Human rights activists on Tuesday called on the government to conduct a joint investigation after security forces shot and killed at least four students in Paniai district in Papua province on Monday.
The incident was the latest flare-up in violence in the eastern region, where poorly armed fighters have been waging a low-level insurgency against Jakarta for decades on behalf the mostly ethnic Melanesian population.
“We challenge the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), the Indonesian Military (TNI) and National Police (Polri) to work together with civil society in forming a team, which will conduct an investigation into the incident,” Haris Azhar, coordinator of the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS), told ucanews.com on Tuesday.
There were conflicting reports about what happened. Police said that four people died when several hundred protesters attacked military and police posts in the remote Madi area, in mountainous Paniai district, and it was not clear who fired the shots.
Andreas Harsono, a Human Rights Watch researcher in Indonesia, said five students between the ages of 17 and 18 were killed, and 17 others were injured when security forces opened fire on a crowd of protesters.
It is difficult to independently verify information from Papua, as Jakarta keeps a tight grip on the resource-rich region with a heavy police and military presence, and there are restrictions on foreigners reporting from the area.
Police and rights activists both said tensions rose when local teenagers confronted the driver of a vehicle late Sunday. The driver was from a local military unit, according to Harsono, and returned later with a group of people who beat up the teens.
At around 2:30am Monday, the local general election commission building located in Paniai district caught on fire. “We don’t know whether it was burned down or got burned [accidentally],” police spokesman Hartono said.
After the fire broke out, police set up a roadblock in Enarotali district town, causing anger among local residents.
“At that time, the police heard gunshots from the mountain. There was information that 300-500 people were attacking the military base in the district town and then the police station in East Paniai sub-district. They threw stones, spears and arrows. Some cars parked in the military base’s compound were also burned,” Hartono said.
“We’re still conducting an investigation whether the police and military personnel opened fire into the sky or at the mob, whether or not they followed the proper procedure. We’ll find out later. We have sent a team to do the investigation,” Hartono said.
Natalius Pigai from Komnas HAM saw the incident as a serious human rights violation.
“Firstly, there’s a will to shoot on the spot. Secondly, there’s an organized plan to do that. Thirdly, there’s a utilization of the state institutions to kill people,” he told ucanews.com.
Komnas HAM, he added, will soon conduct an investigation into the case after meeting with President Joko Widodo on Tuesday.
“The president has promised to pay attention to the case,” he said.
Meanwhile, Father Neles Tebay, coordinator for the Papua Peace Network, suggested that the president should form an independent team to conduct a thorough investigation into the case.
Additional reporting by AFP.