Category Archives: briefing from West Papua Media

West Papua is still dangerous for journalism: Urgent reminder to all foreign journalists applying to report in West Papua

WestPapuaMedia Editorial / Urgent Safety Briefing

May 11, 2015

WestPapuaMedia is greatly concerned that the statements made on May 9 by Indonesian President Joko (Jokowi) Widodo in Jayapura regarding the ending of the foreign media ban for journalists to visit West Papua, is not being given due diligence by foreign media, and reminds all foreign media workers that West Papua is and still remains an incredibly dangerous place for journalists to report, and present an even greater threat to the safety of all journalism sources.

A full analysis of the actuality of the so-called “lifting” of the foreign media ban in West Papua will be released by West Papua Media’s team in the coming days, including analysis from our clandestine journalists who operate daily in the reality of the Papuan media environment, under threat constantly from Indonesian security forces.

This statement was made in the context of travelling the following day to Papua New Guinea, in bid to quash Melanesian support for West Papuan aspirations for self-determination, specifically the West Papuan bid to be granted observer status at the upcoming Melanesian Spearhead Group meetings

Despite Jokowi’s graceful and well executed “Juru Bicara” (Straight Talking) image, the reality on the ground in West Papua is that he has little control over the actions of security forces.  In west Papua.  Journalists, media workers, fixers and sources are routinely denied access, harassed, surveilled physically and electronically,, threatened, arrested, monstered, beaten, disappeared and even murdered by all the various organs of Indonesian colonial control in West Papua, with a list of perpetrators including (but not limited to) Police, Australian Trained Detachment 88 anti-terror commandos, military, National Intelligence Body (BIN), military intelligence, police intelligence, Kopassus special forces, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, forestry officials, customs, immigration, mining officials, Indonesian bureaucrats, pro-Jakarta transmigrant militias, and the ever-present Ojek (motorbike taxi) riders / intelligence officers.

The media freedom status in West Papua reached its lowest point in 2011, due to a series of murders, stabbings and disappearances of journalists across West Papua  This situation that prompted Reporters Without Borders to rank Indonesia at 146 out of 180 in the World Press Freedom Index, only climbing to 139th place for 2014, due to international monitoring led by West Papua Media and our network partners in West Papua.

This lifting of the foreign media ban is completely without power or credibility until both a formal Presidential Instruction is made, together with a national law is passed and enforced that penalizes anyone who prevents free, full and unfettered access for ALL media workers in Papua.

Jokowi’s real attitude is telling however.  Just a few hours later in Merauke, he was quoted in Antara with his real attitude to “media freedom” in West Papua. “Don’t ask that question, that’s enough,” Antara quoted Jokowi saying when he was asked about a fact that usually foreign journalists prefer to cover activities of illegal armed groups.

Operating in West Papua for journalists will remain an extremely dangerous activity.  Even though it is unlikely a foreign journalist will be physically harmed it is not unknown.  Foreign journalists have been beaten, poisoned, interrogated, and some have died in highly suspicious circumstances in the past.

However, it is journalists’ sources that are most at risk, especially if communications and data are left unsecured.  All journalists have an unbreakable ethical duty to ensure the safety of sources, and without specific technologies used.  West Papua Media has a suite of digital and practical technologies developed from our Safe Witness Journalism training units, and we also can provide secure handsets for journalists travelling to West Papua.

West Papua Media also can provide an unparalleled secure fixing service that ensures foreign journalists are fully briefed to the security situation in all parts of Papua, and to be able to report without putting any sources at risk.

Last August, one person died, many went into hiding, and 5 were arrested due to unsecured data, notes, emails and phone calls allegedly held by the two French journalists arrested in Wamena in August, against the express guarantees on source security given to West Papua Media.

Only journalists can prevent their sources being put in danger.  Make no mistake, Indonesian occupation forces will harm journalists’ sources and journalists seeking to report on human rights abuses and violations of freedom of expression.  We suggest all journalists seeking to report on Papua read our Source Protection Policy for more information, and contact us to arrange training for full data and communications security for mobile journalism.  WPM also offers the ONLY civil resistance coverage media safety training available, which we can arrange for a  reasonable cost.

However, WPM remains sceptical on the latest claims of lifting the foreign media ban.  There have been too many previous claims that this will end, including several by Jokowi himself. Let’s wait and see how and if the security forces even listen to their president.

There are some minimum tests that will prove if the media ban is lifted in Papua:

  • Will the most outspoken foreign journalists be allowed to report from West Papua with full media freedom and access?
  • A large number of Independent and Mainstream Journalists who have previously reported inside West Papua have been threatened and banned from WP by security forces – will our bans be lifted?
  • Journalists who seek to report on topics opposed by government or security forces must be allowed full and free access without let, danger or hindrance from security forces.
  • One of the WPM editors still have outstanding arrest warrants on Makar (Treason and Subversion), Destabilisation and Espionage charges for Legitimate journalism activities – charges that need to be rescinded immediately;
  • the assassination threats on all sources and journalists, including WPM staff, need to be ended, and those making them arrested;
  • all DPO (Daftar Pencarian Orang – or Wanted Persons list) listings on all media workers in Papua must be cancelled;
  • all journalists must be allowed free and unfettered access across Papua and West Papua without intelligence agencies, police or military harassment, surveillance (physical or electronic) or intimidation of journalists, witnesses, sources, fixers and assistants or their families;
  • and of course, free and unfettered access to ALL areas of Papua, including mining, forestry and resource extraction areas, prisons, and military operations areas .

