Korindo palm oil plantation calls police to settle land dispute – One indigenous Papuan dies as a result of torture

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The ‘Office for Justice and Peace of the Archdiocese of Merauke’ (SKP Keuskupan Agung Merauke) has documented the killing of an indigenous Papuan from the Asiki district in the regency of Boven Digoel. Witnesses saw how a police officer severely tortured Marius Betera in front of the office building of palm oil company PT. Tunas Sawa Erma POP Block A (PT. TSE POP A) after he complained about the clearing of his garden by one of the company’s excavators. The victim died at the company’s clinic approximately three hours after the incident as a result of the injuries he sustained during the beating. Local human rights organisations demand that the alleged perpetrator should be held responsible in a police-internal code of conduct trial and a criminal trial in a public court. PT. TSE POP A is a subsidiary of the Korindo Group, which operates multiple palm oil and timber companies in West Papua.

According to the information received, Marius Betara went to his garden on 16 May 2020 around 9.00 am and saw that the garden had been cleared by an excavator. Angry about the loss of his harvest and crops, Narius Betara went to the local police post and subsequently to the administrative office of PT. TSE POP A at Camp 19 in the Jair District of Boven Digoel Regency, Papua Province. Around 10.00 am, Mr Betara met with the company’s Planning Manager, Mr Andi Suparna, to complain about the destruction of his garden and demand compensation for the loss of his harvest. Thereupon, the manager asked Melkianus Yowei to come to the office to “handle” the dispute. Mr Yowei is a police officer who used to serve at the police post in Camp 19 but was transferred to the Tanah Merah police resort in 2019. The reason for the transfer was alleged violence against an elderly indigenous woman.

When Marius Betara went back outside, officer Yowei intercepted him in front of the office. He seized Mr Betapa’s bow and a machete and subsequently struck the bow in Marius Betara’s face. Officer Yowei punched Mr Betara at least four times in the neck and the temple. According to witnesses, he also kicked him repeatedly in the stomach. Witnesses stated that the victim was bleeding from the ear after the beating. The torture appeared to be an act of punishment because Marius Betara had complained about the destruction of his garden.

Around 11.00 am Marius Betara went to the Police Chief at the police post in Camp 19 to file a complaint against the destruction of his garden and the violent assault by officer Yowei. When no police officer was available, he returned back home to rest. Around 1.00 pm, Marius Betara felt unwell. He took his bike and drove to the clinic at Camp 19. Marius Betara fainted immediately after arriving at the clinic. He died there shortly after.

The victim’s family demanded the Police Chief to dismiss Melkianus Yowei from the police service. They also demanded the company PT. TSE POP A to dismiss the planning manager and security officers because of their negligent behaviour resulting in the torture and subsequent death of Marius Betara. It is currently not known whether the relatives have agreed to a forensic examination of the body.