Update on killing of Govt contractors in Nduga Regency - Trial against defendant launched in Jakarta

More than one year has passed since West Papua National Liberation Army (TPN-PB) members killed a group of road workers in the Papuan highland regency of Nduga. On 6 January 2019, a trial against Mispo Gwijangge was launched at the Central Jakarta District Court. The defendant originates from Suwenem Village in the Yigi District, Nduga Regency, where he helped his parents by working in the garden. Police officers arrested Mispo Gwijangge and two other suspects at the Sinakma Market in the regency of Jayawijaya on 10 May 2019, after he fled from his village to the highland town of Wamena. He was detained and charged with article 340 of the Indonesian Criminal Code (KUHP) in conjunction with article 55 (1) KUHP on involvement in premeditated murder, punishable with a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment or capital punishment. The public prosecution also charged him with a number of other criminal charges, among them articles 338 KUHP on homicide, 351 on ill-treatment and 333 on deprivation of someone's liberty. The other two suspects were released without charges. Mispo Gwijangge denies any involvement in the killing of PT Istaka employees on 4 December 2018.

Mispo Gwijangge’s lawyers and family members have expressed concerns regarding procedural violations during the law enforcement process. According to Mispo Gwijangge relatives, he is only between 14 and 16 years old - too young to be legally prosecuted as an adult. However, official documents state that Mispo was born in 1999. Inconsistencies between real age and dates of birth in official documents are common in the remote areas of West Papua as the majority of births occur without the presence of midwifes or doctors. Hence, Government officials often roughly estimate the date of birth years later when indigenous Papuans want to access education or health services, which require them to have official documents.      

Mispo Gwijangge detention JakartaNeither the Jayawijaya District Police nor the Public Prosecutor informed Mispo’s relatives when he was transferred to Jakarta, where he is currently detained at the Salemba detention facility (see images to this article). The place of trial was shifted to Jakarta because authorities feared that the unstable security situation in West Papua would not enable a smooth proceeding of the trial in Wamena. Mispo’s lawyer, Mrs Mersi Waromi, stated in an interview with media outlet Jubi that the transfer may affect the outcome of the trial. “The judges in Jakarta lack objective understanding of this case because they do not know the socio-cultural context in Papua” said Waromi.

Human rights defenders claimed that police officers repeatedly struck Mispo Gwinjagge with a rifle butt to the back of the head during his interrogation at the Wamena District Police Station. In addition, Mispo Gwijangge does not speak fluent Indonesian. The officers questioned him without interpreter or legal counsel, as mandated by law when the criminal charges are punishable with more than five years imprisonment. Feeling intimidated and threatened by the police officers, Mispo Gwijangge signed a confession and followed all instructions of the officers when the case was reconstructed at the police station in Wamena.

Similar shortcomings were also reported during the first trial hearings in Jakarta. The judge asked the public prosecution to find an interpreter who can translate into the indigenous Nduga language. However, the public prosecutor was unable to meet the request, so Mispo's lawyers organised the assistance of three Papuan students who were willing to translate at court. During the last court hearing on 13 January 2020, the judge reportedly restricted the lawyer when explaining the indictment to Mispo Gwijangge, because the translation exceeded the time scheduled. First delays of the trial already occurred during the first hearing. The public prosecutor did not provide a copy of the indictment and the police report to the lawyers. The next court hearing will take place on 21 January 2020.