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Papuan father seeks justice for slain son

In the restive Indonesian province military personnel opened fire on protesters four years ago

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Papuan father seeks justice for slain son

Yones Douw (left) and Obed Gobay (right) speak to journalists after a public discussion on the shootings that occurred on Dec. 8, 2014 in Paniai district, Papua province. (Photo by Katharina R. Lestari/ucanews.com)

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Obed Gobay, a 50-year-old Papuan from the Mee ethnic group, couldn't stop tears falling as he spoke of his son who was killed four years ago.

In 2014, on Dec. 8, Apius Gobay died when Indonesian police and military personnel opened fire on several hundred protesters gathered in Enarotali, the capital of Paniai district in the interior of Indonesia's remote Papua province.

He was among four Christian students killed in the incident, which also left at least 17 people injured.

The crowd had assembled in an open area in front of police and military posts to protest against military personnel the previous night beating teenagers from a village called Ipakije.

"I was at home at that time as my left arm got broken when I was gardening," Gobay told ucanews.com.

"A neighbor came to my house and told me that my son was killed.

"I was shocked, but I could do nothing because of my condition."

His son Apius, 18, was a student at a state-run senior high school in the town. He was on his way home from school when the incident took place at around 10 a.m.

"I could only pray to God that my son's body could be buried at the site where he died according to our tradition," Gobay said.

"And God answered my prayers even though local authorities initially asked me to bury his body in a public cemetery uphill."

Gobay, who is a farmer and member of the Tabernacle Bible Church, or Kingmi Church, is now fighting for justice.

He raised the case with various rights' activists and the then chairman of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid bin Ra'ad al-Hussein.

There were conflicting reports about what happened.

Police said the students died when protesters attacked the police and military posts, and it was not clear who fired the shots.

Prior to the shootings, the local general election commission building in the mountainous district caught fire and a roadblock was set up by police, angering local residents.

It was believed that tensions started to build when teenagers confronted the driver of a vehicle about headlights. The driver, who was from a local military unit, returned later with others and allegedly beat the teenagers.

Investigations over the shootings were conducted by members of the National Police and the Indonesian military who said they had been unable to have the bodies identified.

According to Amnesty International-Indonesia, two policemen were detained for 21 days and given an administrative sanction for violating proper procedures when dealing with the crowd.

"This is nonsense to families of the dead victims," said Papang Hidayat, a researcher at the rights' group.

"Some people were also injured in the shootings. Police could conduct ballistic tests on firearms if they wanted to," he said. 

In January 2015, the National Commission on Human Rights formed a team to undertake an initial investigation into the shootings and reported four months later. It found evidence of gross human rights violations and called for a more detailed probe. 

Yet, investigations stalled due to a lack of funds. Also, there was an unwillingness by families of the victims to allow the team to conduct exhumations because they doubted that the investigation would be conclusive.

"That's why we haven't made conclusions yet," Amiruddin al-Rahab from the commission said, adding that the institution had been looking into the case anew since January.

Gobay is not alone in his fight for justice. He has received support from his church and the local Catholic church as well.

According to Yones Douw, head of the Kingmi Church's Justice and Peace Department, letters had been sent every year to the government to urge that investigations be finalized.

Recently, he accompanied Gobay to a meeting with rights' activists at the Amnesty International-Indonesia office in Jakarta.

"We came here to seek justice," Douw said, recalling that the government had offered four billion rupiah (now about US$275.862) compensation to each family of those killed.

But for Gobay, his son's life cannot be replaced with money. A fair and transparent investigation is what he longs for.

"If the government cannot resolve the case, let the United Nations deal with it," he said, believing that the truth will someday be revealed.

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