Indonesian Military: Soldiers Killed 2 Papuans in Custody

Tia Asmara
Indonesian Military: Soldiers Killed 2 Papuans in Custody West Papuan activists scuffle with Indonesian soldiers and police officers who try to confiscate their banner during a rally in Jakarta calling for the remote region’s independence, Dec. 19, 2020.

Indonesian soldiers in Papua province killed two brothers in their custody who were accused of being separatist rebels, incinerated their bodies and threw their ashes into a river to cover their tracks in April, military investigators reported on Wednesday.

Investigators have named nine army personnel as suspects in the deaths of Luther Zanambani and Apinus Zanambani, and are probing the possible involvement of three other soldiers, said the commander of the Military Police Corps, Lt. Gen. Dodik Widjanarko.

Luther and Apinus were detained in April at a military post in Sugapa, a district in Papua’s Intan Jaya regency, on suspicion of being members of the Free Papua Movement separatist group during an anti-rebel operation, Dodik said.

“During the interrogation, there were excessive acts that resulted in Apinus Zanambani's death and Luther Zanambani being critically wounded,” Dodik said at a press conference announcing the results of a military probe into the deaths.

The report by the Indonesian military is rare because human rights advocates have often criticized the central government’s armed forces for committing alleged abuses with apparent impunity in the troubled far-eastern Papua region.

Luther died while being transferred to another military facility, Dodik said.

“To remove their traces, the bodies of the two victims were burned and the ashes were dumped into the Julai River in Sugapa district,” he added.

Dodik said two majors and a lieutenant were among the nine suspects, whom he identified by their initials, in the killings of the two brothers.

The suspects could face up to 12 years in prison if found guilty of assault that resulted in death, he said.

‘Crimes against humanity’

A Papuan human rights activist said Luther and Apinus were the nephews of Christian pastor Yeremia Zanambani, who died in September, allegedly at the hands of soldiers.

The suspects in the brothers’ killing must be tried in a human rights tribunal, said Yones Douw, a Papuan human rights activist.

“Don’t just conduct a military tribunal because the only punishment they will get is likely to be demotion,” Douw told BenarNews.

“They killed human beings, burned their bodies and threw them away. They have committed crimes against humanity.”

The Zanambani family searched for the brothers for over a month after they were arrested, Douw said.

“The TNI [Indonesian Armed Forces] should have acknowledged from the beginning when the family began searching. We knew all along that they were killed. The TNI knew, but they concealed it,” he said.

Douw said he suspected that the death of pastor Yeremia was connected to the deaths of his nephews. 

“They were like his own children. Since their disappearance, Yeremia had spoken out demanding the TNI come clean and reveal the perpetrators,” he said.

Three investigation reports released last month point to the involvement of military personnel in Yeremia’s death.

Dodik said investigators were still gathering evidence in the death of Yeremia.

“If there is clarity about the involvement of individual members of the Indonesian Army in this incident, the case will be transferred to military police investigators for a further legal process,” he said.

Dozens of soldiers have been summonsed as witnesses in connection with Yeremia’s death and will appear for questioning by February, Dodik said.

The killings of the brothers were not an isolated case in Papua, especially in Nduga and Puncak Jaya regencies, said Samuel Tabuni, a Papuan community leader.

“There have been so many cases of shootings and enforced disappearances, but why has only this one been revealed,” he said.

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

Tabuni warned that ongoing violence in Papua would result in the people losing confidence in the government. He urged the government to withdraw troops from the region.

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.


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