(New York) -- The death in Indonesian military custody of a Papuan man, Yapenas Murib, needs an independent investigation, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch also called for outside access to other detainees in military custody who might be at serious risk of ill-treatment.

"This death in military custody will only increase the local climate of fear and intimidation," said Mike Jendrzejczyk, Washington director for Human Rights Watch's Asia division. " It could not have happened at a worse time, when Jakarta says it wants to relieve tensions in Papua."

The death of Yapenas on April 15, 2003 was reported by local human rights groups. At least twenty other people are in detention at the Jayawijaya Military District Command (KODIM 1702) in Wamena, Papua.

A local human rights group reported that Yapenas and another man, Kanius Murib, were arrested by the military on April 6, 2003. They were reportedly dragged for three kilometers from Wamena town to Ilekma sub-village in Sinakma on April 14. Yapenas had two ropes tied around his neck, which were deliberately pulled in different directions by soldiers throughout the journey, causing him to fall several times; Kanius was handcuffed. Yapenas was last seen alive on the evening of April 14, 2003 and is believed to have died soon after while in the Wamena KODIM (district military command office).

A Papuan newspaper, Harian Cenderawasih Pos, reported that the doctor who performed an official autopsy concluded that Yapenas had died because of "obstruction to his upper respiratory tract." The newspaper also reported that family members signed a letter agreeing not to hold the military responsible for the death, before they were allowed to take the body away. Another detainee from the Wamena KODIM is also believed to be in Wamena General Hospital receiving treatment for knife wounds and other injuries, believed to have been inflicted through torture.

"We are concerned that civilians are being arbitrarily detained by military officers who are looking for suspected separatists," said Jendrzejczyk. "Only a thorough, impartial investigation can uncover what really happened in this case."

Human Rights Watch called for an urgent, independent investigation into the torture allegations and death of Yapenas Murib and said that those responsible should be brought to justice. Human Rights Watch also reminded Indonesia of its obligations under the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment to take immediate measures to stop the use of torture, and urged Jakarta to invite the UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial Executions to visit Papua.

Human Rights Watch urged the authorities to allow all those in military custody in Wamena to be allowed access to family members and attorneys. Incommunicado detention in Indonesia has frequently led to torture and ill-treatment in the past. Nearly twenty other men are believed to be in custody at the Wamena KODIM, including:

  • Kanius Murib
  • Elias Tabuni
  • Wim Logo
  • Sam Telingan
  • At least 15 other men, names unknown

These arrests by the Indonesian military occurred during the past two weeks, following a raid at the Wamena KODIM on April 4, 2003, when weapons and ammunition were stolen by a group of unknown persons. During the raid, two soldiers and one member of the attacking party were killed. The government blames the armed opposition separatist group OPM (Free Papua Movement) for the raid. The military has been carrying out sweeps in local villages in Wamena in efforts to find the perpetrators of the attack.

Indonesian newspapers reported that two civilians, including Kanius Murib, and one soldier have now officially been named as suspects by the police for the April 4 attack.

Human Rights Watch called for all the other detainees at the Wamena KODIM to be transferred to police custody and charged with a criminal offence, or otherwise released immediately. Human Rights Watch has documented serious human rights violations by the security forces in Papua, including the killing of civilians during counterinsurgency operations; the unnecessary and often lethal use of force against peaceful pro-independence demonstrators; torture and brutal beatings of detainees; ethnic and racial discrimination by government authorities; intimidation of journalists, human rights activists and others who attempt to expose abuses by the security forces; and arrest and imprisonment of Papuan leaders for nonviolent advocacy of independence.