Victor Mambor and Pizaro Gozali Idrus, Jayapura and Jakarta – Indonesia's president said Wednesday that police must thoroughly investigate six soldiers who were arrested as suspects in the grisly killing of four civilians in Papua last week, but residents of the troubled region cast doubt that justice would be served.
During a working visit to Papua, Indonesian leader Joko "Jokowi" Widodo said he had ordered the armed forces chief to help local police with the legal part of the case unfolding in the country's far eastern region, where alleged abuses by government forces and armed Papuan separatist rebels are widespread.
"Once again, the legal process must be carried out so that the public's trust in the Armed Forces does not fade. I think the most important thing is to investigate thoroughly and then proceed to the legal process," Jokowi told local journalists.
Papua police spokesman Ahmad Musthofa Kamal said officers arrested six soldiers and three civilians who allegedly killed and mutilated the victims in an attack in Mimika regency, Papua province, on Aug. 22.
The four victims were beheaded and their legs were cut off before their bodies were placed in sacks and tossed into a river, according to authorities, who publicized the arrests on Aug. 29.
Despite the president's statement, Papuan activists expressed doubts that the military would carry out his order. "This was proven by the premeditated murder and mutilation of four indigenous Papuan civilians in Timika," the Rev. Dorman Wandikbo told BenarNews.
Dorman, president of the Evangelical Church in Indonesia, criticized Jokowi for visiting Papua amid continued violence against civilians by security forces. He said such violence had degraded the dignity of indigenous Papuans.
Previously, Makilon Tabuni, 12, died on Feb. 22 after allegedly being tortured by soldiers who had accused him and his friends of stealing a firearm in Sinak, a district of Puncak regency in Papua province. The case remains unsolved.
"There is no clarity as of today. The TNI has not admitted to this day," a representative from Makilon's family told BenarNews on condition of anonymity because of fear of potential reprisals. The family said the military had only paid medical expenses.
Benny Giay, a member of the Papua Church Council, criticized statements by government officials who have degraded Papuans.
He cited a statement made by Megawati Soekarnoputri, chairwoman of the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP). She had referred to Papuans as black and Deputy Minister of Home Affairs John Wempi Wetipo, who is from Papua as "coffee milk" – derogatory terms referring to people with different skin tones.
Benny also referred to a statement by the former chief of the State Intelligence Agency, Abdullah Mahmud Hendropriyono, who proposed moving 2 million Papuans to Manado and sending Manado residents to Papua to separate them from their people in Papua New Guinea and the Pacific region.
"Public statements like those made by Megawati and Hendropriyono showed the fantasy and psychology of the majority of Indonesians about Papuans, which are often associated with monkeys, armpits, lazy and terrorists," Benny told BenarNews on Wednesday.
"Those statements were understood by Papuans as a desire to eliminate black Papuans from their own country," he said.
Meanwhile, Papuan police said they had identified 10 suspects in this most recent mutilation case, adding that six soldiers and three civilians were in custody while the fourth civilian is considered a wanted fugitive. The soldiers were identified as two officers – a major and a captain – and four privates. None of the suspects' names were released.
The victims allegedly paid to purchase firearms, but were killed instead. "The victims paid 250 million rupiah (U.S. $16,835), and the money was divided among the perpetrators," said Kamal, the Papua police spokesman.
Meanwhile, Indonesian Army spokesman Tatang Subarna said a military team had interrogated the six soldiers who were ordered detained from Aug. 29 to Sept. 17 at the Mimika Regional Army Military Police Command.
"The detention has been carried out for examination and investigation purposes," said Tatang in a written statement received by BenarNews.
Public trust concerns
Usman Hamid, director of Amnesty International Indonesia, urged authorities to investigate the case thoroughly so it does not go unsolved like similar killings involving security forces.
"The problem is not limited to how we maintain public trust in the Armed Forces, but how we should protect human lives and ensure that their deaths due to crime do not end without clarity," Usman told BenarNews on Wednesday.
From February 2018 to July 2022, there were at least 61 cases of alleged unlawful killings of 99 people involving security forces, based on Amnesty's records.
"Extrajudicial killings by officers are violations of the right to life, a fundamental right that is clearly protected by international human rights law and the Indonesian constitution," Usman said.
Papua, on the western side of New Guinea island, has been the scene of a low-level separatist insurgency since the mainly Melanesian region was incorporated into Indonesia in a United Nations-administered ballot in the late 1960s.
In 1963, Indonesian forces invaded Papua – like Indonesia, a former Dutch colony – and annexed the region.
Only about 1,000 people voted in the U.N.-sponsored referendum in 1969 that locals and activists said was a sham, but the United Nations accepted the result, essentially endorsing Jakarta's rule.
[Nazarudin Latif contributed to this report from Jakarta.]