Testimonies of Aceh pro-democracy activists on recent wave of arrests

Aceh Papua Solidarity – February 28, 2004
Acehnese pro-independence activists mark human rights day (Reuters)
Acehnese pro-independence activists mark human rights day (Reuters)

[The following is an abridged translation of the testimonies of six Acehnese pro-democracy activists who were either abducted or managed to evade capture during a wave of arrests carried out by the Mobile Brigade (Brimob) in Banda Aceh between February 19-23 which was compiled by the Jakarta based organisation Aceh Papua Solidarity (Solidaritas Aceh Papua, SAP). According to a report by Tempo Interactive on February 27, three of the activists, Masrizal (30), Iwan Irama Putra (24), and Harlina (23), who were arrested and accused by police of being members of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), have now been formally charged with treason against the state which carries the maximum penalty of death. The minor inconsistencies and differences in the spelling of names were contained in the original testimonies. Translated by James Balowski.]

1. Muhsin's testimony

The abductions began with the arrest of a refugee from Central Aceh called Masrizal who had been helped by the student based organisation called the Linge University and High-school Students Association (Ikatan Mahasiswa dan Pelajar Linge, IMPEL) in 2001 and then moved to Banda Aceh were he worked in a motor bike shop. I obtained the information on Masrizal's abduction from a friend (Ratna) who is also a member of IMPEL as well as the Women's Organisation for Aceh Democracy (Organisasi Perempuan Demokratik Aceh, Orpad) on February 19. The information I received was that Masrizal was abducted on the night of Thursday February 19 at 12 midnight. He was then taken away by the Kuala Darussalam sectoral police.

The next morning Masrizal's wife went to the nearest Sectoral Police station to check his whereabouts but they would not acknowledge his abduction. After confirming that Masrizal was not at the police station, his wife and Ratna went to the Banda Aceh local police but could not find him there either. They then went to the Lingke Mobile Brigade (Brimob) headquarters where they saw Masrizal in an extremely poor state of heath because he had been beaten and tortured, his eyes were bound with insulating tape.

Several days later on Sunday February 22 at 12noon, another IMPEL member was abducted, Iwan Irama Putra, who is also a member of Student Solidarity for the People (Solidaritas Mahasiswa Untuk Rakyat, SMUR). Police also asked him about me and Ratna. Masrizal was used as a guide in Iwan's abduction.

They (Brimob) claimed that Iwan was a member of GAM, but Iwan is in fact an activist with SMUR and IMPEL as well as a human rights volunteer and is not a member of GAM. They then took Iwan and Masrizal to Ratna's boarding house (kos) however Ratna was not a home. They then began searching for me and/or where I lived. Because I knew that I was the prime target for abduction by Brimob I left to stay at a friends house.

On February 23 at 4am, police arrived at Harlina's house and abducted her. Harlina is an IMPEL and Orpad activists and was abducted so that she could be used to search for Ratna and I. I knew about Harlina's abduction because at 6am I phoned Harlina's kos. Her younger sibling answered and told me that Harlina had been abducted by uniformed security personnel.

At 6.15am, uniformed security personnel in two Kijang vehicles and two Reo trucks arrived at the house at which I was staying. They surrounded the house then broke in. They had brought Harlina and Iwan as guides. Seeing them arrive, I tried to save myself because I knew that they would also claim that I was a member of GAM (I obtained this information from friends). I am now on a wanted list and being searched for by the authorities.

I am the chairperson of IMPEL and also a member of the Campus Committee Board of SMUR and have absolutely no relationship with GAM, either organisationally or as an individual. Once again I wish to state that IMPEL is not part of GAM, Masrizal, Iwan and Harlina are members of IMPEL and Orpad as well as being human rights volunteers and are neither members of GAM or Inong Balee (the armed women's wing of GAM). And I condemn the abductions and baseless claims by security forces that IMPEL is a GAM organisation. I also condemn the labeling by security forces of pro-democracy activists as members of GAM as a justification for their arrests and abduction.

