Mysterious death of pastor in Nabire raises questions – Relatives allege police is covering facts

Only a few days after military members killed a Papuan pastor in the regency of Intan Jaya, human rights defenders have reported the mysterious death of another pastor in the Nabire regency. According to the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Desk of the Papuan Tabernacle Church (JPIC Kingmi Papua), 55-years-old pastor Albert Degei was found dead in the Kalisemen village of the Nabire Barat district on 22 September 2020. Relatives noticed multiple injuries on the victim’s head, indicating that Rev Degei was murdered. Shortly after the incident, the local police chief claimed in media interviews that Rev Degei died as a result of an epileptic attack and his body did not show any signs of external violence. The relatives are concerned that the police may attempt to cover up the case because they want to protect the perpetrator.

Since the early morning that day, Rev Degei had been harvesting water spinach for his pigs. As it became late and he did not return home, one of Rev Degei`s children went out in his motorcycle to search for his father. Around 5.00 pm, Rev. Degei’s son noticed a crowd of police officers in Kalisemen, so he approached them to see what was happening. He saw that the police officers had already placed Rev Degei’s body into a yellow body bag (see intro image). According to his son, Rev Degei’s body was still warm. Subsequently, police officers brought the body to the Sirwini Public Hospital, where medical personnel and police officers externally examined and washed the body. The relatives brought the body home around midnight.

The following day, relatives and members of JPIC Kingmi Papua went to the alleged site of crime, where two farmers reportedly found the body. They did not find any stone or wood which could have caused a lethal injury through an accidental fall. The human rights defenders also re-opened the coffin and took a closer look at the body. They realised that blood was leaking from Rev Degei’s eyes, nose and mouth. They also found bleeding wounds on the crown and the back of his head as well as on his right ear. According to JPIC Kingmi Papua, the injuries appeared to be caused by a blunt object. When the relatives requested the forensic report from the hospital, the doctor rejected the request saying that the relatives should request the report from the police. The body was buried on 24 September 2020.

The Nabire Police Chief, Sonny M Nugroho, later declared in media interviews that Rev Degei died as a result of an epileptic attack. He also stated that the relatives refused to conduct a forensic examination of the body. The medical report was not shared with Rev Degei’s relatives upon request.

The relatives demand the Nabire Police to conduct an independent and effective criminal investigation into the allegations of murder. They fear that the police may cover-up the cases to protect the perpetrators.