The human rights court trial against the single defendant, the former military commander Major Isak Sattu, was launched at the Makassar District Court on 21 September 2022 (see photo on top, source: Suara Papua). Meanwhile, the judges have examined the first witnesses in the controversial trial. So far, all witnesses, except a head of a district and a customary leader, comprised members of the police and military. As of 13 October 2022, six court hearings took place in which the panel of judges examined 15 witnesses.
The victims and their relatives have been absent from the trial. They have repeatedly expressed their disappointment over the trial and investigation process in public statements, declaring they would neither attend nor testify in court. Human rights organisations are carefully monitoring the court process.
The indictment against Isak Sattu contains two charges. First, Article 42 (1)a and b jis Article 7b, Article 9a, Article 37 of Law No. 26/2000 on Human Rights Court; and second, Article 42 (1)a and b juncto Article 7b, Article 9h, Article 40 of Law No. 26/2000 on Human Rights Court. The first charge against him concerns crimes against humanity in the form of a murder committed by his subordinates carrying a minimum sentence of 10 years imprisonment and a maximum sentence of death. Secondly, Isak Sattu was charged with crimes against humanity committed by his subordinates in the form of ill-treatment, which carries a minimum sentence of 10 years, and a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment.
First trial hearing – 21 September
In the first court hearing, the judges read the charges pressed against the defendant Isak Sattu. The defendant did not file any objection against the indictment. Surprisingly, the defendant has not been detained since the beginning of the trial. The judges refrained from taking Mr Sattu into custody, arguing that he had cooperated.
Human rights observers found various inconsistencies. They criticised the Attorney General’s office for holding only Major Isak Sattu accountable as superior and considered the charges pressed against him as “not clear”. The definition of crimes against humanity comprises a widespread, systematic attack against civilians. The definition implies that such attacks must be coordinated or approved by superiors and implemented through security force personnel in the field. On the one hand, trying a single suspect only for crimes against humanity contradicts the definition of the crime per se. On the other hand, the attorney general should have first focussed 0n the perpetrators in the field, before revealing superior command structures responsible for the crime.
They also criticised Isak Sattu had been detained during the trial. Defendants with far more lenient charges than crimes against humanity are usually detained in Indonesia during the trial. Furthermore, they demanded protection for the judges and victim groups outside the courtroom. On 20 September 2022, one day before the trial was launched, police officers in uniform and plain clothes came to a house rented by Papuan students in Makassar, asking if they had planned a protest the following day. The students understood the visit as an attempt to intimidate them.
Second trial hearing – 28 September
In the second court hearing on 28 September 2022, the panel of judges examined four members of the Paniai District Police. No witness with a civilian background testified, causing the second hearing to be dominated by the police version of the incident.
The witness examination revealed the identity of two direct perpetrators in the incident. According to the witness, Officer Andi Ridho Amir, a military member named Gatot (Provost Member), shot dead a protester in front of the Paniai Military Command (Koramil). Another military member named Jusman reportedly stabbed the victim to death. The testimony and the results of Komnas HAM’s preliminary investigation into the case are sufficient to identify and process more than one defendant in the trial.
According to human rights observers, the Attorney General’s team failed to reveal the connection between the Paniai Tragedy and the Aman Matoa V security force operation Aman Matoa V, which was implemented by security forces at that time. The link is important to prove the criteria of a systematic and widespread attack.
Third trial hearing – 3 October
The third trial hearing took place on 3 October 2022. The prosecutors examined three witnesses, all members of the Paniai District Police. The witnesses made various testimonies that contradicted the findings by Komnas HAM and independent human rights defenders. According to the police members, unidentified shots were released from a distant mountain during the incident. The witnesses claimed that members of the armed resistance might have fired the shots. Moreover, they claimed that the eleven minors tortured by military members in the Ipakiye Village, Paniai Timur District, on 7 December had been intoxicated and stopped passing vehicles and bagged for money.
The witness testimonies also lead to the impression that they justified the use of firearms against the protesters during the actual incident on 8 December 2022, saying that the people attacked police vehicles and office buildings. The testimonies rather enforced the impression of a lack of professionality among and coordination between the military and the police in handling the crowd of protesters. Police officers retreated to the police station, allowing the situation to escalate.
