Indonesian Soldiers May Have Caused Christian Priest’s Death in Papua, Probes Find

Ronna Nirmala
Jakarta
2020-11-04
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id-papua-pastor-photo1000 Villagers board a bus as they flee their homes after clashes between security forces and a rebel group in Tembagapura, Papua, Indonesia, March 6, 2020.
AP

Three investigations point to the involvement of military personnel in the death of a Christian priest in Indonesia’s troubled Papua province in September.

Separate probes by the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) and the Humanitarian Team for Intan Jaya into the death of Pastor Yeremia Zanambani said only military men were involved and that he died from torture.

A third probe by a government team did not mention torture but said military personnel or a third party may have been involved in the clergyman’s death. Currently, a police investigation is underway based on the government team’s report.

On Wednesday, a senior Indonesian government official pledged to uphold human rights in the restive far-eastern region of Papua in light of the priest’s death. The Papuan population is predominantly Christian.

“The ministry and Komnas HAM share the same exact desire for human rights to be upheld and for problems to be resolved without violence,” Mohammad Mahfud MD, the minister for political, legal and security affairs, said in a statement.

He added that he would submit Komnas HAM’s report to President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.

The information gathered by the government’s fact-finding team, which it released last month, was “in principle the same” as those of Komnas HAM’s report published on Nov. 2, Mahfud MD said.

“There are similar findings on the incident of violence in Intan Jaya. There are some differences in terms of perspectives and technicalities,” Mahfud MD said without elaborating.

Zanambani, who was with the Gospel Tabernacle Church of Indonesia in Papua’s Intan Jaya regency, died in the early hours of Sept. 20.

On Monday, Komnas HAM announced that its investigation found that a soldier identified as Alpius Hasim Madi – a deputy commander of the army unit in Intan Jaya – was suspected to have shot and tortured Zanambani.

Meanwhile, a report released last week by the Humanitarian Team for Intan Jaya also named Alpius, and said he committed the act with another soldier, who remains unidentified. Victor Mambor, a correspondent for BenarNews who is based in Papua, is a member of this investigative panel.

Last month, Mahfud MD said the government team’s report indicated that “[the shooting of] Pastor Jeremiah allegedly involved security officers or another third party.”

The government investigative team questioned Alpius during its investigation in October, Col. Gusti Nyoman Suriastawa, spokesman for the Papua-based Joint Regional Defense Command III, told BenarNews.

“He [Alpius] explained the chronology of the incident. So we’ll just wait for the results of the police investigation,” Suriastawa said.

In September, international human rights watchdog Amnesty International called for “an immediate, independent, impartial” investigation into Zanambani’s death.

“This shooting may represent the state’s inability to bring accountability to Papua. For years, the Papuans’ freedom to live in peace and security has been denied when in fact the state has an obligation to protect life,” Amnesty said in a statement issued in late September.

According to the watchdog group’s Indonesian office, at least 22 people have been victims of unlawful killings in Papua in 2020.

In 1963, Indonesian forces invaded Papua, which makes up the western half of New Guinea Island, and annexed it. Six years later, the region held a referendum in which security forces selected slightly more than 1,000 people to agree to Papua’s formal absorption into the nation, according to human rights advocacy groups.

Tensions rose in Papua in December 2018 after separatist rebels allegedly killed 19 members of a crew building a highway in Nduga regency. Indonesian authorities immediately sent more than 750 soldiers and police to Papua.

Police: ‘Still collecting evidence’

Brig. Gen Awi Setiyono, the National Police spokesmen, declined to comment on the Komnas HAM report but said police were investigating the findings in the report issued by the government team.

“It’s too early to come to any conclusions,” Setiyono said in a video conference with journalists on Tuesday.

“If it was a shot, what kind of bullet was used? From what firearm? Everything will be investigated. We are still collecting evidence.”

The government team’s findings are more comprehensive, Benny Mamoto, the head of the government’s joint fact-finding team, said in a statement Monday.

“Our data come from primary and secondary sources,” Mamoto said.

The military’s Suriastawa said it was important to consider all of the government team’s findings.

“We have to appreciate the findings of the joint fact finding team, which are more complete. They said there was a possibility that the criminal armed group was also involved,” Suriastawa told BenarNews, referring to Papuan separatist rebels.

Tortured

According to the reports from both Komnas HAM and the Humanitarian Team for Intan Jaya, Zanambani was shot.

Haris Azhar, the head of the Humanitarian Team, said two soldiers shot Zanambani and also stabbed him in the neck with a military knife.

Komnas HAM said Zanambani died from blood loss some six hours after he was shot in the arm and choked.

“The victim’s death was not caused directly by injuries to his left arm, or injuries caused by other acts of violence. According to the experts, the cause of death of the victim was due to blood loss,” Komnas HAM’s Muhammad Choirul Anam told reporters Monday.

On the day of the priest’s death, Alpius and other soldiers were searching for military firearms seized by rebels from the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), Komnas HAM said.

The rebels had killed two soldiers in Intan Jaya days before Zanambani’s death, and Alpius was heard saying that Zanambani was an enemy, according to the Komnas HAM report.

“Pastor Yeremia [Zanambani] was thought to have been a target of, or wanted by, the suspected perpetrator and was subjected to torture and/or other acts of violence to force information out of him about weapons that were seized by the TPNPB,” Anam said.

Police spokesman Awi said police investigators found at least 13 bullet holes, and ballistic test results were still being analyzed.

“It is premature to say that the victim died of torture,” he said.

Tia Asmara in Jakarta contributed to this report.

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