Papuan lawyers call for impartial probe into woman killed over NZ hostage

The evacuation of Michelle Kurisi's body
The evacuation of Michelle Kurisi's body in one of the districts in Lanny Jaya Regency, in the Papua Mountains, last week. Image: Jubi/Dok Jayawijaya Police

Jubi News

The Human Rights Lawyers Association (PAHAM) Papua has demanded a “thorough and impartial” investigation into the death of Michelle Kurisi, a civilian involved in gathering information about a New Zealand pilot held hostage by West Papuan pro-independence fighters.

She was tragically killed on August 28 in Kolawa District, Lanny Jaya Regency, in the Mountainous Papua Province.

Following Kurisi’s killing, a statement claiming responsibility for the act was made by the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) spokesperson, Sebby Sambom.

The TPNPB alleged that the victim had collaborated with security forces and had engaged in spying activities during her visit to Nduga, where she was collecting data on refugees, including information related to the release of the New Zealand pilot Philip Mehrtens who has been held hostage by a TPNPB group since February 7.

Gustaf R. Kawer, chair of PAHAM Papua, said that the focus of the investigation should not be to find a scapegoat or advance a politically motivated narrative.

Instead, it should prioritise an independent inquiry that delved into the victim’s daily life, her occupation, work-related relationships, and her mission to Nduga, including identifying the institutions or parties she was collaborating with.

He said it was crucial to determine who was with her until she met her tragic end.

‘Close ties with police officers’
“Based on PAHAM Papua’s digital tracing and monitoring efforts,” Gustaf Kawer said in a media release, “it appears that the victim had close ties with several high-ranking police officers in Papua and was actively involved in various conflicts in the region.”

Therefore there was a pressing need for an in-depth, impartial investigation into Michelle Kurisi’s death by a neutral entity.

This would help prevent claims and narratives driven by political interests.

Kawer stressed the importance of gathering witnesses and evidence — including the victim’s digital footprint — her recent activities, and communications with various parties, particularly during her trip to Nduga.

These elements were critical in unravelling the motive behind her murder, he said.

Furthermore, the victim’s participation in a a webinar titled “Indonesia Walk Out Why?” hosted by Bishop Joshua Tewuh was noteworthy.

During this event, she expressed support for the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) delegation and criticised the Indonesian government strongly.

Speculation about motive
Given her recent track record, there was speculation about the motive behind her murder, Kawer said.

It was possible that her death was not solely orchestrated by the TPNPB but could involve groups with vested interests in Papua, aiming to silence her for her statements or to manipulate the narrative surrounding the Papua conflict.

In light of these circumstances, Gustaf Kawer urged the Indonesian government to establish an independent team, through the Indonesian National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM), to investigate cases of extrajudicial killings thoroughly.

This action was essential to prevent unfounded claims and protect civilians in Papua, whether by the TPNPB or the security forces,he said.

Republished with permission.

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