A Christian pastor and Bible translator killed in Indonesia's easternmost region of Papua was likely tortured by a military officer who then shot him dead, a new report has revealed.
On Monday, Indonesia’s human rights commission (Komnas HAM) said that a fact-finding team believed that in late September, the military tortured Yeremia Zanambani, the pastor of the Gospel Tabernacle Church of Indonesia (GKII), hoping to extract information on stolen military weapons, CNN Indonesia reported.
The 67-year-old pastor, who was known for translating the Bible into Papua's Moni dialect, was later found by his wife lying face down in a pen for pigs, with gunshot wounds and his left arm nearly severed.
The report described the Sept. 19 killing as “extra-judicial” and revealed that wounds from a sharp weapon were also found on the deceased pastor.
“[The findings] are based on the dying man’s account given to at least two witnesses before he died that he saw the soldier at the crime scene along with three or four other soldiers,” Mohammad Choirul Anam, a Komnas HAM commissioner, said, according to UCA News.
“The death of Reverend Yeremia Zanambani was caused by a series of acts which led to an extrajudicial killing,” Anam said, adding that the pastor died from blood loss.
The incident occurred amid escalating tension between military personnel and separatists groups in Papua, the poorest province in the country. The region has been plagued with unrest since the passing of a U.N.-backed 1969 referendum called the Act of Free Choice, which formalized Indonesia’s control over the former Dutch colony.
At the time, the Indonesian military and Papuan separatists blamed each other for Zanambani’s death, which took place shortly after the killing of a soldier and civilian in the area.
Pastor Zanambani’s murder sparked outrage among local Christians, with the Indonesian Communion of Churches calling on Indonesia's President, Joko Widodo, to order a thorough investigation into the shooting.
In the report released Monday, Komnas HAM said it had recommended to Widodo and the security minister that along with finding those responsible for the pastor’s death, witnesses should be protected. It also stressed that efforts be made to ensure a less security-driven approach to policing the area.
“Civilians become victims after being suspected of joining separatist groups by the TNI (Indonesian Army) or the police,” Beka Ulung Hapsara, a commissioner at Komnas HAM, told Reuters.
Military spokesman Colonel Gusti Nyoman Suriastawa also said an investigation was ongoing and it would punish any officer if found guilty.
The Rev. Jacklevyn Frits Manuputty, general secretary of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia, told UCA News that Komnas HAM’s conclusions supported the fact-finding team's line of inquiry.
“We must continue to push the government to resolve this case as it can pave the way for other investigations into unresolved cases in the region. It is a chance for the government to regain the Papuan people’s trust,” he said.
According to Asia News, Pastor Zanambani’s killing prompted about 1,100 residents of Hitadipa to flee into the forests.
Haris Azhar, a member of the Papua Humanitarian Team, told the outlet that locals fear what might happen to them as well if "such a respected clergyman can be killed with impunity."
Usman Hamid, an expert at Amnesty International Indonesia, accused the military of deliberately creating conditions that force people to leave certain areas “to ensure smooth mining operations.”
In October, the military killed two Catholics after accusing them of being separatist rebels, a version of events rejected by the local Catholic Church.
Over 80% of the population in Papua identifies as Christian, contrasting the predominantly Muslim Indonesia. Open Doors USA ranks Indonesia among the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.