Brimob guards killed a high school student on the morning of Saturday 27th August in the highland town of Sugapa, Intan Jaya Regency. Otinus Sondegau had been drinking on the street with friends when the Brimob guards were called, who ended up pursuing him through the streets, shooting him dead as he reached the front of his house. Another teenager was reportedly shot in the hand in the incident, and others narrowly dodged bullets. The community, in response, burned the local police station to the ground.
This is the most serious in a series of incidents involving Brimob (the Police Mobile Brigade, a militarised auxiliary police force) since they were stationed in the area a few years ago. Young Papuan men have repeatedly been beaten or shot at, mostly not because of any involvement in political movements but rather due to arbitrary police aggression or small everyday incidents such as public drunkenness or demanding money. Police officers across Papua are rarely prosecuted for these acts of racist and uncontrolled aggression.
Here is one account of the incident, compiled by local human rights activists on 28th August:
On Saturday 27th August at 10 am, four high school students, Noverianus Belau, Luter Japugau, Hans Belau and Otinus Sondegau were drinking alcohol beside the Trans-Papua road in Sugapa. A motorcycle taxi, returning from dropping off a passenger passed where they were drinking (they were a little drunk, but not exceedingly). The young men stopped the motorbike to ask for cigarettes, but the driver found their behaviour unacceptable and fetched the mobile police brigade. Five Brimob officers went directly to where the youths were hanging out. A heated argument followed, and in reaction to the youths’ anger, the Brimob officers got out their guns, threatening to shoot the high school students. Two ran to safety. Nope Belau ran towards Jalae but was shot in the hand. He was still missing when this report was written.
Feeling under threat, Otinus Sondegau ran towards his house behind the local branch of Bank Papua, aiming to fetch a bow and arrow from Yogasiga, but the Brimob guards chased him and started shooting from the street towards the yard of his house. Otinus Sondegau was shot four times: the first bullet entered through his back, piercing his chest, the second entered through his chest, and then two more wounds from the back. He died as a result of the bullets lodged in his body, breathing his last breath on the front doorstep of his house (see picture above).
The victim’s family and the community reacted to this brutal incident by burning the Sugapa Police Station to the ground, leaving it in ruins (see picture left). Local women brought Otinus Sondegau’s body to the compound of the elected leader of Intan Jaya Regency’s house to demand he and the Intan Jaya Police Mobile Brigade take responsibility. Later in the afternoon, the family and community brought his body home to his parents’ house.
At the time of writing the news was that the situation in Sugapa was still tense.
Another account, based on a statement produced by family members of the victims, was published by Suarapapua.com on Tuesday. While it confirms key parts of the chronology, it alleges that two Brimob officers arrived on the scene first of all and started attacking the students. The students responded by throwing stones, and the Brimob officers fired at two of them but without causing injury. A local (non-Brimob) police officer then reportedly tried to intervene, saying ““We know these boys. We’re going to sort this problem out, just let the [local] police take care of these six students”, but this plea was apparently ignored by the Brimob officers, who returned to the Guest House where they were station to get reinforcements, 1.5 km away. They returned in a group of eight, on four motorbikes and fully armed, and proceeded to chase the students for some distance as they ran away.
After Otinus Sondegau had been killed, the Brimob Guards continued to shoot wildly, almost hitting Mr Felex Sondegau and other local bystanders who had not been involved in the incident. They only left as the village military representative (Babinsa), a local man, told them to stop, saying he would take responsibility for finding a solution.
This sort of incident is common in Papua, where police and military personnel respond to minor public order situations such as drunkenness with extreme and uncontrolled violence, and teenagers and other young men are the usual victims. In Sugapa itself, another similar incident occurred just two days before, on Thursday 25th August, after two men had been trying to sell some firewood to a company working on a roadbuilding contact, PT Tigi Jaya Permain. The workers didn’t want the wood, an argument broke out, and they called Brimob. When the guards arrived, they fired three shots towards the two men, who were not injured and ran to safety.
A local human rights activist, Melianus Duwitau, told Suarapapua.com that “Before Brimob came here, people’s lives were much safer, and there were rare cases of shootings by the police or military. On the whole, both police officers stationed at the Sugapa police station and the military at the Sugapa military post had built up good communication with the local community. But since Brimob arrived, that’s when the string of inhumane incidents started”
Examples include 29th September 2014 when Brimob officers shot a 22 year old man, Seprianus Japugau, and a Benyamin Agimbau, aged 30 was also seriously injured after being beaten by rifle butts in an incident at the Yokatapa football pitch in which two Brimob officers were also injured. The Brimob officers involved in the shooting were never brought to trial.
On 16th August 2014, Brimob guards protecting the Bupati’s residence in Tigamajigi intimidated students intending to hold a peaceful demonstration to protest slow progress in local government policymaking. Fourteen students were injured as a result. Brimob opened fire, but none of the students was hit by bullets.
On Tuesday 7th March 2015, two Brimob officers had been drinking alcohol near Sugapa airport. They then rode a motorbike towards Yokatapa, without turning on the headlamp. Seeing this, three young people reprimanded the officers. Angrily, the Brimob officers started attacking the three young men, leaving them with split lips, eye injuries and broken teeth.
Brimob officers beat Missael Maisini on 1st July, who split his lip. Also, in mid-2015, Maksimus Hagizimijau suffered similar injuries after being tortured and beaten with rifle butts by Brimob officers.