Jakarta, February 25, 2004

2. Munzir's testimony

My name is Munzir. I have been a member of IMPEL since 2001 working with refugees in Central Aceh. On February 23 at 6.15am, ten Brimob officers arrived at my house in three vehicles. They forced me into one of the vehicles where they began asking me about my relationship with Muhsin and about her activities.

They pressured me to tell them where to find Muhsin but I could only tell them that she was a fellow student and I didn't know where she lived. Because the officers were not satisfied with my answers, one of them wanted to hit be but the commander stopped them. They then let me out of the car but warned me to remain at home as they would return later. They then went to Cultural Park to search for Muhsin. After they left I felt that my safety was threatened so that morning I reported what had happened to the Banda Aceh Legal Aid Institute.

At 9am I phoned my house and my younger sister/brother said that the Brimob officers had returned bringing with them Harlina who was in a very poor state of health. She was having difficulty walking, her face was swollen and bruised because she had been tortured by the Brimob officers. They entered the house again and Harlina was forced to inside and made to ask my mother where I was. As a result of the raid, my family is frightened and traumatised.

Jakarta, February 25, 2004

3. Syaffruddin's testimony

I am an activist from SMUR. The morning of Monday February 23 was an unlucky one for me. I had returned home to my kos at around 7am because I had stayed the night at friend's place. I returned home with no sense of foreboding. But when I arrived, I was surprised to see three uniformed and fully armed people along with two others in civilian cloths carrying pistols who were waiting for Muhsin to return, so it was me who they confronted (Brimob). They asked me "You're Syafruddin, yes!". Without hesitating I answered "Yes sir!", then they asked me to show them my ID which I did.

The questions continued, "You're a friend of Muhsin?", "Yes I answered". "Where's Muhsin". "I don't know, because it was two weeks ago that I last met Muhsin". I then asked if I could use the bathroom but they refused because they were afraid I would escape. They (the Brimob officers) threatened to shoot me on the spot if I tried to escape.

I continued to try to convince them I wouldn't escape and eventually they gave me permission to used the bathroom, but they kept me covered with a cocked and loaded gun.

After bathing, I was again startled when a pistol was aimed at my head and I was forced up against a wall. "This is the last time we will ask, and if you don't answer honestly your head will blown apart (the Brimob officer threatened), I don't know sir … I answered". Then he hit me in the stomach, once with his fist then with the butt of a rifle.

After they had hit me, there attention was distracted to two people who had just entered the house and who were obviously friends of Muhsin. The officers said "You're looking for Muhsin?". Muhsin's two friends answered straight away "Yes", "Were are your ID cards", the officer asked. They produced their ID cards and more questions were asked.

One of them spoke into his radio saying "bring the car, we have Syafruddin with us". Five minutes later a dark blue Kijang arrived in front of the house and they forced me into the vehicle. In the car I was hemmed in by two fully armed people and then two women were also forced into the car (obviously the two women had been arrested by Brimob earlier).

The vehicle moved off but then stopped when it was approached a white Kijang carrying a number of soldiers. A commandeer from Brimob got out of the car and approached our vehicle. He then began questioning us and inspecting our ID cards. I was then allowed to get out of the vehicle and the commander approached me and said "I am certain you can give us information about the whereabouts of Muhsin, and we won't allow you to go anywhere, also, you are not allowed to take any of your things from your house, understand?"

The two vehicles then left and when I went back into my room I found that the Brimob officers had trashed my things and taken private documents including my high-school certificate, and a photo album. They have still not been returned to me.

Jakarta, February 25, 2004

4. Ratna Sari's tesimony

It was on Sunday, February 23 at exactly 12noon, when Iwan Irama Putra, an IMPEL member was taken away by Brimob. At the time Iwan was having a bath. His companion and a friend were also at his house. As soon as he came out of the bathroom the Brimob officers asked his name and he replied "Yes, I'm Iwan". As soon as they confirmed his identity he was grabbed and taken away by car.

As this was happening, another Brimob officer asked his companion and the other friend if they knew Ratna and where I lived. They said they didn't know me. Because the police had been asking them about me, they then went straight to the Ar-Raniri State Institute of Islamic Studies (IAIN) campus to meet me and tell me about what the Brimob officers had said.

