The Catholic archbishop of Merauke in Papua, Indonesia, this week condemned the harassment of a drunken man, who turned out to be a person with disability, by two air force personnel.
The incident, which happened on July 26, became viral on social media with netizens recalling the tragic death of George Floyd in the hands of the police in the United States in 2020.
“They cannot be treated harshly. They are not animals,” said Archbishop Petrus Canisius Mandagi of Merauke in a statement released on July 28.
In photos and video posted on social media, two Air Force personnel are seen trying to subdue a drunken man with disability.
“Every human being … whether healthy or sick, is a human being, an image of God,” said the archbishop.
Witnesses said the man was pinned to the ground while the soldiers stepped on his head.
An Air Force spokesman said the incident was a “misunderstanding” while the two military personnel, who were later detained, already issued an apology.
Archbishop Medagi said authorities should continue to investigate the incident, saying it fueled the sentiments of the Papuan people against Indonesia’s military.
“The enforcement of the law is a must, but [it] should be administered with love, tenderness, compassion, and not with revenge and violence,” he said.
The separatist movement in Papua has been a delicate issue in Indonesia.
Early this year, Jakarta labeled armed separatist rebels in the region as terrorists, while legislators passed a proposal to revise and extend the 2001 Special Autonomy Law that underpins state-led development in the region.
These moves have added to a long list of what observers described as “contentious issues” that include the strong-handed approach by security personnel even of local disturbances.
In his statement, Archbishop Mandagi called on authorities to treat Papuans “with full respect and dignity.”
“Based on the latest incident, I strongly urge that (the) Indonesia military should change their approach to Papuans,” said the prelate.
He said that with increasing reports of military abuses by some military personnel, “it is an urgent matter … that every military personnel should be first trained how to behave toward native Papuans.”