Video of Deaf Man Pinned to Ground by Security Forces Sparks Outcry

Two Indonesian officers were detained after the incident in Papua, where rights abuses are rampant, according to monitors.
Indonesian air force; assault
Left: A deaf Papuan man is assaulted by Indonesian military officers. Right: Indonesian Air Force personnel participate in an assault drill in Blang Bintang, Aceh province. Collage: VICE / CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN / AFP

Indonesia’s government apologized after security forces were filmed pinning a deaf man to the ground and putting a knee on his head, in a video that went viral and prompted comparisons to police brutality in the United States.

Tensions between the Indonesian government and Indigenous peoples in Papua province have existed for years, with rights groups documenting numerous abuses. In 2019, there were protests against systemic racism experienced by Papuans across the archipelago.


The latest incident took place on Monday at a food stall in the Papuan town of Merauke, reported Reuters

Footage shared widely online shows an unarmed deaf Papuan man being assaulted by two officers on patrol who had arrived at the roadside stall to break up a dispute between the man and the owner.

One officer was seen forcing the Papuan man into an arm lock before dragging him outside and forcing him to the ground, all while making threats. The officer also accused him of being drunk. The other officer then joined in and stepped on the man’s head. The man’s hands were pinned behind his back and he was heard groaning in pain.

Activists later identified the Papuan man as Steven Yadohamang and called for justice and accountability from authorities. The two officers were later confirmed to be members of the Indonesian Air Force.

Prominent journalist Victor Mambor verified the video and said he was the first person to share it publicly on his Twitter account. It had gone viral by Tuesday. But shortly afterwards, his account was hacked and disabled, and not for the first time. 

“I’m used to hacking attempts and being doxxed because I raise awareness about abuse stories involving West Papuans,” Mambor told VICE World News. “But this latest incident made me extra angry, not only because it was a fellow Papuan who was publicly humiliated—he was deaf and harmless. The authorities were barbaric.” 


“The authorities were barbaric.”

A top aide to President Joko Widodo released a statement condemning the incident and said that it was “a form of excessive force and unlawful conduct.” The statement identified the victim as a person with a disability who was unarmed and did not resist the officers.

The Indonesian Air Force apologized in a video published on Tuesday. “The incident is entirely the fault of our members, and there are no underlying intentions whatsoever, especially not official instructions,” Air Force marshal Fadjar Prasetyo said, confirming that the two officers had been detained and the case was being investigated.

“We will evaluate all of our members and take firm action against [those] at fault,” Prasetyo added.

But the damage was done. Indonesians on social media reacted with outrage and condemned the actions of the security forces. 

“The man is clearly disabled. How could they not see it? This is disgusting abuse by the authorities,” said a Twitter user. “Indonesia already has an underlying problem handling people with disabilities and mental disorders, it has been documented the way they torture them,” said another. 

“That, combined with the inherent racism towards Papuans, is a total recipe for disaster,” went another comment.


Despite the outrage, human rights activists and watchdogs said the incident was hardly surprising.  

Veronica Koman, a leading human rights activist and lawyer known for raising awareness about abuses in Papua and West Papua, referenced the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S. and called for accountability.

She told VICE World News that incidents like the one captured in the video were not standalone events.

“This was definitely not the first time it’s happened to West Papuan people, and it keeps happening because of impunity,” she said. Koman also highlighted a string of similar incidents that played out across Indonesia including one involving a West Papuan who was assaulted by police officers but was later convicted by a court.  

“Papuan lives matter. But Indonesia has not learned anything about racism or been willing or able to address this issue seriously,” she said.

Jakarta-based author and Human Rights Watch researcher Andreas Harsono echoed Koman’s views and cited systemic racism as an underlying issue of human rights abuses in the area.

“Racism is deeply rooted within the Indonesian military and the police, and has been a persistent problem among many Indonesian police officers who [continue to] look down on and mistreat Indigenous Papuans,” he told VICE World News.

“Apologies are very common but abusive officers are not tried nor dismissed from the military or police. It has been like this for nearly five decades.” 

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