At 12.30pm, the Brimob officers who had taken Iwan away, came to my kos and began questioning the owner about my whereabouts. The owner told them I was up stairs while one of my other friends said that I hadn't returned home yet. They then left.

When I realised that I was included in the list of people being sought by Brimob, from that day on I didn't return home again and for the sake of my safety I contacted several friends from Orpad and SMUR, Nursida, Nova Rahayu and Ajes. The four of us agreed that I would stay the night (February 23) at Nursida's house.

At 4am the owner of my cost called my mobile to ask where I was but I didn't tell him that I was at Ratna and Febby's place. But the Brimob officers who were at my kos did not leave directly and instead phoned me on my mobile.

At 7am Brimob officers were still at Muhsin's house which is directly in front of Nursida's place. Nursida and Nova were trying to think of a way for me to escape and then they suddenly had the idea of jumping over the wall from the first floor. With the help of a length of wood I was able to jump over the three meter wall and went in search of transport to take me to central Banda Aceh. After I arrived there I went directly to the Raya Baiturrahman mosque and immediately contacted Ajes to tell him what had happened and about Harlina's arrest.

Ajes arrived later to meet me and take me to a safe place. On Tuesday February 24 at around 10am I went to the Banda Aceh Legal Aid Institute and met with my friends who had already been released, Nursida and Nova Rahayu.

Jakarta, February 25, 2004
Ratna Sari

5. Nova Rahyu's testimony

My name is Nova Rahayu, a student of the Faculty of Economics at the Syiah Kuala University in Banda Aceh. I am also a member of Orpad. I was abducted on February 23 at around 8am while I was staying at the house of my friend, Nursida, who is also an Orpad member. Ratna was also staying the night.

At 4am Ratna's mobile rang. The caller was from military intelligence and said that they had a delivery for Ratna from Takengon (Central Aceh). Nursida answered the call and said that "this is not Ratna but Pebi, you've got the wrong number". Several minutes later they rang again and she told them that Ratna was in Keutapang (Pidie regency). When they said they would meet with Pebi the next day, Nursida then said Pebi would be in Medan (North Sumatra).

At 4.30am around 16 uniformed Brimob officers arrived at Muhsin's kos which is across the road from Nursida's place. There were other officers not wearing uniforms and carrying fire arms. They entered Muskin's kos and from Nursida's house I could hear my friends at Muskin's place being question about Muhsin's whereabouts and being beaten. Because the owner of the kos said that Muhsin knew Nursida, they ordered Nursida to come out side. I was very frightened because I know that they were searching for Ratna. As soon as Nursida came down stairs I heard them questioning her about Muhsin, Ratna and Risna. Nursida said she didn't know anything because she know that they had claimed that Muhsin and Ratna were members of GAM when in fact they are members of Orpad and IMPEL. Muhsin is also a member of SMUR.

They then asked who else was there and Nursida answered Nova (me). I was then ordered to come down stairs. They asked me the same questions and I said that I didn't know anything. While Nursida and I were outside, I could hear Harlina being asked the same questions. Harlina was obviously being used as a guide. Because they couldn't find Muhsin there, they took Harlina to search for her at places she visited frequently and they posted an officer at his house to wait for her return.

At 5.30 they began questioning us again. During a break in the questioning we used the chance to help Ratna who was able to escape by climbing over a wall from the first floor.

At 8am, they returned with Harlina. Muhsin had not been found. They then took both of us away with Harlina in the other vehicle. We arrived at the Brimob headquarters about 10 minutes later although at the time we didn't know where we were and were afraid to ask. Harlina had arrived ahead of us and we could see she was in a poor state of health and had been beaten with lengths of wood. Right in front of use she was slapped until her face was red and bruised. We were very sad to see the state of her small body but we couldn't do anything except to note everything that occurred.

Before the interrogation started, they claimed that we were members of Inong Balee. We were then separated from Harlina who was taken away for questioning. Because we were siting not far from Harlina and the room was only separated by screens we could hear and see everything that happened to Harlina. We also saw Iwan Irama Putra and three other detainees who we didn't know.

