Four teenagers were shot dead during a protest in Papua. After eight years, he is the only man on trial

Hong Kong

Even by the bloody standards of Indonesia’s decades-long Papuan conflict, the massacre stands out for its brutality, and the apparent impunity of those behind it.

On December 8, 2014, hundreds of peaceful protesters were fired upon in the Paniai district of Papua province – allegedly by Indonesian soldiers – in an incident that killed four teenagers and injured more than a dozen others, including women and children. .

Their alleged provocation? A day earlier, they dared to protest the alleged attack by Indonesian special forces on a 12-year-old local boy who had fallen into a coma.

Almost eight years have passed since those events, but no one has asked for an account. Indonesia’s military has said in the past that Papuan rebels were responsible for the shootings, as well as the government. he seems to doubt it.

Last week, a retired military officer, Isak Sattu, who served in Paniai, went on trial in a long-delayed case by the Indonesian Human Rights Commission, a government-sponsored body.

However, few in Paniai believe that the trial will give them the answers they are looking for.

The trial, which began on September 21, is not being held in Papua, a province where Indonesian forces have been fighting separatists since the withdrawal of Dutch colonial powers in the 1960s. Instead, it’s happening 2,500 kilometers (1,500 miles) away in Makassar, on the island of Sulawesi, where victims’ families have been hard-pressed and witnesses to attend, and critics have already called the procedure white.

Prosecutors have charged Major Isak Sattu with four counts of crimes against humanity and dereliction of duty by failing to prevent his men from taking weapons from the armory, with prison sentences of up to 25 years.

The families are boycotting the trial, saying they do not trust justice will be served and expressing disbelief that the government has identified only one suspect.

“It doesn’t match the facts,” the families said in a joint statement released on September 14. “The Indonesian government only protects the perpetrators of serious human rights violations in Pania. It’s a theater.”

“But the truth will never be defeated or covered up.”

CNN sent multiple email requests to Indonesian government officials, President Joko Widodo’s office, the military and the Indonesian Human Rights Commission, but did not receive a response.

Allegations of human rights abuses by Indonesian government forces against the indigenous Papuans surface frequently.

Earlier this year, UN-appointed rights experts said that between April and November 2021 “they have received allegations of several cases of extra-judicial killings, including minors, enforced disappearances, torture and ill-treatment and the forced displacement of at least 5,000 indigenous Papuans by security forces”.

However, making allegations against the Indonesian military has traditionally been difficult. International rights organizations have complained that they cannot enter the region. UN experts have called on the Indonesian government to conduct “full and independent investigations into the abuses”.

But even against this background, the massacre in Paniai stands out as particularly sensitive, because it happened two months after President Joko Widodo – known as Jokowi – first came to power, promising changes and “open dialogue”.

“I want to hear the voice of the people, and I am ready to open the dialogue for a better Papua. The people of Papua not only need health care, education, the construction of roads and bridges, but they also need to be heard,” Jokowi said in his inaugural speech in December 2014.

“One of the first promises the president made to the Papu people was to solve this case,” said Veronica Koman, Indonesian human rights lawyer at Amnesty International.

“He also expressed a desire for dialogue to end the conflict, but those promises have not yet been fulfilled, and many more Papuan children have since been killed or tortured by Indonesian forces.”

According to Human Rights Watch, the 2014 protest shooting reportedly occurred the day after a unit of special forces soldiers attacked Yulian Yeimo, apparently to punish him for yelling at one of the vehicles driving through his town at night without lights on. Yeimo and his friends were reportedly decorating a Christmas tree and a nativity scene at the time.

CNN was unable to independently verify details of the incident.

Rights groups say the authorities have failed to acknowledge or address what happened to Yeimo.

The beating sparked an outcry and prompted hundreds of Enarotali citizens to protest in the public square. Four teenagers died when they opened fire on the crowd: Simon Degei, 18; Otianus Gobai, 18; Alfius Youw, 17; and Abia Gobay, 17.

Witnesses said the gunmen were Indonesian soldiers, and in the weeks following the attack, while on an official visit to Papua, President Widodo promised a full investigation by the military and police.

However, after the killings, army chief General Gatot Nurmantyo denied that soldiers had fired on the protesters and said the shots came from Papu guerrillas.

Yeimo, the 12-year-old who was beaten before the massacre, died of his injuries in 2018, never recovering from a coma, according to his family. To this day, no one has been held accountable for his death, or for the deaths of those killed in the subsequent protests.

Sophie Grig, a senior researcher at Survival International, a London-based charity that campaigns for indigenous rights, said progress for the victims of the Paniai massacre had been “glacial” and described the situation as “appalling”.

“The culture of impunity for human rights abusers in West Papua must end,” Grige said.

Fueling the tensions in Papua, rights groups say, are divisions along both ethnic and religious lines. Indigenous Papuans tend to be darker-skinned than other Indonesians, and are typically Christian rather than Muslim, the country’s majority religion.

“There is certainly an element of racist discrimination in the way Indonesian security forces treat Papuans in a way they deserve abuse,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“Papuans’ political demands for independence also bring out the worst in the Indonesian government and military,” he said.

“The underlying problem is discrimination and racism by Indonesian officials (military, police, judges) against indigenous Papuans, resulting in a culture of impunity that protects rights violations and abuses.”

Papua, a former colony of the Netherlands, was formally incorporated into Indonesia after a controversial referendum in 1969. Proponents of Papuan independence say the vote was neither free nor fair.

Separatist sentiment persists, found not only in the armed Free Papua Movement but also in wider public protests. Large student protests broke out in 2019 and Papua became a civil resistance campaign demanding independence from Indonesia. Public anger has also been sparked by a controversial law passed by Indonesia’s parliament in July to create three new provinces in Papua, a move critics say would take power away from the indigenous population.

Hundreds of Papuans demonstrated in front of the Jakarta Palace in 2019.

Despite the opening of the trial, many unknowns remain about the events of December 8, 2014.

The Indonesian government prohibits independent reporting from inside Papua, and the region has been off-limits to foreign journalists for decades. CNN was unable to independently verify several accounts highlighted in this story.

“The big question is whether this trial is the start of something different or just an attempt to provide a scapegoat to divert international attention before world leaders go to Indonesia for the G-20 (meeting in November),” said Robertson of Human Rights. see

“Foreign leaders should be pressing Indonesia hard about what is happening in Papua, and not be sidetracked by a trial that will only scratch the surface of what needs to be done to right the wrongs done in Papua.”

The families of the Papuans who suffered in the Paniai massacre have refused to participate in the trial.

Andreas Harsono, Indonesia researcher at Human Rights Watch, added: “Yes, this (trial) is long overdue, but it’s still a show trial, and I don’t expect it to be independent or fair.”

“A retired military officer should be prosecuted, but many lives were lost that day,” he said.

“Who was the commander who gave the order to shoot the demonstrators? Where are the other managers?’