Benny Mawel and Alya Nurbaiti, Jayapura and Jakarta – A Papuan man has died shortly after allegedly being hit by a police officer while making a complaint against a palm oil company he believed was responsible for knocking down his banana plantation in Asiki village, Boven Digoel regency, in Papua.
The incident began after the man, identified as Marius Betera, visited the company, PT Tunas Sawa Erma (TSE), on Saturday at 11 a.m. local time to report on the felling of his banana farm, located within the TSE's plantation complex, according to a chronology of events provided in a report by Merauke Archdiocese's Secretariat of Justice and Peace and the Pusaka Foundation.
At the company's office, Marius met TSE's supervisor, identified as A, and complained that he had not been notified prior to the felling. Normally, the company would notify residents who owned farms before clearing the land so that they could collect their harvest first.
The company's director, Vinoba Chandra, sent a statement to The Jakarta Post on Wednesday, disputing this claim. Vinoba said the company had informed Marius about the plan to vacate the land in February this year. In the clarification letter, Vinoba said the land planted with banana trees by Marius belonged to TSE and Marius in fact was a former employee, not from that village but from the Tanah Merah area in the regency. "He resigned in 2019 and the company let him live in the company's housing complex, Camp 19, in Jair district, Boven Digoel," the statement said. The company claimed Marius did not hold any customary rights to the land.
The report the Post received said the company called a police officer, identified only as MY, to confiscate the machete that Marius had brought with him. The officer arrived and struck Marius on the neck, the side of his head and kicked him in the stomach, according to the report.
Boven Digoel Police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Syamsurijal told the Post that an employee at the company, alarmed at the sight of Marius carrying the weapons, called the police for help.
Vinoba, however, denied that the company had called the local police. "In reality, the company never specifically called the local police in relation to the victim's visit to our office," Vinoba said.
Marius, who was in pain, asked the officer to stop beating him. TSE's employee and its security staffers also reportedly witnessed the violence.
After leaving the company's office, Marius visited a nearby police station to report the abuse against him, but he could not file a complaint as the officer was not there and so decided to return home.
Feeling ill, Marius went to a clinic within TSE's complex at 1 p.m. local time. Marius collapsed upon arriving at the clinic and died shortly afterwards.
According to the report, Marius' family demanded that the Boven Digoel Police hold the police officer responsible for the abuse and demanded the company dismiss the supervisor and security staffers for letting the violence take place. The family also asked that customary fines be paid.
Petrus Canisius Mandagi, current acting head of the Merauke Archdiocese, condemned the incident, saying that Papuans were humans and they "should not be subjected to violence, let alone be killed".
He demanded authorities conduct a thorough investigation and enforce the law. "The police should protect everyone, not just the people who work at the company," Petrus said.
Separately, Boven Digoel Police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Syamsurijal said police had arrested the police officer who allegedly attacked Marius and asked the family of the victim to file an official report.
"The post-mortem examination found that [Marius] died of a heart attack. The perpetrator, however, will be charged with persecution and be given an internal sanction for violating ethics," he told the Post on Tuesday.