Joint security force members torture three indigenous Papuans in Boven Digoel for not using face masks

Independent human rights defenders have documented a case of torture in the regency of Boven Digoel, Papua Province. The incident was confirmed by multiple media outlets. Joint police-military forces allegedly tortured three indigenous Papuans from the indigenous Kombai Tribe – among them one female – during a routine COVID-19 control in Boven Digoel’s largest town Tanah Merah. The security force members had reportedly stopped them because they were not wearing a face mask while riding their motorcycles. The Boven Digoel Government, the local customary council and the victims’ family agreed to settle the case outside the law through a compensation payment of 50 million rupiahs (about € 2,840) and three pigs.

The incident occurred near the COVID-19 control post, close to the regent’s office, on 8 September 2020. The joint security force officers stopped the three victims around 3.00 pm because they were not wearing face masks while riding their motorcycles. According to information received, the security force members tortured the three victims because they did not acknowledge the correctional measure. Some COVID-19 task force members used their rifle butts to strike the victims on the back of their head and face while others kicked the victims with combat boots. The three Papuans sustained bruises on the chin, the ear and the back of the head. They were admitted to the general hospital in Tanah Merah where they received medical treatment.

The security force violence caused anger among many people in Tanah Merah and triggered subsequent riots. Angry protesters burned tires and blocked multiple roads between 8.00 and 10.00 pm. On 9 September 2020, people again gathered in front of the regent’s office to protest against the security force violence. The situation escalated when security force members tried to disperse the protest with firearms. Witnesses claimed that security force members released 15 shots, some of them allegedly aimed at the crowd. The protesters stormed parts of the office and broke several windows. Nobody was injured during the clash.