Indonesia: Investigate Deadly Shooting in Papua

(New York) – The Indonesian government should impartially investigate the possible use by police officers of unnecessary lethal force against rock-throwing protesters in Papua on September 23, 2013, Human Rights Watch said today. There should also be an inquiry into harassment of victims, medical personnel, and witnesses at a local hospital.

During a weapons search that resulted in a confrontation, one bystander, Alpius Mote, a 17-year-old high school student, died from gunshot wounds and at least three others were wounded.

“The Indonesian government needs to explain why police officers found it necessary to fire directly into a crowd of protesters throwing rocks,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Lethal force may only be used as a last resort to protect lives.”

Several witnesses told Human Rights Watch that two police Brigade Mobile (Brimob) officers began a search for weapons in the central market of the town of Waghete on the morning of September 23. The weapons search was part of a security response to recent unrest following the inauguration of a new regency chief on August 18.

The two Brimob police began randomly stopping and searching pedestrians in the crowded market for concealed weapons, witnesses said. A large crowd gathered and began criticizing the police when they stopped and searched elderly men wearing traditional koteka (penis gourds). A group of crowd members then began throwing stones at the two officers, which prompted one or both of the officers to fire directly into the crowd. It is not clear if they first issued a warning. Police spokesman Sulistyo Pudjo Hartono declined to comment on the details of the incident, saying an investigation is underway. Within minutes of the shooting, an estimated 35 other Brimob officers arrived in the market from their nearby barracks to disperse the crowd.

After the shooting, local residents brandishing bows and arrows and clubs converged on the scene and pelted the police with stones. Crowd members also beat an army officer present. Papuan police have not reported any injuries related to this confrontation.

Witnesses said that Alpius Mote was not part of the demonstration, but had been leaving the school grounds when he was shot. The other gunshot wound victims included two students, Aprida Dogopia and Alex Mote, as well as Frans Dogopia, a local government employee.  All were taken to Uwibutu Madi hospital for treatment.

Harassment of medical personnel and witnesses at a local hospital

Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that Brimob officers arrived at the hospital shortly after the arrival of the wounded and forbade doctors and nurses from taking photographs of the victims. The police posted guards who required visitors to leave their mobile phones at the entrance. Police reportedly confiscated the mobile phone of a nurse who had used her phone to take photos of the victims.The Brimob actions at the hospital seemed more designed to limit evidence gathering about injuries suffered than to secure the facilities.

There were also unconfirmed reports that police beat and arbitrarily detained Yance Pekey, a teacher at the Tigi High School attended by Alpius Mote, after Pekey went to the market to confront police in protest of Mote’s death. Police have accused Pekey of provoking unrest and he remains in detention.

The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, which set out international law on the use of force in law enforcement situations, provide that security forces shall as far as possible apply nonviolent means before resorting to the use of force. Whenever the lawful use of force is unavoidable the authorities should use restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense. Lethal force may only be used when strictly unavoidable to protect life. Governments shall ensure that arbitrary or abusive use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials is punished as a criminal offense.

Human rights abuses remain rife in Papua, in the extreme east of the Indonesian archipelago. Over the last 15 years, Human Rights Watch has documented hundreds of cases in which police, military, intelligence officers, and prison guards have used unnecessary or excessive force when dealing with Papuans taking part in protests. While a handful of military tribunals have been held in Papua against security force personnel implicated in abuses, the charges have been inadequate and soldiers that committed abuses continue to serve in the military.

The Indonesian government has deployed military forces in Papua since 1963 to counter a long-simmering independence movement and restricts access to international media, diplomats, and civil society groups by requiring them to obtain special access permits, which are rarely granted. Tensions heightened in Papua following the February 21, 2013 attack on Indonesian military forces by suspected elements of the armed separatist Free Papua Movement. The attack resulted in the deaths of eight soldiers, the most in the area since President Suharto stepped down from power in 1998.

“Indonesia’s security forces have history of using excessive force against civilians with impunity in Papua,” Kine said. “A transparent and impartial investigation into the Waghete shootings is necessary to prevent even greater distrust of the security forces.”