Indonesia targeting West Papuans with mass arrests and home burning – reports

Indonesian authorities have reacted harshly to the deaths of two police officers, a West Papuan independence leader in exile has claimed

Helen Davidson, Tuesday 13 January 2015 06.19 GMT

Indonesian authorities have conducted mass arrests and burned down the homes of West Papuan villagers in response to the deaths of two police officers, a West Papuan independence leader in exile has claimed.

Benny Wenda, who is also an international lobbyist for the Free West Papua campaign and spokesman for the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, told Guardian Australia Indonesian military police raided the village of Utikini near Timika on the southern coastline last week and found pro-independence banners in the house of a villager.

More than 100 people were arrested, including women and some children, and dozens of houses were burned down, he said. Most people were released but some are still being detained.

Remaining villagers had fled further into the mountains, he said. “Yesterday I got a phone call, many of them are hiding and some of them have run away – the women and children and elderly people,” he said.

On Friday Papuan police chief inspector general Yotje Mende confirmed the arrests but said just 13 people had been detained by a joint police and military team, the Jakarta Post reported, and two were being treated in hospital.

The 13 were part of a group led by a man suspected by police of being behind the recent shooting of two officers and a Freeport mine security guard, Yotje claimed. The three men – members of the mobile brigade – were killed on 1 January.

Yotje said on Monday that a 500-strong joint police and military force was still conducting a search for other members of the group, and that those held in custody were being questioned as witnesses, not suspects.

Wenda queried the speed of Indonesia’s response to the police shootings, when there was still no resolution over the deaths of five protesters allegedly shot by the Indonesian military in Paniai last month. Another 21 were injured.

“It was mostly high school students [who] were killed by Indonesia special force,” said Wenda. “Indonesia police and military don’t want to admit it.”

“Five students were killed by Indonesia and no one brought justice – the Indonesia police can’t find the perpetrator. But in this case in Timika they know who is killed. There is never justice brought for Papua.”

The crowd was protesting after the alleged beating of a child by soldiers the previous day, Wenda and Amnesty International Australia claim.

In the days following the deaths, Indonesia’s police and military denied involvement.

Amnesty International has called for the investigation launched by National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) into the security forces’ use of lethal force to be “thorough and impartial” and for the findings to be released.

In a statement it said initial findings showed live ammunition was used to disperse the crowd, despite there being no evidence of a threat to security personnel.

“Amnesty International has documented numerous cases of human rights violations by Indonesian security forces in Papua and other parts of the country, that have been swept under the rug with no investigations or prosecutions,” it said.

“The new administration, under President Joko Widodo must reverse this trend with the Paniai case and signal an end to the climate of impunity.”

Widodo last year told Fairfax media he would make West Papua a priority, focusing on education and health, but critics said an open political dialogue was needed first.

Josef Benedict, a campaigner for Amnesty International, said the organisation was still working to confirm the allegations of house-burning, but said they had received reports of it occurring, and of police rounding up West Papuans. He thought the number of arrests may be lower than the 100 reported, but expressed concern that some were still being detained.

“This is the larger problem with the Indonesian justice system,” he told Guardian Australia. “Under current criminal law someone can be detained for long periods for questioning. Obviously Amnesty would also be concerned around the treatment of people being questioned. This is something we have seen in other incidents, particularly to elicit confessions.”

He called for assurances from Indonesia that those detained would not be mistreated and would be given access to lawyers.

“The difficulty about Papua is there are very few companies willing to send their lawyers to represent people who are detained for crimes like this.”