Nina A. Loasana, Jakarta – An independent team calling itself the Intan Jaya Humanity Team has alleged that Indonesian Military (TNI) personnel were behind the fatal shooting of Pastor Yeremia Zanambani last month in Intan Jaya regency, Papua as well as a series of violence prior to the killing.
Prominent human rights activist and Lokataru Legal and Human Rights Foundation executive director Haris Azhar who led the team, which comprises local religious figures, academics and activists, said villagers had seen a spike of violence in Hitadipa district in the regency since military personnel were stationed in the village last year following anti-racism protests in the province in August 2019.
"Based on our investigation, TNI personnel carried out a series of violence against Hitadipa villagers prior to the shooting," Haris said in a press conference on Thursday.
The team found that at least two military personnel were involved in Yeremia's death. "The information we received pointed to members of Hitadipa Subdistrict Military Command [Koramil]," he said.
The pastor's death was part of a prolonged conflict in Intan Jaya. He explained that in April two villagers went missing after allegedly being detained by military officers during a "COVID-19 raid."
This case had still not been solved even after a series of meetings between the military and local stakeholders, including Pastor Yeremia.
Before Yeremia's fatal shooting on Sept. 19, there had been a gunfight between the TNI and a party that the authority claimed to be an armed criminal group, Haris further said.
The team also claimed that on Sept 19, military officers gathered hundreds of Hitadipa villagers in front of a local school building that has been converted into a military post following a gunfire exchange between the TNI and the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) in the village on Sept. 17.
The shooting resulted in the death of a TNI member. Members of the TPNPB also reportedly managed to seize a gun belonging to the deceased soldier.
"During the meeting, villagers claimed that the district military commander gave them two days to return the gun or else the TNI would carry out an annihilation operation in the village," Haris said.
Later that day, he added, soldiers allegedly burned down an official residence of a local health worker in the village, claiming that the house sheltered a TPNPB member.
In the evening of Sept. 19, Pastor Yeremia was found fatally wounded in his pig pen, with a bullet wound in the arm and a stab wound in the neck. He passed away a few hours later.
Haris claimed that witnesses saw a soldier named Alpius and three other soldiers heading to the pig pen prior to the incident.
"There's a strong indication that Alpius is the culprit. Previously, Alpius had publicly stated that Pastor Yeremia and five other local residents were enemies of the TNI," he said.
The team's finding is in line with the investigation result from the government-sanctioned joint fact-finding team (TGPF) which reported that it found indications that security forces were involved in the death of the pastor, although the TGPF also stated there was a possibility that a third party was behind it.
The team, however, did not reveal detailed information on the suspected killers.
The Joint Regional Defense Command (Kogabwilhan) III spokesperson Col. Czi IGN Suriastawa refuted the Intan Jaya Humanity Team's findings, calling it "baseless" and "a total fabrication".
"Why would TNI member kill a pastor, what benefit would we gain from such an act?" he told The Jakarta Post.
Suriastawa also claimed that witnesses' accounts of the incident kept changing. "It was the fourth version that I've heard. It's very odd," he said.
The Cendrawasih Military Command (Kodam) in Papua said in a statement that an investigation was still under way. "If military personnel are found to have been involved, they will be processed in accordance with the law." the statement read.
Haris said Pastor Yeremia's shooting had caused a deep fear in the hearts of some 1,000 Hitadipa residents, who fled the village shortly after the incident. "It is the hope of the villagers for the TNI personnel to leave Hitadipa and to return to the village safely," he said.