Bishop Petrus Canisius Mandagi says violence against indigenous Papuans often goes unpunished. (Photo: Katharina R. Lestari/UCA News)
Bishop Petrus Canisius Mandagi of Amboina in Indonesia’s Papua province has called on authorities to launch an investigation after a policeman allegedly beat a tribesman to death.
The apostolic administrator of Merauke Archdiocese said that if the death was the result of a beating, the perpetrator "must immediately be arrested, tried and punished severely.”
Marius Batera, 40, a tribesman from Boeven Digul district, died on May 16 shortly after what appeared to be a beating, according to Merauke Archdiocese's Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) Commission.
The commission claimed Batera was beaten by a police officer — allegedly at the behest of a palm oil company operating in the area — after refusing to be evicted from his banana plantation.
“The victim was kicked in the abdomen and beaten on his neck and head,” the commission said in a report which added that his ears were bleeding.
Batera died before reaching hospital, the commission said.
Police have denied the allegations. Papua police spokesman Ahmad Mustofa Kamal said an autopsy concluded that Batera died of a heart attack. "No bruises or cuts were found on the victim's body,” he said.
Police, however, will question the officer suspected of beating the tribesman.
Bishop Mandagi said the case has to be investigated to give a sense of justice, bearing in mind that violence against indigenous Papuans often goes unpunished.
“Papuans are not animals. They should not be treated harshly, violently, let alone be killed," he said on May 18.
"The police stationed in Papua are there to protect all people, not only those working for big business. If there is a problem, dialogue must take precedence over force.”
In a joint statement, indigenous and environmental advocacy groups called on the government to look at ties between large companies and the police.
Father Anselmus Amo, director of Merauke Archdiocese’s JPIC Commission, said they believe the victim's death was a result of violence.
“We are investigating the case,” he told UCA News, adding that the Church will assist the family if it wishes to go to court.
Father Amo said the accused police officer was asked by company officials to come to its offices because the victim was there armed with a bow and arrows.
The priest said the bow and arrows are an inseparable part of the lives of indigenous Papuans and should not be perceived as a threat.
“According to our inquiries, when he arrived at the company office to protest his eviction, he left his weapon outside, so there was no reason to act violently against him,” Father Amo said.