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16 Sep 2010
Indonesia torture claims 'no surprise'
Allegations that members of the Australia-funded Special Detachment 88 force recently brutalised peaceful political activists in the province of Maluku should come as no surprise, Deakin University's Damien Kingsbury says.
"I would say the allegations would be absolutely correct," Mr Kingsbury told AAP.
"This sort of stuff has been going on for years, it's par for the course."
Detachment 88 is regularly accused of human rights abuses, particularly in Papua and West Papua, by organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Fairfax newspapers this week reported about a dozen separatist activists were arrested last month over a plan to display banned flags and other political material during a visit by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
The activists were subsequently taken to a Detachment 88 office in Ambon, Maluku's capital, where they were blindfolded, beaten, burnt with cigarettes and pierced with nails.
Mr Kingsbury says Australia's efforts to inculcate human rights standards into Indonesian organisations like Detachment 88 have had little success.
"The evidence has been consistently that this doesn't sink in and these organisations continue to use methods that we would find highly inappropriate.
"Australia is well within its rights to say 'look, we support the work of the anti-terrorism squad but it must act in a lawful manner and not actually encourage that which it seeks to resolve'.
"By beating peaceful protesters and committing human rights abuses what they're actually doing is pushing people towards violence, not away from it."
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on Monday said the focus of Australia's engagement with Detachment 88 was in combating terrorism in order to protect the lives of Australians and Indonesians.
"Detachment 88 has not sought assistance from Australia in any investigations or operations to counter internal separatist movements," a DFAT spokesperson said.
But Australia was aware of and concerned by allegations of brutality against political prisoners, the spokesperson said.
"Australian embassy officials from Jakarta have made inquiries with the Indonesian National Police, including during a recent visit to Ambon, where these allegations were discussed with both government and civil society representatives.
"We will continue to monitor the situation, and make representations as necessary."
Asked if Australia had followed the United States' lead to ban members of the Maluku Detachment 88 from receiving further assistance, the spokesperson said: "We do not comment on individual members."
Detachment 88 head Tito Karnavian effectively washed his hands of the allegations, saying regionally-based Detachment 88 forces like that in Maluku were not under his command.
"That is why Detachment 88s (under regional command) are going to be dismissed very soon and replaced by one centralised Detachment 88 headquarters," Mr Karnavian told AAP via text message.
"So that command and control will be easier particularly for countering terrorism."
Detachment 88 was formed after the 2002 Bali bombing with support from Australia and the US. It continues to receive millions of dollars in Australian funding each year.