Katharina Reny Lestari – Rights activists in Indonesia's Papua region have demanded a re-investigation into the 2014 Paniai shooting that killed four Christian students after a court acquitted the only defendant in the case.
The Human Rights Court in Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi province, cleared Isak Sattu who was a liaison officer for the Paniai Military Command, of all charges on Dec. 8.
The panel of judges confirmed the murders committed by military personnel were "systematic attacks" and, therefore, constituted crimes against humanity but concluded that Sattu had no effective authority to command and control forces at the time of the shooting.
Two Catholics and two Protestants aged 17-18 years were shot dead while 21 others were injured during a protest in the Paniai district of then Papua province on Dec. 8, 2014.
Sattu, who has since retired, was named by the Attorney General's Office (AGO) as a suspect in the case after investigations by the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) revealed gross human rights violations.
Emanuel Gobay, director of the Legal Aid Institute in Papua, told UCA News that the court's ruling showed the state's unwillingness to bring justice to the victims, paving the way for impunity.
"The Attorney General's Office must immediately order prosecutors dealing with the case to file a cassation with the court," he said while adding that there could be more than one suspect involved.
Father Bernard Baru, chairman of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Augustinian Order in Papua, said the trial was held to satisfy the international community but the perpetrators had got away.
According to Father John Bunay, coordinator of the Papua Peace Network, the court's ruling deepened the wound of the Papuan people.
"How low the Papuan people's dignity is before the Indonesian law. It will worsen the Papuan people's distrust in the Indonesian government, particularly judges," he said.
Usman Hamid, executive director of Amnesty International-Indonesia, said in a statement that the verdict "is yet another slap in the face not only for victims and their families but also for victims of other gross human rights violations in Indonesia who for years have demanded justice and accountability."
He said the court's ruling confirmed all doubts about the legal proceedings that could not deliver genuine justice, truth, and redress.
"The fact that authorities only brought to trial one military officer, whose authority to command soldiers on the ground was uncertain, is questionable. It is hard to believe that the defendant was the only military personnel responsible for the atrocities," he said.
Yones Douw, chairman of the Justice and Peace Department at Kingmi Church in Papua, who assisted the victims' families said they were not surprised at the court's ruling.
"We already knew it. That is why we did not want to come to the trial. But we will not stop seeking justice, no matter what," he said.
Meanwhile, AGO spokesperson Ketut Sumedana said his office has 14 days to review the court's ruling before filing a cassation.