Information has emerged that the conflict between indigenous people in Puragi village, South Sorong, and PT Permata Putera Mandiri, a subsidiary of the Austindo Nusantara Jaya Group, has resulted in a string of aggressions from police mobile brigade (Brimob) officers working for the company in recent months, since it recommenced deforestation on the disputed land. In the most serious incident, on 23rd October, a man was savagely beaten by three Brimob guards for trying to defend his land. Yayasan Pusaka and the Iwaro Student Network (IPPMI) recently went to the area to investigate – here’s the report they compiled.
Starting in September and continuing until now, seven clans who hold customary rights to land in Puragi village, Metamani sub-district, South Sorong Regency, Papua Barat province, have staged a “customary law blockade” to stop work and establish limits to the areas oil palm plantation company PT Permata Putera Mandiri (PT PPM) can clear, around places known as Ureko and Nyono. The seven clans are: (1) Gue, (2) Atoare, (3) Mengge, (4) Bumere, (5) Kawaine, (6) Oropae 1, (7) Oropae 2.
The reason for the blockade was that since the initial land clearance and planting, up to and including the more recent ongoing clearance of land which started in September 2017, the company has not carried out its obligation to hold a decision-making meeting with the community to reach an agreement about the status of the land, and compensation for any ways they have been disadvantaged or lost sources of livelihood, including forest products and food sources. The company has also not openly discussed with them empowerment programmes concerned with economic, social and cultural rights.
The company has ignored customary laws and community demands and continues to clear and destroy the forest. Sometimes a contractor says they will take up the issue or meet the community’s demands, but this has yet to occur.
This has led to an increasing level of tension between the community and the company, which makes use of police mobile brigade to guard its concession. These Brimob guards have been involved in acts of violence and intimidation and have made threats of beatings, arrests and other forms of aggression.
The following is a chronology of the aggressions suffered by members of clans from Puragi village, who have faced threats and violence in the course of their blockade actions:
Violence towards Nataniel Oropae
In early October 2017, Nataniel Oropae (the Puragi Village Head), who owns land and sago groves in the area PT PPM is cultivating, went to the office of the contractor (RPU) at its camp in Kapiremi grove, at the three kilometer post, accompanied by seven other customary landowners from Puragi, Sorong and Teminabuan (South Sorong).
Their intention was to demand that the company pay for the loss of land and forest products that it had destroyed, cleared or damaged, whether in the past, or during the current clearance work.
As they arrived in RPU’s camp it was raining, and so Nataniel took shelter beside the security outpost. Nataniel started talking to a Brimob officer who came outside to look for something. “What are you looking for?”, Nataniel asked.
The officer turned around and approached Nataniel, angry and threatening without reason, and then, wanting to punch him, placed his fist against Nataniel’s forehead. “Don’t hit me”, Nataniel pleaded.
In the end the officer didn’t strike him and asked Nataniel “are you drunk?”, for no clear reason. This incident made Nataniel feel afraid and degraded.
In the community’s dialogue with the company (at which officers guarding the company were present), the company said that lost or damaged forest products would not be paid for. In accordance with Papua Barat Gubernatorial Regulation number 5 (?), only timber of diameter 30 cm and up would be paid for, while rattan, sago, resin and so on would not be compensated. Disappointed, the community continued the blockade.
Violence towards Arnold Bumere and Edison Oropae
Arnold Bumere owns land around the Kapiremi grove, which has been cleared by PT PPM without first holding a decision-making meeting involving the wider community and customary landowners. Arnold protested and erected a bar to mark a customary law prohibition on clearing forest and sago groves on his clan’s land.
In early October 2017, he suffered violence and intimidation at the Jamarema log compound.
Edison Oropae, a customary landowner of the Ureko grove, who has also used customary law to deny the company access to his land and sago groves, had a similar experience. Brimob guards stationed at the company’s camp were verbally aggressive towards Edison, intimidating him and threatening him with acts of violence.
