Jakarta. Indonesian police said on Tuesday that they will investigate new allegations that political activists have been tortured by members of United States- and Australian-backed antiterror unit Detachment 88.
The counter-terror squad, also known as Densus 88, allegedly tortured 12 suspected separatists who were arrested last month for possessing an outlawed South Maluku Republic (RMS) flag.
The allegations came as another Maluku separatist, Yusuf Sipakoly, died in custody on Monday from injuries his family says were sustained during torture.
Sipakoly was arrested in 2007 for unfurling the outlawed flag and performing a traditional war dance in front of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Police in Ambon, the capital of Maluku province, denied that his death was the result of kidney failure stemming from torture, and dismissed allegations that he had been denied medical treatment for years.
But police spokesman Marwoto Soeto told AFP in Jakarta that allegations against Detachment 88 officers related to the suspects arrested between Aug. 1 and 7 would be the subject of a “thorough investigation”.
“If the allegations are true, the officers could face charges … Torture is a criminal act which carries a maximum penalty of nine years in jail,” he said.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported Monday that members of Detachment 88 had beaten the detainees for up to a week, brought them close to suffocation with plastic bags, stabbed them with nails and forced them to eat raw chillies.
Detachment 88 receives millions of dollars in funding and support from Australia and the United States, which helped establish the unit in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks and the 2002 Bali bombing.
An Australian foreign affairs spokesman said Canberra was “concerned” about the allegations and embassy officials had made inquiries with the Indonesian police, including during a recent visit to Ambon.
Indonesia is a signatory to the UN Convention Against Torture but it has no corresponding law against the practice, which is widespread throughout the country’s prisons and police forces.
The UN special rapporteur for torture visited Indonesia in 2007 and found that police used torture as a “routine practice in Jakarta and other metropolitan areas of Java”, the most populated island in the archipelago.