Swiss journalist recounts horror of Indonesian jail

Oswald Iten graphic: Dec 2000

The Swiss journalist, Oswald Iten, has been reliving the nightmare of his short stay in an Indonesian jail. Iten fell foul of the authorities after photographing security forces breaking up an independence rally in Irian Jaya province.

This content was published on December 18, 2000 minutes

In an interview with swissinfo, after his return to Switzerland at the weekend, Iten said he was accused of violating the terms of his tourist visa by taking pictures of a politically sensitive nature.

He said there were many foreign reporters at the Free Papua Movement rally on December 1, and he believed he was arrested as a warning to others.

Iten spent 12 nights in jail in Jayapura, the capital of Irian Jaya. He described conditions in his shared cell as "terrible".

"Everyone was lying on the ground. It smelt of urine... it was full of malaria-bearing mosquitoes," he told swissinfo.

Iten said one of the other prisoners gave him a small piece of cardboard to place under his head on the first night.

Later he was permitted to bring in a camping mattress, but he wasn't allowed a mosquito net. Iten said the Jayapura police chief told him, "If there's malaria here, you'll catch it, too."

Although not physically abused himself, Iten witnessed the torture of 18 other inmates in an adjoining room. He says the horror of the scene will remain with him for a long time to come.

"They tortured them terribly for about two hours, then they threw them into prison. Most of them were unconscious and I saw one of them die just two metres away from me," he recalled.

Iten said he was in fear of his own life after witnessing this scene, but later realised that what he had seen was probably a regular occurrence in Indonesian prisons.

He said he had emerged from prison in good health, but mentally scarred by his experiences. His thoughts were with the other prisoners still in the jail, he said.

Iten was finally released last Wednesday on the orders of the Indonesian police chief and returned home on Sunday.


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