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Indonesia cleric's arrest highlights work of US-trained counterterrorism unit

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Past abuses

This raises alarm bells for human rights groups. On Aug. 2, on the eve of a high-profile visit to Maluku province by President Yudhoyono, police in the provincial capital Ambon arrested as many as 15 activists accused of separatist activities.

Yudhoyono had traveled to Ambon to inaugurate a government-sponsored sailing contest to promote tourism in the Banda Sea, a region that first drew European merchants in the 17th century in search of spices. Police and military personnel were deployed at the harbor where Yudhoyono appeared. “There’s a heightened level of security when the president visits,” says Josef Benedict, a campaigner in London for Amnesty International.

While Indonesian media reported that the activists were linked to a banned separatist group, known as RMS, Human Rights Watch said that the detained were merely planning to float balloons with political messages to draw attention to injustice under Indonesian rule.

Officials at Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say that witness accounts indicate the direct role of Detachment 88 personnel in the arrests, and the rights groups warn that the arrested activists may be facing torture in custody based on the treatment meted out to activists in the past.

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