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Beaten, tortured, and imprisoned after raising a flag

By Josef Benedict, Indonesia Campaigner, Amnesty International,

Call on Indonesia’s government to release Johan Teterissa and all other prisoners of conscience in the country.

This year marks five years since Johan Teterissa, a teacher from Maluku, was arrested, beaten, and tortured for leading a peaceful protest where a banned regional flag was raised.

The protest took place on 29 June 2007. The government had organized a ceremony in the city of Ambon, the capital of Maluku province, to mark National Family Day. Among the audience was the Indonesian President.

During the ceremony, Johan led 22 other activists – most of whom were teachers and farmers – onto the field and performed a traditional war dance in front of the President. At the end of the dance the activists unfurled the “Benang Raja” – a banned regional flag.

The response from the authorities was immediate. Johan and 21 of the activists were escorted from the field by police and presidential guards, who punched them and beat them with rifle butts once they were out of sight of the President.

For the next 11 days Johan and the other activists were tortured by police. They were beaten, forced to crawl on their stomachs over hot asphalt, whipped with electric cables and had billiard balls forced into their mouths. The police also beat them round the head with rifle butts until their ears bled, and fired shots close to their ears, damaging their hearing. One of the activists’ mothers told us:

“I went to the police station in Ambon to see my son after he was arrested. The police were rude to me and shouted vulgar words at me. I tried for 14 days to see my son. Finally the police allowed me to see him. He was unrecognizable. He told me that the police had tortured him. He had been stripped naked, beaten with sticks, an electric cable and rifles. They threw him into the sea when he was bleeding and was given ice cubes to put on his wounds.”

The activists were held in isolation for the entire time, and had no access to medical treatment. Johan continues to suffer from internal injuries as a result of the torture. No investigation has been carried out in to the allegations of torture and none of the police officers were ever held to account.

Johan and the other activists were eventually charged with “rebellion” under laws are often used by the Indonesian authorities to imprison peaceful political activists. On 4 April 2008 Johan was sentenced to life imprisonment for leading the flag-raising incident. Three months later this was reduced on appeal to 15 years. In March 2009, Johan and other activists were moved to prisons on Java island thousand of kilometres from their homes, making it difficult for their families to visit them in prison..

Unfortunately, Johan’s case isn’t a one off – he is one of over 90 prisoners of conscience in Indonesia imprisoned for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Many have been imprisoned for raising, waving or possessing banned regional flags, or participating in peaceful political activities. Just last week five peaceful political activists in Papua were each given three years’ imprisonment for taking part in a peaceful gathering back in October 2011.

In a recent message to Amnesty International members around the world, Johan sent his regards and urged everyone to keep putting pressure on the Indonesian authorities so that all political prisoners are released without conditions, and that’s exactly what we plan to do. Join our faxjam here to call on Indonesia’s government to release Johan Teterissa and all other prisoners of conscience in the country.