The night began as a celebration of academic achievement but ended in the latest shooting of civilians by security forces in Papua, Indonesia’s remote easternmost province.
Local people were gathering in Timika, a city of about 120,000 in the lowlands of south-central Papua, to celebrate the graduation of Leonardus Tumuka, the first member of the Kamoro tribe to earn a doctorate.
There was Tifa Duduk – traditional drumming, singing and dancing – but an altercation with soldiers shattered the festive mood in the early morning hours on Aug. 28. A shooting ensued that killed two young men and wounded five other people.
A special team of the National Commission for Human Rights (Komnas HAM) has been sent to the region to investigate this and other incidents, in which members of the Indonesian security forces have allegedly shot and killed civilians.
A tragic turn
The shooting occurred around 2 a.m., when a group of Kamoro people was gathering at St. Fransiskus Koperapoka church to prepare for the celebration, Gerry Okoware, a witness, told BenarNews.
According to him, two soldiers on a motorcycle rode up, waved guns and yelled, "Who hit our [army] members?"
Some women tried to get the soldiers to leave the church yard, and some young men joined the effort. Then, shots rang out.
Seven people were wounded, two fatally. Imanuel Herman Maurimau and Yulianus Okoware, both 23, died after being rushed to local hospitals.
Less than an hour before the shooting, an altercation took place when two other soldiers tried to enter the street, which had been blocked off for the festivities.
"The two people were drunk, and they tried to break into the street closed by local people and police for the celebration," the bishop of Timika, Monsignor John Philip Saklil Pr, told BenarNews by phone from the city. Timika is a hub for Freeport Indonesia, the firm that operates the world’s largest gold mine in nearby Tembagapura sub-district.
When an argument ensued between the soldiers and some young men at the scene, Kamoro elders, fearing that the incident might escalate, intervened to mediate the dispute.
The soldiers backed down and went away, but the two other servicemen on the motorbike rolled by some 40 minutes later, Sakil said.
‘Protector of immoral criminals’
Within the past year there have been at least five cases of shootings of civilians in Papua by soldiers or members of the police force, according to the bishop. A total of eight people have died as a result.
"The cases have not yet been completely solved. In addition to a lack of transparency in handling the cases, it seems there is no good will or seriousness from police and army leadership. Therefore, the culprits have never been caught,”Saklil told BenarNews.
The worst of these shootings occurred on Dec. 8, 2014, when four teenagers were allegedly shot and killed by members of the security forces, as hundreds of people were protesting outside a military installation in Enarotali, a town in Paniai regency. The crowd was riled up by reports that some servicemen had fought with some local teens the night before.
Among the other incidents, members of a mobile police brigade and some soldiers were allegedly involved in a shooting in Dogiyai regency on June 26 that left one civilian dead and another wounded.
Tensions rose even higher on July 15, after a riot broke out in Tolikara regency. A group of Christians rioted outside a small mosque as local Muslims were taking part in a prayer service to mark Eid-ul-Fitr. The Christians were angered by noise coming from the mosque’s loudspeakers.
According to news reports, a small fire broke out at the mosque, and one person was shot dead and 11 others suffered gunshot wounds when police fired on the crowd.
Yet because the people responsible for such shootings are still on active duty with the National Police and Army, their mere presence terrorizes people in Papua, Saklil said.
"The absence of a serious and sincere effort on their side gives the impression that both institutions are no longer serving the public. They are no more than the protector of immoral criminals," the bishop said.
Komnas HAM investigates
Komnas HAM Commissioner Natalius Pigai and four other staff members arrived in Timika on Sept. 8 to interview relatives of the two dead civilians, as well as gather facts from the army, local police force, and intelligence officials.
"We also stressed to the national police and army that we will monitor this case through to the level of military court, until the trial is over," Pigai told BenarNews by phone from Mimika.
Families of the victims want justice, Pigai said after visiting several of the wounded in hospital.
"Up until now, only the army has provided aid to the victims. No other aid has been received, including from the local government of Mimika. But the public is now seeking justice through transparent trials and verdicts, because we have two people who died here," he added.
According to Pigai, the army has acknowledged that the two men who carried out the shooting were members of the local district’s military command. Military police have arrested and identified them as Chief Sgt. Makhar and 1st Sgt. Arshar.
Separately, Cenderawasih Hinsa Siburian, head of Military Command Zone XVII, confirmed to BenarNews that the two soldiers had been handed over to military police.
"They are now under investigation and soon will be tried by the military high court. The sooner, the better," Siburian said.
But he did not say what kind of punishment they might face, if court-martialed.
"They will be charged with multiple crimes," he said.
The latest case has added to the toll from violence in Papua since Joko “Jokowi” Widodo was inaugurated as Indonesia’s president last October, following an election campaign in which he promised to pay special attention to justice and development in Papua.
Laurensius Kadepa, a member of the provincial house of representatives, questioned the pledge that Jokowi had made on the campaign trail.
"Where are his promises saying that Indonesia's development will be started in Papua? Where is his attention on the human rights issue in Papua? I see no significant change until now,” Kadepa told BenarNews.
“The violence by security forces is still going on, and Papuan lives are at stake in the name of the unity of the Republic of Indonesia. That is very wrong," said Kadepa, who has headed parliamentary committees probing such shootings.