Iwan's state of health was very bad. His eyes were covered with black insulating tape and his hand were tied. He had been badly beaten and tortured. When they ordered him to walk we could see his foot was hurt and he was staggering.

Finally, at 10pm, our interrogation began. We were separated and question for around 30 minutes. They asked me about my relationship with Ratna and our activities. In order to protect myself and in the hope I would be released straight away I said I didn't know about Ratna's activities and that she was just a friend.

Because they could find no evidence that we were members of Inong Balee we were released at 11pm but were threatened

Jakarta, February 26, 2004
Nova Rahayu.

6. Nursida's testimony

I am a student of the Economic Faculty of Unsyiah and have been an activist with Orpad since 2001. Orpad is an organisation which struggles for women's rights and supports a referendum for Aceh as the most democratic way to resolve the Aceh conflict. Orpad has also stated that it rejects holding the general elections while Aceh is under marshal law. The arbitrary nature of the arrest and abductions of pro-democracy activists and civilians who are labeled as GAM members was proven by my own arrest on February 23.

My abduction began with the arrest of Harlina who is also an Orpad member and was used by the police as a guide in their search for other friends from Orpad. The main aim of my arrest was to find out the whereabouts of Ratna, an Orpad and IMPEL member.

Brimob police officers started the operation to find Ratna and Muhsin at 4am when Ratna and I received a call on Ratna's mobile from Brimob. I spoke to them and said I was Febby in order to put them off Ratna's trail. At the time the Brimob officers were at Ratna's kos and interrogating the owner of the kos to obtain information about Ratna's whereabouts.

After the police failed to find Ratna at her kos they then went to Harlina's place which is not far from Ratna's. Harlina was then arrested and forced to show them where Muhsin's and other Orpad friends lived. At around 5.30am Harlina arrived at Muhsin's place but she was not there. And when the police could not find Muhsin they began beating the other people who lived at Muhsin's kos.

One of Muhsin's friends from her kos told them that I knew Muhsin so they then came to my house to ask abut her whereabouts. I said that I didn't know. Fifteen minutes later a Kijang arrived carrying Harlina who was being used as a guide to show the police where Muhsin and other Orpad friends lived. I was then ordered to answer more questions and was brought face to face with Harlina because she had said that I was an Orpad member and knew where the other Orpad members were, including Risna.

Nova Rahayu, who was in my room at that time, was also ordered to tell them about Muhsin, Ratna and Risna. At around 7am Nova and I were able to help Ratna escape from the first floor of my kos by jumping over a three meter wall. After Ratna had escaped, Nova and I were taken to the Lingke Brimob headquarters at 8am along with as many as six Brimob officers. When we arrived at the Brimob headquarters at around 8.30am, Harlina was already being interrogated by being slapped around and beaten by a length of wood. I also saw Iwan who was in a very poor state of health with his eyes bound with insulating tape, he had been beaten very badly. I also saw three other prisoners.

Harlina's interrogation began at 9am and ended at 10pm, she was questioned and beaten, slapped and abused. At 10pm I was interrogated by the commander, Tri Heriyanto, who asked about the whereabouts of Muhsin and Ratna, and my activities outside of my studies. According to the Brimob officers, Muhsin and Ratna were being sought because they had been accused of being members of GAM and Inong Bale and because IMPEL had been assisting Central Aceh refugees in 2001 when security forces had accused the refugees of being members of GAM.

My interrogation didn't last long, only around half-an-hour, and because there was not enough concrete evidence I was released and returned to my house at around 11pm. Although they released me I was ordered to become a spy for the police and report on Muhsin and Ratna's whereabouts should I see them, and I was given the commander's direct contact number to report if I knew where they were. I was also watched and my movements monitored each day and I was threatened that if there was proof of my guilt my friends at my kos would be taken in for questioning.

The entire process of my arrest and the arrests of my friend in Central Aceh is ample proof of the brutality of the military in Aceh which been given the authority to act in an arbitrary manner while marshal law in force. As a member of Orpad who has seen directly the brutality of the police, I absolutely condemn what was done by the Lingke Brimob officers who must take responsibility the torture of Harlina and Iwan.

Jakarta, February 26, 2004

[Translated by James Balowski.]