West Papua: Army major faces life imprisonment

Indonesian soldiers in West Papua

The Indonesian military says a tribunal has sentenced an army major to life in prison for his involvement in the murder of four Papuan civilians.

Their mutilated bodies were found in the restive region in August.

Benar News reports human rights activists and victims’ relatives welcomed the conviction of Major Helmanto Fransiskus Dakhi as progress in holding members of security forces accountable for abuses in West Papua.

“The defendant … was found guilty of premeditated murder,” Herman Taryaman, a spokesman for the Indonesian military command in Papua, told journalists.

The tribunal also dismissed Helmanto from the military.

Taryaman said four other soldiers charged in connection with the killings are being tried by a tribunal in the provincial capital, Jayapura.

A sixth military suspect died in December after falling ill, while police say four civilians are also facing trial in a civilian court.

A spokesman for the victims’ families, Aptoro Lokbere, said he was “satisfied” with the conviction and sentence.

Gustaf Kawer, an attorney for the victims’ families, said the life sentence for the major was a “brave” decision that should be emulated by military and civilian courts in similar cases.

Activists had said the violence degraded the dignity of indigenous Papuans amid allegations of ongoing rights abuses by government security forces in West Papua.

Helmanto is the third Indonesian Armed Forces member to be sentenced to life by a military court in a murder case since June.

A prominent Papuan journalist has said a recent bombing near his home is the latest in a string of attacks against him.

ABC Pacific Beat reports Victor Mambor saying he heard motorbikes ride past his home before a bomb exploded about 3 metres from his house on Monday.

He said it was not the first threat against him – in the past his car has been damaged and he has been threatened via text and Whatsapp message.

Mambor, who is the editor of the Papuan news website Jubi, suspected his reporting on Indonesian-ruled West Papua has led to these threats.

“I think they think I’m a journalist who supports the West Papua freedom movement,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Melanesian Spearhead Group’s secretariat in Vanuatu has confirmed it has recruited two Indonesians.

The statement from the group came during a protest against the move in front of the secretariat by the Vanuatu Free West Papua Association.

The group’s director general, Leonard Louma, said the agency was aiming to strengthen its capacity and this will include the recruitment of two Indonesian nationals, filling the roles of the private sector development officer and the manager of arts, culture and youth programme.

Louma said the secretariat has been directed to re-prioritise its activities and was now positioning itself to meet the demands and expectations of the leaders. The Free West Papua Association said hiring the Indonesians made a mockery of the support Vanuatu has given West Papua for many years.