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Indonesia 2023

Peaceful demonstrators were arrested and excessive force was used to break up protests. Military operations in Papua resulted in unlawful killings and torture and other ill-treatment. Pro-independence activists were imprisoned. Torture and other ill-treatment by security forces of criminal suspects was commonplace, in some cases resulting in deaths. Non-state armed groups in Papua were also responsible for unlawful killings. The government failed to conduct meaningful consultations with populations affected by controversial development projects. Indonesia remained heavily reliant on coal for energy generation and plans to phase out fossil fuels were inadequate.


Tensions in Papua increased following the taking hostage in February of a pilot, a New Zealand national, by members of the National Liberation Army of Free Papua Organization (TPNPB-OPM) at Paro Airport in the remote highlands of Nduga regency, Papua Pegunungan province. In response the Indonesian military raised the operational status in Nduga to “combat alert” and deployed additional troops to the area, raising fears for the safety of civilians there and in surrounding areas.

Freedom of assembly

Security forces arrested peaceful demonstrators and used excessive force to disperse protests, often resulting in injuries.

On 5 August, police arrested 18 people who were resting in West Sumatra Grand Mosque in the provincial capital Padang during protests against plans for an oil and petrochemical refinery in Nagari Air Bangis village in Barat regency. Police removed other protesters from the building, some of whom were praying at the time, including women who were dragged from the mosque. At least five journalists who were live-streaming or reporting on the event were physically assaulted and threatened by police officers. All of those arrested, including community leaders and activists, students and lawyers, were subsequently released without charge. These events followed a six-day protest in Nagari Air Bangis by residents concerned about the risk posed by the construction of the refinery to their livelihoods and the local environment.

On 14 August, security forces arrested seven people and used tear gas to disperse protesters who were blocking a road in the city of Bandung, West Java, to protest against the planned eviction of around 300 residents of Dago Elos, a suburb of the city. Those arrested included Dago Elos residents and a lawyer who was supporting them in the land dispute. All were released on 16 August but three were charged with committing violent acts. Several people were reportedly injured as a result of excessive use of force by the police.1

Freedom of expression

Authorities continued to prosecute people for crimes against the security of the state for exercising their right to freedom of expression, including those calling for independence of Papua. At least three Papuan activists were imprisoned during the year for expressing their opinions.

On 8 August, Jayapura District Court found Yoseph Ernesto Matuan, Devio Tekege and Ambrosius Fransiskus Elopere guilty of treason under Articles 55 and 106 of the Criminal Code and sentenced them to 10 months’ imprisonment each. The three students were arrested in November 2022 while participating in a vigil at Jayapura University of Technology and Science to commemorate the 21st anniversary of the abduction and killing of pro-independence leader Theys Eluay, at which the Morning Star flag, a symbol of Papuan independence, was raised. All three were released in September having served their sentences.2

Unlawful killings

At least 26 incidents resulting in unlawful killings by security forces were reported in Papua, involving a total of 58 victims.

In September, security forces shot and killed five Indigenous Papuans in Dekai, the capital of Yahukimo regency, Papua Pegunungan province. The security forces claimed that the five, who were aged between 15 and 18, were killed in a firefight with the TPNPB-OPM. Other sources denied that the youths were members of the armed group but rather were returning to their village having bought food in Dekai. Anyone leaving Dekai was required to report to a security post on the outskirts of the city and if they failed to do so they were automatically considered to be members of the TPNPB-OPM. The authorities had not initiated investigations into the alleged killings by the end of the year.

Torture and other ill-treatment

Security forces subjected detainees to torture and other ill-treatment to extract information or confessions.

Torture and other ill-treatment remained commonplace in Papua, where incidents of arbitrary detention and torture also occurred in the context of military operations in and around Nduga regency. On 6 April, the military detained and tortured six Indigenous Papuans from Kwiyawagi village in Lanny Jaya regency, Papua Pegunungan province. The six, who included four boys, were transported by helicopter to the military headquarters in Timika, where 17-year-old Wity Unue died, reportedly as a result of injuries sustained from torture. The five others were released without charge on 20 April, but were reported to be in poor health. No one had been brought to justice by the end of the year.

In September, eight members of the narcotics division of Jakarta Metropolitan Police were named as suspects in the beating to death of a suspected drug dealer during interrogation in July. None of the eight had been charged by the end of the year.

In August, the body of Imam Masykur was found more than three weeks after he was abducted and tortured by three soldiers from the Presidential Security Force and the Indonesian military. According to the Asian Human Rights Commission, the three detained the 25-year-old in the capital, Jakarta, after accusing him of selling illegal drugs and demanded a ransom for his release. Imam Masykur’s body was found in a reservoir in West Java. In December, the three perpetrators were sentenced to life imprisonment and dismissed from the military.

Abuses by armed groups

Eleven incidents resulting in the unlawful killings of 24 victims by the TPNPB-OPM in Papua were documented during the year.

On 28 August, a spokesperson for the armed group claimed that it had killed Michelle Kurisi Doga in Kolawa, Lanny Jaya regency, Papua Pegunungan province. At the time of her death, Michelle Kurisi Doga was travelling to gather data on displacement resulting from military operations in Nduga, but according to the spokesman they suspected her of being a member of military intelligence.3

The New Zealand national taken hostage by the TPNPB-OPM in February had not been released by the end of the year.

Economic, social and cultural rights

The government failed to carry out meaningful consultations and effective human rights due diligence processes before allowing work to start on the Rempang Eco-City project, a multibillion-dollar industrial and tourism development project on Rempang Island. The project involves the relocation of around 7,500 residents from 16 villages primarily inhabited by the Tempatan Indigenous Peoples that would result in loss of access to their ancestral lands. The national development project met with strong opposition from Tempatan Peoples and other local communities. Consultations on the project were held with affected communities in August, but security at some of the meetings was reportedly heavy and observers described the meetings as a one-way dissemination of information from the government and the company to residents.

A series of protests against the acquisition of land for the Rempang Eco-City project were held in August and September, culminating in clashes with security forces on 7 September during which some protesters threw stones and water bottles and security forces responded with water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets. At least 20 protesters were injured and approximately 25 pupils from two schools located near the site of the protests required hospital treatment from the effects of tear gas. Following the events of 7 September, new joint police/military security posts were established on the island. According to the local branch of the NGO Legal Aid Institute, at least 35 people were charged with using or threatening to use violence against officials carrying out their duties, which carries a maximum prison sentence of one year and four months.4

Right to a healthy environment

Although Indonesia generated an increasing amount of its electricity from renewables, it remained heavily reliant on coal for electricity generation. Coal was also Indonesia’s biggest export product. Plans to phase out the use of fossil fuels in energy production, set out in Presidential Regulation No. 112 of 2022 on the Acceleration of Renewable Energy Development for Power Supply, were inadequate because, among other factors, although the regulation banned new coal-fired energy plants, it permits the development of those already planned. As such, the government proceeded with a planned 35 thousand-megawatt power generation project, agreed in 2015, involving the construction of 109 mainly coal-fired power plants across the country.

  1. “Indonesia: The Indonesian people have not yet gained freedom from state violence”, 16 August (Indonesian only)
  2. “Indonesia: Release three Papuan students from treason charge”, 8 August (Indonesian only)
  3. “Indonesia: Investigate the perpetrators of the murder of Michelle Kurisi and armed violence against civilians in Papua”, 30 August (Indonesian only)
  4. “Indonesia: Do not force Batam residents to accept national strategic project”, 8 September (Indonesian only)