'If You Mess With Us You're Dead'


"You can mess with the police," said the Indonesian soldiers, "but if you try it with us, you’re dead."

According to witnesses that was what was said to Yones Douw, a 42-year-old Papuan human rights defender as he was beaten with lumps of wood by soldiers from Kodim 1705, Nabire’s District Military Command in the Indonesian province of Papua. Immediately after the beating Douw went to the local Siriwini hospital but was refused treatment. Local staff demanded a letter from the police before they would treat his wounds. Douw now fears for his safety and has gone into hiding.

The incident occurred on the 15 June. Douw, a church worker with the Kingmi Church’s Bureau of Justice and Peace in Nabire, heard that a protest was going to take place at the 1705 District Military Command (Kodim) base in Nabire, Papua province, and he went to the base to monitor it. Thirty minutes after he arrived, a group of protesters turned up in three trucks, broke into the front entrance of the base and started to shatter the windows and throw objects. Douw immediately rushed into the base to calm the protesters.

In response, the military fired shots into the air and started hitting the protesters. Douw was struck on the head with pieces of wood many times. He also sustained injuries on his shoulder and wrists from the beatings. The protesters fled the scene, pursued by members of Kodim 1705 and armed troops from neighbouring Battalion 753. This is what gave Douw time to escape.

Yones Douw was not the accidental victim of some random act of violence. And the protesters he was defending were not some random mob of outraged Papuans or an attack by the Papuan Liberation Army, Papua’s lingering guerrilla force. The attack on the Nabire District Military Command was an expression of a grief stricken family angered at the senseless killing of one of their own. The family wanted to hold the military accountable for the killing of Derek Adii, a man who was beaten to death by soldiers a few weeks earlier.

In mid-May Douw, a chronicler of human rights violations in the troubled Paniai region for some years now, published a report that was picked up by Jubi, West Papua’s only independent news service. Douw’s report detailed the killing of Derek Adii on 14 May 2011. Adii, a 26-year-old Nabire man had just completed his application to join Papua’s burgeoning civil service.

According to Douw’s report, Adii was boarding the crowded passenger vessel KM Labobar at Nabire’s dock when he was beaten by six members of the military. One of the soldiers allegedly pulled out a bayonet and stabbed Adii in the head. The six men then threw his body overboard. Adii died at the scene.

Douw believes he was beaten by the military for retribution — not only for reporting Adii’s killing but also for continuing to shine a spotlight on human rights abuses in West Papua, an area the Indonesian police and military are trying to close off from international scrutiny by locking out journalists and even diplomats.

The circumstances surrounding Adii’s very public murder and Douw’s public beating in the front yard of a military base located on a main road in the middle of a town is typical of the patterns of human rights abuses in West Papua. Australian National University scholar and former Director of the Catholic Office of Justice and Peace in West Papua, Br Budi Hernawan OFM who is studying torture in West Papua, says that torture and human rights abuses in Papua are a kind of "public spectacle".

In the 400 odd cases of torture that Hernawan has studied it is mostly poor and innocent Papuan civilians are rounded up and publicly abused. The perpetrators are nearly always the Indonesian military and police. It is classic state terror, the purpose of which is to violently pacify the population, to enforce the security apparatus’ control over human bodies and the body politic — and to intimidate and silence Papuan dissent.

It is a script that Yones Douw has refused to buy into. In the meantime other Papuans have stepped into Douw’s shoes. They are now chronicling the military’s attack on him and sending reports out to a domestic and international network in the same way that Douw has been ceaselessly reporting on the human rights abuses of others.


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