader, but the longest any of them will serve in prison is 3 1/2 years.

A military court in the East Java city of Surabaya found the four officers and three soldiers of the Kopassus force guilty of involvement in the assassination of separatist leader Theys Eluay, who was abducted on his way home from a party at a military base and strangled in 2001. His body was found in his car along a remote jungle road.

"The defendants have been legally and convincingly proven guilty of torturing [Eluay] to death," declared Col. A.N. Yamini, head judge.

Lt. Col. Hartomo, the highest-ranking defendant, was found guilty of instigating others to carry out the torture that resulted in Eluay's death. He was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison. Pvt. Ahmad Zulfahmi, who confessed to strangling Eluay, was sentenced to three years. The others received sentences ranging from two to three years.

Human rights advocates condemned the military court for handing out such light sentences and for not pursuing the higher-ranking officers critics believe ordered the killing.

"For me this is not right at all," said Papua human rights activist John Rumbiak. "This trial is totally a whitewash. This was a serious human rights violation, a planned assassination of a political leader."

The court's leniency in sentencing Eluay's killers highlights Indonesia's poor record of prosecuting those who commit human rights violations. Even winning a conviction is an unusual event.

Washington imposed a ban on arms sales to Indonesia 12 years ago because of human rights abuses by its armed forces. Human rights advocates say lawlessness and human rights violations remain widespread:

Soldiers are suspected in the killing of two American teachers and an Indonesian in Papua last year, but no one has been charged in the case.

Indonesia has yet to put anyone behind bars for the killing of 1,000 people in its former province of East Timor in 1999. Of 18 military officers and former officials put on trial, 11 have been acquitted, two are awaiting a verdict and five were found guilty but are free while they appeal.

In Jakarta yesterday, a crowd of militant Muslims overpowered police and rescued Islamic Defenders Front leader Habib Rizieq, who had been arrested on charges of inciting his followers to smash up bars and nightclubs. He later turned himself in to police.

Richard C. Paddock writes for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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