The court session revealed that there were nine firearms with 140 bullets at the East Paniai Police. One of the witnesses admitted that the number of these bullets had decreased after the incident on 8 December 2014. The police reportedly conducted a ballistic examination of all weapons and bullet shells found at the crime site after the incident. However, he did not elaborate on how many bullets were missing and did not submit a written report about the used ammunition to their superior. All witnesses testified that the police officers had only released warning shots. All witnesses stated they did not know the results of the ballistic examination at the ballistic laboratory.
Fourth trial hearing – 6 October
The fourth hearing was held on 6 October 2022. The judges examined the former chief and vice-chief of the Paniai District police, the head of the district, Mr Pius Gobay, and the chief of the Papuan Customary Council in Paniai, Mr John NR Gobai. Both police officers could not answer many of the questions asked by the judges. They had allegedly forgotten the results of the investigation, or essential evidence had been “lost” and allegedly no longer traceable.
For instance, the former Paniai District police chief, Mr Daniel Prionggo, testified he found bullet shells at the site of the crime during the police investigation. However, he said he does not remember the whereabouts of the bullet shells. He elaborated that the Papua Regional Police (Polda Papua) had not requested a ballistic examination of the bullet shells. Mr Prionggo stated he did not know from what distance and position the shots were fired.
Mr John NR Gobay testified he had received photos and video footage of military members leaving the military command with firearms. He added that the police had never published or shared the results of the ballistic examination of bullet shells with the victims and their relatives of the deceased victims.
Fifth trial hearing – 12 October
The fifth hearing was scheduled for 10 October but was held on 12 October 2022 after seven summoned witnesses could not appear in court. The judges examined one military commander alleged of carrying out a patrol to the Ipakiye Village on 7 December, where military members are alleged of torturing eleven minors, all below the age of 15. The incident caused outrage among the indigenous and triggered the shooting at the Karel Gobay field the following day. According to the victims and the Komnas HAM investigation, the children had complained about a car passing the village at high speed without headlights.
The witness, Major Prasenta Emanuel, denied any wrongdoing. He testified that neither he nor his comrades had left the military command that evening. The testimony contradicts the findings Of the Komnas HAM investigation and testimonies by other court witnesses. The panel of judges expressed doubt regarding the truthfulness of the testimony and stressed the importance of the role of a military commander to control his soldiers.
The prosecutor has summoned two more military members who have not yet appeared in court.
Sixth trial hearing – 13 October
On 13 October 2022, judges listened to the testimony of former Indonesian vice-police chief, Mr Ari Dono Sukamto. He was the Head of the Criminal Investigation Unit (Kabareskrim) of the National Police in 2014. He was appointed chairman of a joint investigation team by the police and military formed by the Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs in response to the Paniai tragedy. The investigation team was in Paniai from 26 May to 13 June 2015 and questioned nine police officers, eleven personnel of the 1705/Enarotali military command, seven personnel of Yonif 753/AVT military unit, 14 personnel of the Paskhas Air Force Unit, eleven civilians, and seven other witnesses. Two additional police members who were part of the investigation team also testified in court.
According to Sukamto, some victim testimonies mentioned police and military personnel stabbing protesters with knives. However, the team failed to find and interview any injured victims. It was also not able to conduct an autopsy of the bodies. The team found the remains of bullet projectiles. However, the projectile remains were allegedly too small for ballistic analysis.
The team collected contradicting testimonies regarding the role of the defendant Isak Sattu during the incident. Some testimonies mentioned him giving the order to release warning shots, while others described Isak Sattu saying, “do not shoot”.
On 1 April 2022, the General Attorney’s Office only identified one suspect. The findings contradict the findings of the investigation carried out by the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) and the victims’ testimonies. According to the survivors, security force members opened fire from different directions at them. Four minors died, and 21 persons were injured.
The human rights case occurred in the Paniai Regency on 8 December 2014. Joint security force members opened fire at a group of Papuan protesters, killing four minors and reportedly leaving 21 protesters injured. One of the victims, Mr Yulius Yeimo, passed away on 1 April 2018 due to multiple health problems he sustained after being tortured by military members in relation to the incident.
On 3 December 2021, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) gave the official order to form a team of 22 prosecutors under the lead of the Deputy Attorney General for Special Crimes to investigate allegations of gross human rights violations in the Paniai regency, Papua Province. The investigators examined as many as 50 persons consisting of seven civilians, eighteen police officers, and 25 military personnel.