(New York) - The Indonesian government should investigate and hold accountable abusive guards and officials at the Abepura prison in Papua, Human Rights Watch said today. Various sources report that torture, beatings, and mistreatment by guards are rampant. Abepura holds approximately 230 prisoners, of whom more than a dozen are imprisoned for peaceful political acts.

"How can the government turn a blind eye to beatings and torture in one of its prisons?" said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Jakarta needs to put an end to this disgraceful behavior, punish those responsible, and start keeping a close eye on what is happening there."

Human Rights Watch has received reports of more than two dozen cases of beatings and physical abuse since Anthonius Ayorbaba, a Papuan civil servant who previously worked in the Jayapura office of the Ministry of Law and Human Rights, became the prison warden in August 2008. As prison warden, Ayorbaba is the most senior prison official in Abepura. The administration of prisons falls under the Ministry of Law and Human Rights.

Human Rights Watch said that the Indonesian government should replace the prison administration and open the prison to international monitoring. Foreign human rights monitors and foreign journalists require special police permission to enter Papua province and are unable to carry out independent research there. Human Rights Watch also urged President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to set up an independent team to investigate abuses in Abepura prison.

Incidents of Abuse

In one case, on September 22, 2008, prison guards took political prisoner Ferdinand Pakage to the prison security office at around 8 a.m. The prison's security chief hit Pakage with a rubber club six times in the head. A guard hit Pakage with his bare hand, while the chief repeatedly kicked Pakage with his boot. Another guard, Herbert Toam, punched Pakage's head while holding a lock and key, which penetrated Pakage's right eye. Guards threw Pakage into an isolation cell unconscious at around 8:20 a.m. At 2 p.m., prison guards brought Pakage to the Abepura hospital, but the hospital was closed. Only on September 23 did doctors examine Pakage at Dock Dua hospital in Jayapura. It was too late to save his right eye, as the bleeding was too severe.

Ayorbaba wrote an undated chronology of the case, obtained by Human Rights Watch, which described the beating by Toam. It states that the severe injury inflicted was an accident, claiming that Toam hit Pakage without realizing that the key was still in the lock. It also claimed that Pakage had previously threatened a prison guard. The report does not mention the role of two other prison guards in the attack.

In December 2008, Ayorbaba told Human Rights Watch that the report had been submitted to the Ministry of Law and Human Rights as well as the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas Ham), and that "Herbert is very likely to be fired." Ayorbaba said he had advised Toam to take a leave of absence from work and settle the case through traditional means, involving negotiations with Pakage's clan. Toam did not go to work between October 2008 and March 2009, though he continued to draw his monthly salary. He failed to settle the case through traditional means and returned to work in April.

Neither the Ministry of Law and Human Rights nor Komnas Ham appear to have conducted any investigation into this matter. In October, Pakage's family tried to report the case to the Jayapura police, but the police refused to file the case, suggesting that the family could settle the case with the Ministry of Law and Human Rights. The family orally lodged a complaint with the ministry. In October, the Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (KPKC), a religious group, wrote to the Ministry of Law and Human Rights office complaining about various cases of abuse, including Pakage's case, but there has been no follow-up.

In another case, on February 26, 2009, Abepura prison officials discovered that Buchtar Tabuni, a detained student leader, had a mobile phone in his pocket. According to Tabuni, prison guard Andrianus Sihombing hit Tabuni in his eye, causing it to bleed. Prison guards temporarily moved Tabuni to the Jayapura police detention center, apparently so that Indonesia's law and human rights minister, Andi Mattalatta, would not see the wound while making a planned inspection of the prison the next day. After Mattalatta left Papua, guards returned Tabuni to Abepura prison.

On March 1, 2009, Yusak Pakage, another political prisoner who is related to Ferdinand, asked Sihombing why he had beaten Tabuni. Sihombing responded by hitting Pakage in the face, breaking his glasses and cutting his forehead. Several prisoners intervened to defend Pakage. That night, led by Warden Ayorbaba, guards moved eight prisoners, including Pakage and a student leader, Selphius Bobbi, into a small isolation cell, where they were kept for three nights. The guards reportedly beat Bobbi. Other guards entered detention blocks and beat many prisoners indiscriminately, witnesses said. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that some of the guards appeared to be drunk.

Guards also reportedly beat with iron bars two prisoners who had delivered water and food to Pakage while on kitchen duty, unaware of an apparent order not to feed him.

On May 11, a guard beat a prisoner for possessing a mobile phone, causing severe bleeding from his left ear. As a result, the prisoner lost partial hearing in that ear. According to witnesses, the same guard beat two other prisoners who had used the mobile phone. The guard forced one of the prisoners to put his hand into boiling water. The identity of some of those making the reports is being kept confidential to protect them from retribution.

Efforts to Lodge Complaints Fruitless

Indonesia's Rehabilitation Law No. 12/1995 sets out procedures for prisoners to complain about mistreatment in prison. Prisoners are to report abusive guards to the prison warden. If the warden is involved, they can report the case to the provincial office of the Ministry of Law and Human Rights in Jayapura. In such cases, criminal action can be brought against the officials involved, and the prisoners are entitled to legal representation.

Prior to Ayorbaba's posting as warden, prisoners and their relatives often reported abuse by guards to the Ministry of Law and Human Rights, but no action was ever taken. Prisoners say they have stopped reporting abuses because they lack faith in the system, and because Ayorbaba had worked in that office before his promotion so they feared retribution if they spoke out.

Ministry of Law and Human Rights inspectors from Jakarta are required to inspect prisons regularly. In practice, prisoners and a prison guard told Human Rights Watch, the inspectors usually just meet with the warden. Prisoners have no opportunity to meet or discuss any issues with prison inspectors from Jakarta.

Since August 2008, informal leaders among the prisoners at Abepura had requested a meeting with Ayorbaba, but he had refused. In December 2008, Yusak Pakage, one of the leaders, had a chance to talk with Ayorbaba when he visited a hospital where Pakage was being treated for an illness. At that meeting, Ayorbaba declined to talk about abuses and did not take the complaints seriously.

"The Indonesian government needs to replace the Abepura prison management," said Adams. "But this is not just a failure of one prison warden. It's a failure of Jakarta to set proper standards and enforce them."

In March, the Indonesian Foreign Ministry ordered the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to close its field offices in Jayapura and Banda Aceh. The ICRC ran sanitation projects in Papua and also visited detainees, including political prisoners, in Abepura prison. Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Teuku Faizasyah denied that the closure had anything to do with the ICRC's visits to Papuan prisons, including Abepura, saying that it was merely a regulatory measure.

Human Rights Watch said that international monitors such as the ICRC and independent human rights groups should be able to visit prisoners in Abepura to investigate reports of abuse, given the ministry does not appear to be protecting the interests of prisoners or responding to grievances.

"These prisoners have exhausted all avenues to fight for their rights, but officials refuse to listen," said Adams. "Given the scale of abuses, the Indonesian government should open Papuan prisons to international monitoring."