Indonesia’s human rights commission on Thursday (03/08) urged President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to end rights violations in the country’s easternmost province of Papua after police were alleged to have killed one person and wounded 16 others while trying to quell a protest.
The incident started on Tuesday when workers at a construction site in the province’s Deiyai district refused to transport a man who had nearly drowned in a river to a hospital, local media Tabloid Jubi reported.
Residents were angry when the man eventually died and attacked the workers’ camp and assaulted police officers who were summoned by the company, according to the news site.
Officers fired warning shots to disperse protesters, Papua police spokesman A.M. Kamal said. He disputed the number of victims in the subsequent altercation, saying police records showed nine residents, not 16, were wounded by the warning shots and one died from a wound in his leg.
“President Jokowi should take the initiative to solve human rights abuse cases in Papua through peaceful dialogues comprehensively… within the framework of a united Republic of Indonesia,” Maneger Nasution, an official at Indonesia’s Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM), said in a statement, referring to the president by his nickname.
The commission — a state institution tasked with researching and mediating human rights abuse cases, independent from the government — has sent its members to Papua to investigate the incident, Maneger said.
The presidential spokesman has so far declined to comment on the incident.
Natalius Pigai, another commissioner at the institution, called the incident “a serious human rights violation.”
A heavy-handed approach by the police and military on behalf of companies “has happened for a long time, massively and systematically. More than 60 people have died because of cases like this,” Natalius told Reuters.
Police spokesman Kamal said its internal investigation unit and commission members had begun questioning construction workers on Thursday. They would interview police officers involved in the incident on Friday.
Reports of human rights abuses often emerge from Papua, where a separatist movement has simmered for decades.
The International Coalition for Papua in its 2017 report said there was a significant aggravation of the human rights situation in Papua in 2015 and 2016 compared to previous years.
Indonesia took over the former Dutch colony after a widely criticized United Nations-backed referendum in 1969. Despite its rich resources, the province is among the poorest regions in Southeast Asia’s largest economy.