Another church worker killed in Intan Jaya – Security force members accuse victim of being TPN PB member

Human rights organisations have documented the extra-judicial killing of a church worker in the regency of Intan Jaya. Mr Rufinus Tigau, 28, was shot dead by members of the Nemangkawi Joint Security Force Unit in the village of Jalae, Sugapa District on 26 October 2020. During the operation, twelve-year-old Meinus Bagubau sustained a bullet wound to the hip. Security force representatives claim that Rufinus Tigau was associated with the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPN PB). A representative of the Catholic Diocese in Timika confirmed that Rufinus Tigau was officially appointed as a catechist in the Catholic Jalae congregation.

The Nemangkawi Unit conducted the raid in the Jalae Village around 6.00 am after military intelligence obtained information regarding the presence of TPN PB members in the area. According to information received from the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Desk of the Papuan Tabernacle Church (JPIC Kingmi), security force members released a shot at Rufinus Tigau as he wanted to ask the officers about the reason for the raid. He died instantly as a result of the bullet injury. The report stresses that Rufinus Tigau was unarmed and lifted his arms as he approached the security force members.

A minor named Meinus Bagubau was hit as security force members released further shots in midst the settlement. A bullet projectile hit Meinus on the hip. Around 11.00 am, security force members evacuated him to the town of Mimika (see photo below, source: JPIC Kingmi), where he received medical treatment.

Menianus arrival Timika Airport 2Around 11.30 am, the security force members forced a group of villagers to burry Rufinus Tigau’s body without asking for the permission of his relatives. The fresh soil was covered with banana leaves to camouflage the grave. After the Nemangkawi Unit left Jalae, relatives excavated Rufinus Tigau’s body and reburied it on the following day (see photo on top, source: Jubi).

In an interview with the news outlet Jubi, Col Czl IGN Suriastawa, the spokesperson of the territorial defence command (Komando Gabungan Wilayah Pertahanan / Kogabwilhan), claimed that the relatives confirmed Rufinus’ association with the TPN PB and that they asked the security force members to bury the body at the crime scene. The Indonesian news outlet 86 News published an article in which the spokesperson of the Papua Regional Police (Polda Papua), Ahmad Kamal, also claimed that Rufinus Tigau was a TPN PB member. According to Kamal, the "story" that security forces had deliberately shot Rufinus dead was "hoax news".

However, the TPN PB spokesperson, Sebby Sambom, has denied that Rufinus Tigau was a member to the TPN PB.

Following multiple shootings and violent attacks against church workers in the Intan Jaya Regency, indigenous peoples living in the district of Hitadipa reportedly fled their homes and sought shelter in the surrounding forest and neighbouring villages. Observers stated that the internally displaced persons (IDPs) are facing difficulties to access food. The IDPs are in urgent need of humanitarian aid.

Cases of violence against members of the church in the Intan Jaya regency have been documented by human rights organisations throughout the past weeks. Previously, the killing of Pastor Yeremia Zanambani and the shooting of another Catholic church worker drew the attention of national and international media on the armed conflict in the high land regency. In similar cases with civilian fatalities, military members either justified their actions against civilians by alleging the victims were TPN PB members or they blamed the TPN PB for the killings.