Two military members torture disabled Papuan in Merauke – Video goes viral on social media

A recently published video showing a deaf Papuan being tortured by Indonesian army members has caused public outrage across West Papua. The video shows two Indonesian Airforce (TNI-AU) members pushing a deaf-and-dumb young Papuan named Steven Yadohamang (18 years) on the pavement while stepping on the victim’s head and left arm. The incident reportedly occurred on 26 July 2021 in the Merauke Regency, Papua Province. Military commander Kolonel Herdy Arief publicly apologised for the wrongdoing of his men during a press conference on the day after the incident. He declared that both perpetrators will receive disciplinary sanctions and will be processed under the law. The perpetrators have been detained as suspects for 20 days for an in-depth investigation by the military police. According to CNN Indonesia, the perpetrator’s superiors have already been removed from their positions in Merauke.

According to media information, Steven Yadohamang came to a small street restaurant in Mandala street of Mandala District and asked the owners for food. One of them claimed that Steven acted under the influence of alcohol. A subsequent argument between Mr Yadohamang and the owners was witnessed by Seargent Dimas Harjanto and Private Rian Febrianto, two members of the TNI-AU command in Merauke. Thereupon, one of the military members pulled Steven outside and pushed him on the floor. The military member twisted Steven’s left arm on the back while his colleague steps with heavy army boots on the victim’s head and left arm (see photo on top, source: screenshot taken from video). The footage shows Mr Yadohamang whimpering in pain as one of the military officers pushes his face on the pavement.

Kolonel Herdy Arief ensured full transparency in the law enforcement process against both perpetrators during a press conference on 29 July 2021. Meanwhile, Arief has been replaced by a new commander, Bowo Burdianto.

The video triggered various responses from various stakeholders. The local human rights organisations Papuan Foundation for Justice and Human Integrity (YKKM Papua) and the Papuan Legal Aid Institute (LBH Papua) reacted promptly upon the video, demanding authorities to immediately dismiss Seargent Dimas Harjanto and Private Rian Febrianto from military service and process them following the law. Likewise, the Indonesian Catholic Student Association (PMKRI) and the Christian Student Movement in Indonesian (GMKI) condemned torture as “very inhuman treatment”. The Papuan Peace Network (JDP) expressed concerns that racial discrimination was one of the leading motives for the excessive force applied against the victim.

The incident was also strongly condemned by Commission I of the Papuan Provincial Parliament (DPRP) and Papuan Governor Lukas Enembe. In a public statement, Enembe declared on 28 July 2021 that he expects the relevant authorities to process the case of torture in accordance with international human rights standards and national law. He called upon the public to stay calm and adhere to the COVID-19 health protocol while carefully following the law-enforcement process in the case. Moreover, Lukas Enmebe declared his appreciation for those who had recorded the incident and later circulated the content on social media as well as for military officials who had taken prompt action in response to the incident.   

Human rights observers are concerned that the public will be excluded from the legal process as the case will be processed under the Indonesian military tribunal procedure. In December, the military police commander, Dodik Widjanarko, announced that the military police would process multiple human rights violations in the highland regency of Intan Jaya in 2020. Today, the public has not been informed about the current stage in the law enforcement process against the perpetrators.

In February 2019, a video showing two police officers torturing a Papuan suspect with a snake during detention went viral after being published on social media platforms. Multiple UN experts issued a media release in response to the video. They condemned the acts of torture during police detention, declaring that the “case reflects a widespread pattern of violence, alleged arbitrary arrests and detention as well as methods amounting to torture used by the Indonesian police and military in Papua”.