Violence towards Yan Ever Mengge, also known as Bowake.
On 23rd October 2017, Yan Ever Mengge, also known as Bowake, met a company worker who was clearing land and forest around the Kapiremi grove. Bowake asked him about whether the community’s demands to be paid compensation for the land and forest products they had lost would be met. The company had promised that this would take place on the 22nd October 2017. However, Bowake and other clans had received no response to their demands by that date.
Bowake therefore put in place a customary law blockade around Kapiremi grove and asked the worker to stop clearing the area. Bowake removed the keys of the worker’s motorbike and the excavator, and departed, leaving the worker behind.
Brimob officers came to the area of the blockade and asked who had done it. Then they went to look for Bowake in their vehicle. Driving at top speed, the car pursued Bowake, trying to run him down, but he was able to jump to the side of the road to avoid it. The officers opened the left-hand door of the car violently, slamming it into Bowake’s body.
Three Brimob officers ganged up on Bowake, striking him and torturing him until he fell to the ground. They used their rifle butts to strike him around his neck, back, waist and knees, Wearing jackboots, they kicked him in his stomach, sides and chest.
“Brimob said, ‘We’re going to kill you here, today’. They were kicking me like I was a football” Yan Ever Mengge said. The Brimob guards also threatened that they would bury him alive.
Some local passersby witnessed the incident from a distance, but were not able to help. They just shouted out, asking for mercy, and for Brimob to halt their ferocious attack.
Bowake was soaked in blood, his whole body covered with bruises and he was unable to walk. He was lifted up and put in the vehicle that the Brimob officers were driving. When they got out of the car in the camp, the Brimob officers continued to kick him until he collapsed. He was brought to the company’s camp and looked after there for several days. He was still in pain and didn’t heal, his backbone and back were hurting, he had difficulty sleeping and often vomited blood.
Bowake’s medical condition and a settlement for the violence.
A company worker called Crist took Bowake to the hospital in Teminabuan. According to Bowake, when they were in the longboat traveling from Puragi village to Teminabuan, company staff sent a message to Crist that Bowake shouldn’t report this violent incident to his family in Teminabuan.
The Mengee family in Teminabuan city did subsequently find out about the problems that Bowake had experienced, however, as Bowake spoke out about the violence and pain which he had suffered to members of his extended family.
The family and three village heads, from Puragi, Tawanggire and Bedare, met and decided to demand a settlement for the violence towards Bowake, plus the cost of his medical treatment, and a resolution of the issue of indigenous people’s land rights in the area.
On 5th November 2017, the Mengee family from Teminabuan and Puragi went to the company’s camp and asked them to come to Puragi village to discuss a settlement, but the company were opposed to this, they wanted to reach the settlement in the company offices. Discussions continued until midnight. Bowake’s family demanded the payment of a penalty under customary law for the beatings and tortures carried out by the three police officers, which would come to 150 million Rupiah. The calculation of the penalty was based on 50 million Rupiah for each of the three perpetrators, but the company bargained the sum down to 50 million Rupiah.
The company produced an official note that it would pay the costs of treatment and a 50 million Rupiah penalty for the beating, and that the matter would then be considered settled. The penalty money would be sent to the family in Teminabuan within the next week. However, this has still not taken place and Bowake has no medicine. He has only been using traditional medicine until now.
The family intends to reject the contents of this note because it was signed in a rush in the middle of the night by family representatives Max Mengge and Cristina Mengge Tesia (represented by Dorce Mengge), and Ashari, on behalf of the company. They feel that the family is disadvantaged by the agreement, for example because it means that the case is considered closed and also because the company didn’t stick to the agreed time limit to pay the family.
Victims Yan Ever Mengge and Nataniel Oropae (Head of Puragi village)
Victim’s family members: Christina Mengge, Dorce Mengge, Christina Mengge, Bram.