Police Unit in Papua Accused of Burning Down Village

Police Unit in Papua Accused of Burning Down Village

, 20 October 2010


Amid an international outcry over alleged human rights abuses in Papua by security forces, two villagers in the province have come forward with a harrowing tale of the destruction of their homes at the hands of police officers.

Just days after a 10-minute video purporting to show two Papuans being interrogated and tortured by Indonesian soldiers was posted on the video-sharing Web site YouTube, there was another claim of abuses by security officials, again caught on tape.

An official from the Papuan Customary Council (DAP) told the Jakarta Globe on Wednesday that he had received graphic images of the destruction of Bigiragi village, in Puncak Jaya district, by officers from the police’s Mobile Brigade.

Markus Haluk said the images were recorded by two villagers who had trekked barefoot for 24 hours to tell the council in Mulia, 50 kilometers away, about the incident.

They said 16 Mobile Brigade officers had burned the village to the ground on Oct. 11.

They alleged that at least 29 homes were destroyed in the incident, leaving at least 150 people homeless.

Only two buildings were left standing — a small wooden church and the home of the local priest, Obatemaban Tabuni.

“The villagers told me they had to play cat-and-mouse with the military and police just to get to Mulia,” Markus said.

“Whenever they saw a police patrol or military checkpoint, they would hide in the jungle. Security officers in the area are on the lookout for civilians traveling in and out.”

He added that the two reached Mulia on Oct. 14, having left their village two days earlier.

“We asked them to go back and record for us the destruction and chronology of what happened,” he said.

“We lent them our camera, although we knew that if they were to be caught with it or with a mobile phone, they would certainly be arrested and maybe tortured.”

He said the two villagers returned to Mulia on Sunday, this time with images of a destroyed village, although no police officers are seen.

The Globe was given copies of the images. One of the pictures shows a villager staring at the ashes of her home.

Other pictures show children no older than 12 playing amid the ashes of their former homes.

“I wonder what they were thinking,” Markus said. “One of the pictures shows a boy with a bow and arrow, eager to defend his village. I wonder how he’d fare against police armed with rifles and machine guns.”

The two villagers, who told council members that all 16 perpetrators were in police uniforms, have since sought refuge in neighboring villages.

“I’m not sure what the police’s motivation was,” Markus said.

“They can’t have been searching for weapons because they didn’t interrogate anyone. Most of the villagers were working their fields at the time.”

Police officials from all levels in the province declined to comment on the claims.

Meanwhile, the video showing the alleged torture continues to draw international condemnation.

In a statement, the Australian Embassy called the video “disturbing,” and urged the Indonesian government “to investigate reported human rights abuses, to see that alleged offenders face justice and to ensure the human rights of all Indonesians are respected.”

Amnesty International has called for any investigation to be conducted by an independent body such as the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM).

The London-based group also urged Indonesia to publicize the findings and make them accessible to the abuse victims and their families.

Human Rights Watch has also weighed in on the issue, saying it was “gravely concerned” and calling for a full inquiry. HRW Asia added that “the credibility of the Indonesian military is fast eroding.”

Adm. Agus Suhartono, the recently appointed chief of the Indonesian Armed Forces, has called for an investigation, but also questioned the timing of the video’s release.

“This made me wonder whether it was deliberately released now,” he said, an apparent reference to the first anniversary of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s second term in office, which fell on Wednesday.