Indonesia's Defence Ministry downplays criticisms by rights activists over Prabowo's visit to US

Mr Prabowo is scheduled to meet his US counterpart Mark Esper during the visit.
Mr Prabowo is scheduled to meet his US counterpart Mark Esper during the visit.PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Indonesia's Defence Ministry has played down criticism levelled at its minister, Mr Prabowo Subianto, over his working visit to the United States.

Activists in Indonesia have concerns over his past alleged human rights violations.

The ministry's spokesman, Mr Dahnil Azhar Simanjuntak, said it respected those who criticised planned Mr Prabowo's diplomatic visit.

"Prabowo has received various criticisms and allegations during his tenure serving this country (as an army officer) and a politician. We respect any critic and rejections," Mr Dahnil said in a video statement on Thursday (Oct 15).

He said Mr Prabowo, chairman of the Gerindra Party, had kicked off his first working visit to the US from Thursday and will be there until Monday (Oct 19) to discuss defence cooperation between Indonesia and the US.

Mr Prabowo is scheduled to meet his US counterpart, Mr Mark Esper, during the visit.

"Prabowo is fulfilling the invitation from the US government. (The visit) is aimed at strengthening US-Indonesia defense cooperation," Mr Dahnil said.

Mr Prabowo was previously banned from entering the US due to a blanket ban on officers of the Indonesia army's Special Forces (Kopassus), who allegedly carried out human rights violations in East Timor when the territory was under Indonesian rule.

As many as 12 civil society organisations had voiced their objections in a joint letter to US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo over Mr Prabowo's visit to the US.

The groups urged the US government to revoke the diplomatic invitation if it included immunity for the crimes Mr Prabowo had allegedly committed.

These groups include Amnesty International Indonesia, the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), the Setara Institute and the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH Jakarta).

Amnesty International USA's national director for advocacy and government affairs, Ms Joanne Lin, said in the letter that allowing Mr Prabowo to enter the US could be a violation of the Leahy Laws.

The Leahy Laws prohibit the US government from using its resources to assist units of foreign security forces that are proven to be involved in committing gross human rights violations.

"We urge you to clarify that the visa issued to Prabowo does not extend any form of immunity to him and to ensure that if he does travel to the US, he is properly and promptly investigated," Ms Lin said.