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Will Obama Cut Ties With Indonesian Torture?

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By Carole Marzolf, Indonesia Country Specialist for Amnesty International

President Obama will visit his childhood home of Indonesia in early November in his first official visit since taking office. While his visit may bring back fond memories of his youth, there is nothing fond about the years of rampant human rights abuses carried out by Indonesia's Special Forces that are about to receive renewed support from the US.

Indonesia may be perceived as a country gaining clout in the international arena but it is wracked by massive corruption and its security forces get away with torture in total impunity, and those with opposing views may find themselves muzzled and thrown in jail.

As President Obama readies for his visit to Indonesia, join us in asking your Representative to support House Resolution 1355 calling for an end to human rights abuses and freedom for prisoners of conscience in Indonesia.

Although since the fall of President Suharto in May 1998 Indonesia saw a period of rapid reform, twelve years on, the process seems to have severely crumbled away. According to Transparency International, which measures corruption perceptions worldwide, Indonesia ranked 110th in 2010 on an equal footing with Gabon, Senegal or Bolivia. As a comparison, the United States ranked 22nd, while Malaysia ranked 56th and China 78th.

According to an Amnesty International report published last year, Indonesia's security forces - both the police and military - regularly carry out horrific human rights abuses including torture. Most recently, the Indonesian government acknowledged that men torturing Papuans in a video that circulated online are from the military.

Censorship has increased to the point where dozens of books and other media items have now been prohibited on Indonesian soil and authors and journalists have faced criminal prosecution simply for what they say and write. Peaceful political activists, such as Prisoner of Conscience Filep Karma, have been jailed for nothing more than raising a flag. He was arrested in 2004 and is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence.

Despite evidence of human rights abuses, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced last July that ties between the US and Indonesian Special Forces (KOPASSUS) would be gradually renewed. Cooperation with KOPASSUS is currently prohibited under the "Leahy Law" which bans U.S. military assistance to foreign military units that violate human rights with impunity. During his visit to Indonesia, President Obama must enforce the "Leahy Law" by not renewing US ties with KOPASSUS. Write or call your Representative to tell about the situation in Indonesia, and urge him or her to support House Resolution 1355 which calls for the release of political prisoners in Indonesia.