Papuans Demand Justice Not Cheap Apologies

Shocking video footage showing brutal and inhumane treatment of a young, deaf Papuan man named Steven (age 18) emerged a few days ago from the Merauke region of Papua. This incident occurred on Monday, July 26, 2021, around Jalan Raya Mandala, Merauke (Jubi, July 27).

The video shows an altercation between the young man and a food stall owner. Two security men from the Air Force Military Police (Polisi Militer Angkatan Udara, or POMAU) intervened in the argument. One of the officers grabbed the victim and pulled him from the restaurant. The victim was slammed to the pavement and then stomped on by the Air Force officers.

The two men, Serda Dimas and Prada Vian, trampled on Steven’s head and twisted his arms after knocking him to the ground. The young man was seen screaming in pain, but the two men continued to step on his head and body while the officers casually spoke on the phone.

In response to this incident, the commander of POMAU in Merauke, Colonel Pnb Herdy Arief Budiyanto, apologized for the actions of the two Military Police.

In a press statement released on Tuesday 27, Mr. Herd stated that his men had overreacted and acted as vigilantes. The victim (Steven) and his adoptive mother, along with Merauke Police Chief, Untung Sangaji, and Vice-chairman of the regional People’s representative, Marotus Solokah, attended Tuesday’s press statement (Jubi, July 27).

Kadispenau from the Air Force stated that the two men have now been detained under Commander J.A. Merauke’s supervision while POMAU Merauke investigates the incident. Kadispenau said, “The Air Force army does not hesitate to punish according to the level of the wrongdoings.”

Papuan human rights defender, Theo Hesegem, said the two air force officers’ actions were unprofessional and should immediately be dealt with in accordance with the law applicable in the military judiciary in Papua, not outside Papua. “They should be dismissed and fired,” Hesegem said.

Natalius Pigai, Indonesia’s former human rights commissioner, slammed the incident as “racist”. Pigai said on his Twitter account, “Not only members of the security forces, but Indonesia’s high officials who are racist should also be punished.” “Unless,” Pigai added, “Indonesia’s president Jokowi nurtures the racism committed by his tribe.” (Warta Mataram, July 27).

Recently, Tri Rismaharini, Social Affairs Minister of Jokowi’s government, said lazy people in the state civil service would be moved to Papua. Inferring that Papua is a suitable place for lazy, useless, and low-IQ humans. The racism issue will not be solved if people like Tri Rismaharini are not punished for their offensive remarks to Papuans. 

Mr. Pigai remarked as such because of countless denigrating comments and statements from Indonesia’s highest office, in which he himself is often the target of racism. But still, the country’s justice system fails to deliver justice for Papuan victims and hold the perpetrators accountable. 

These incidents are not isolated incidents – they are just the tip of the iceberg of what Papuans have been facing for 60 years under Indonesia’s rule. Tragic footage like the one in Merauke attracts public attention only because someone captured it and shared it. Most inhumane treatments in remote Papua’s villages rarely get recorded and shared in this way.

Growing up in a highland village, I witnessed these barbaric behaviours by members of Indonesia’s armed force. They were walking around in uniforms with guns; they did many horrible things to Papuans – as many as they wished, without consequence.

One elder from my village was forced to stay underwater in a dirty fishpond. They tied a heavy log to his legs so that his body remained underwater all day. I also remember that my cousin, a young girl aged 13 -14 with whom I went to school, often provided sexual services to a nearby Indonesian military post. Many soldiers would have their way with her. Not just her, but many young female children face the same fate throughout the villages. 

The video of the inhumane treatment of Steven (deaf Papuan youth) a few days ago in Merauke by Indonesia’s Air Force officers reminded me of many horrible things I had witnessed in the highlands of Papua. Unfortunately, these crimes hardly get resolved, and perpetrators walk free while victims get punished. 

This inhumane treatment brings to mind the tragic death of George Floyd after a white Minneapolis Police Officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck as he lay face down in the street in May of 2020. However, in this case, the four officers involved were dismissed from their jobs and prosecuted. Derek Chauvin was sentenced to more than 20 years on June 25, 2021. Tragically, in Papua, the perpetrators of these sorts of crimes rarely face justice and may even get promoted despite their atrocious acts.

Although Jakarta already apologized for Merauke’s incident, Jakarta elites are delusional, thinking that empty apologies alone will solve Papua’s protracted conflicts. If anything, this cheap word “sorry” does more damage and rubs even more salt in the Papuans’ wounds. 

Jakarta’s favourite word, “sorry”, has its own value when used appropriately in a specific place and time, like when you accidentally tip over your friend’s coffee cup. Papuans and Indonesians protracted wars are not fought over spilling a cup of coffee; these wars are fought are over serious gross human rights violations committed by Indonesia’s state-sponsored security forces, supported by Western powers. 

Hence, neither Papuans’ wounds nor their dignity can be healed or restored with a cheap apology. Papuans need and demand justice.

Two Indonesian Air Force Officers Troding on the head of deaf Papuan man in Merauke

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