Indonesian military apologizes to Papuans, detains soldiers linked to tortured civilian

Pizaro Gozali Idrus
Indonesian military apologizes to Papuans, detains soldiers linked to tortured civilian Papua military commander Maj. Gen. Izak Pangemanan (second from right), military spokesman Maj. Gen. Nugraha Gumilar (second from left), and other officials speak at a press conference at the Army headquarters in Jakarta, March 25, 2024.
[Eko Siswono Toyudho/BenarNews]

The Indonesian military on Monday apologized to Papuans as it confirmed that it had detained its soldiers who allegedly tortured a Papuan man shown in a video that went viral last week, causing outrage on social media and prompting a statement from a presidential staff member.

The incident in the video, which shows troops beating and slashing a Papuan with a bayonet, took place in February in Central Papua, military officials said, adding they had detained 13 soldiers as suspects in the abuse.

“This action is against the law, tarnished the name of the military and disrupted efforts to handle conflicts in Papua, said Maj. Gen. Izak Pangemanan, a military commander in Papua where separatist rebels have been operating for decades.

“I apologize to all Papuan people and I hope such an incident won’t happen again,” he said.

The soldiers are detained at a military police station in Jayapura, Papua, and will immediately be named as suspects in the torture, said army spokesman Brig. Gen.  Kristomei Sianturi.

“We examined 42 TNI [Indonesian armed forces] soldiers,” Kristomei told reporters, adding 13 allegedly committed violence.

Brig. Gen. Nugraha Gumilar, a spokesman for the armed forces, said the TNI would impose sanctions if the soldiers were proven guilty in the abuse case. 

“There are procedures in place,” he said. 

Nugraha alleged that the person in the video and two other Papuan men were separatist rebels who had been arrested after they allegedly fired at troops guarding a health center in Central Papua province’s Puncak regency.

“All three are members of an armed criminal group,” he said at a press conference.

Last week, Rumadi Ahmad, a deputy chief of the Indonesian presidential staff, said that President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo had committed to accelerating development in Papua, but these efforts would be hampered if the military was responsible for the violence in the video.

“While we hold a strong hope that our soldiers are not involved in such reprehensible acts, if proven true, the individuals responsible must be held accountable in accordance with the applicable rules and regulations,” Rumadi said in a statement.

Papuans march with placards during a demonstration demanding a referendum on the independence of Papua province in Jakarta, Dec. 1, 2023. [Bay Ismoyo/AFP]

Army officials identified the man in the video as Defianus Kogoya, and the other two as Warinus Kogoya and Alianus Mirok. 

An activist who did not want to be named for fear of reprisal alleged all three were tortured.

Maj. Gen. Izak claimed that Warinus died while heading to the police station after being taken into custody. He said the suspect, whose hands were bound, jumped out of a moving police vehicle.

“We took him to the health center but in the end, he died,” Izak said.

The incident in the video took place on Feb. 3 after the authorities received a report from locals saying that the three Papuans were planning to burn down a public health center in Omukia village in Puncak regency, according to officials.

Izak said military and police decided to guard the health center, but the trio fired shots targeting the security officers. The three were arrested soon after. 

The soldiers then took Alianus and Defianus to the Gome military post in Puncak Regency where the video was allegedly filmed.

The two are in police custody for follow-up investigations.

On Monday, Papuan and human rights activists said alleged torture violated Indonesian and international law. They also disputed the military’s version of events, saying locals attested they were nowhere near the health center when the firing occurred.

For rights groups who have long accused Indonesian security forces of abuses such as torture and extrajudicial killings in Papua, the video and the military’s confirmation were evidence of their concerns.

Papuans have felt marginalized economically and politically, despite the immense wealth their mineral-rich land generates. The separatist insurgency has been fueled by alleged discrimination against indigenous Papuans by the Indonesian government.

The territory was incorporated into Indonesia in the 1960s after a controversial United Nations-backed plebiscite. Many Papuans allege the vote was rigged and have since fought for independence.

‘Inaccurate conclusions’

Amnesty International Indonesia Executive Director Usman Hamid questioned the military’s version of the arrests.

“If they really wanted to burn down the health center, then that is a criminal act and under the police authority, not the TNI,” Usman told BenarNews.

Besides, the armed forces’ statement was different from information he got from the grassroots, he said. 

The families of Defianus and Alianus told Usman that the two were arrested on the roof of a house where they were working and not while they were involved in a shootout.

“They were not planning to burn down the health center so the TNI should refrain from quick but inaccurate conclusions,” Usman said, adding the TNI must not look for any excuse to abuse suspects.

“Torture by security forces, whoever the victim, is a crime that is unacceptable both in peace conditions and in emergency conditions of war,” he said.

Parliament needs to evaluate security operations throughout the Papua region, said Emanuel Gobay, director of the Papua Legal Aid Institute. 

He said the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) must send an investigative team to look into the case.

“In Puncak Regency, there were found violations of the provisions that no person may be detained, forced, excluded or exiled arbitrarily,” Emanuel told BenarNews, referring to Article 34 of Law 39 of the 1999 law related to human rights.

The alleged perpetrators need to be tried by the civilian criminal justice system in addition to facing an internal military inquiry, said Andi Muhammad Rezaldy, of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras).

“[Military] sanctions cannot replace the judicial process in the general court environment,” the Kontras deputy coordinator told BenarNews. 

Arie Firdaus in Jakarta and Victor Mambor in Jayapura, Indonesia, contributed to the article.


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