Papuans stage a rally against human rights abuses in Abepura, Jayapura, in this file photo. The Church is investigating reports that an indigenous Papuan man was beaten to death by soldiers in Boven Digoel district on July 24. (Photo: Benny Mawel)
Merauke Archdiocese in Indonesia’s Papua province is investigating the death of an 18-year-old indigenous man who died after allegedly being beaten by soldiers.
Oktovianus Warip Betere, a resident of Boven Digoel district, died on July 24 following a beating by soldiers stationed at a border post with Papua New Guinea, according to Sacred Heart Father Anselmus Amo, director of the archdiocese’s Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission.
"We were told he was suspected of having stolen items at a market, which was reported to the army guard post," he told UCA News on July 27.
When soldiers found and challenged him, he attempted to flee but was captured, the priest said.
“He was beaten and then put in a car and taken to the military post. He might have been beaten again when he arrived at the post,” he said.
The priest believed the young man died before arriving at a health clinic. Bruising was found on his body.
Father Amo said he was working with the local parish in Asiki to ascertain the facts in the case, including whether he had been stealing as alleged.
He said they also tried to prevent any retaliation from residents who have been angered by the death.
"Our team is working to gather what information we can. We hope those responsible for Betere’s death will be prosecuted,” he said.
The death follows the case of another indigenous man, Marius Batera, who was killed in May in the same district. He died after allegedly being beaten by a policeman at the behest of a palm oil company operating in the area after refusing to vacate land the company was claiming.
Major Suko Raharjo, a military spokesman in Papua, denied Betere had been beaten and said an investigation into his death was being conducted.
On July 18, two people in Nduga district were shot dead by the military. The military commander in Papua, General Gusti Nyoman Suriastawa, said they were part of an armed Papuan separatist group involved in a low-level insurgency that has been waged in the region for decades against Indonesian rule.
Theo Hesegem, a human rights activist in Papua, told UCA News the violence is showing no signs of abating and that calls for independence are growing.
"All this gives rise to questions regarding what the future holds in store for indigenous Papuans," he said.
Last week dozens of indigenous Papuan priests from four dioceses in the region called on Jakarta to hold a referendum on independence in the restive region.