To reiterate, until these minimum conditions are guaranteed by an actual InPres (Presidential Instruction) in law, with penalties enforced for any official that prevents or ignores it, then this is just an utterance.

Nevertheless, Jokowi did say it, he was interviewed about it, and this was the statement that was made. Whether or not it is really enacted doesn’t take away from the fact that here is a clear undertaking.

Of course, letting in foreign journalists who don’t believe the hype, who are currently on charge or banned from West Papua by Indonesia will be the real test.

And making sure that the police and military answer critical questions when they kill civilians is part of that (including not hanging up on phone calls from WPM).  It is highly unlikely that the State Violence Forces are going to suddenly stop tailing and harming journalists, human rights defenders and media workers, unless they are arrested for it.

WPM will still operate with great scepticism the alleged lifting of the Foreign media Ban in West Papua, and about anything Jakarta (or any government) ever says: that is the job of journalism. WPM will still need to operate clandestinely, and we will still need support to train and supply people for safe witness journalism. Now more than ever, West Papua Media needs you support to train and supply independent clandestine journalists with the tools to safely report from the ground in West Papua.  It costs $3000 to support one journalist with secure and robust equipment for mobile newsgathering, $3000 to provide intensive Safe Witness Journalism training.  You can help by visiting this page to make a donation or longer term support.

This alleged end of the media ban is stage-managed and not at all genuine.  As far as we are concerned, the Papua Media Blackout remains firmly in place.

WestPapuaMedia Editorial

West Papua Media’s April break from publishing

Editorial Statement

April 19, 2014

West Papua Media has recently taken a month long break from publishing original content.  This has occurred for a variety of reasons, but please rest assured, we will be back on deck in full capacity in the lead up to the May 1 cycle of Papuan resistance to provide necessary and timely coverage of civil resistance and human rights issues.

One part of this break has been due to events beyond human control, such as the presence of Nick Chesterfield, Coordinating Editor, in remote areas in northern Australia for training, cultural and personal reasons, and subsequent inability to travel or access reliable internet  due to being repeatedly caught in the path of a recent category five Cyclone, which cause significant flooding and road damage.

Secondly, WPM’s Editorial team has been working from a skeleton staff since January, due to training and field work commitments, and also sustainability issues faced by every member of our journalism crew – a situation which has forced us to work cash jobs to survive.  This could have been avoided had we received enough recurring donations (subscriptions) to pay our costs, but unfortunately the lack of funding for phone calls for example means we are unable to verify and initiate complex stories to WPM’s high standards.   You can help us increase our capacity in the future by clicking on the big red Donate button at West Papua Media, or if you are sharing on Facebook, by clicking on the link at our mirror URL at http://westpapuamedia.tumblr.com/post/79287889774/donate-to-support-media-freedom-for-west-papua (WPM has had to do this as Facebook is still banning all WPM links due to malicious false reporting by the Indonesian government).  A commitment of a regular donation or subscription is the most useful way you can support us financially.  If you cannot support us financially, we are always looking for folks to donate skills with translations, social media dissemination, and crowdfunding support (to name a few tasks) and would welcome you into the team.

Thirdly, we have been organising some in-depth fixing work for international media which has taken some significant time and effort, but the results will be worth it later in the year.

WPM Editors are also currently continuing in depth investigations into incidents in Yapen, Paniai, the northern PNG border area and the Highland regions, and of course ongoing investigations in other sectors of West Papuan civil society.

Finally, we are also completing consolidation and curriculum development for our Safe Witness Journalism training projects, and about to start testing and some exciting new partnerships with global partners committed to the education and safety of citizen and professional media.  We will keep you posted as these partnership progress.

Of course, our Twitter feed (twitter.com/westpapuamedia) has all the latest breaking news from across the wider WPM network of partners, and will continue to be the first point at which breaking news is posted.

Even when WPM is not publishing, our original partner Tabloid Jubi’s English-language West Papua Daily will provide updates for critical news.  We have a RSS feed on the right hand sidebar of our site.

So, see you back soon!

 

Thousands flee in fear of heavy civilian casualties as TNI begin Highlands reprisal offensive

Major Reprisals begin with house to house searches, village and church burnings in Tingginambut by Indonesian Security Forces after TPN shoot dead 8 Indonesian special forces soldiers.

from the West Papua Media investigative team*

February 28, 2013

EXCLUSIVE: Special Investigative Report

Local communities around Sinak, Gurage, Mulia and Tingginambut in Puncak Jaya regency have felt the first effects of Indonesian military reprisals, after West Papuan independence guerrillas under General Goliat Tabuni confirmed that they had killed eight Indonesian special forces soldiers and four non-Papuan civilians on February 21 in two separate incidents.

The shootings were carried out after Kopassus officers continued to build military posts on a local sacred burial site, despite being requested not to by both community representatives and emissaries from the West Papua National Liberation Army (Tentara Pembebasan Nasional Papua Barat  – TPN-PB) under Tabuni.  TPN spokespeople have said that the shootings were done “to assert West Papuan sovereignty against Indonesian colonial occupation”, and to assert West Papuan cultural rights to defend their customary practices against ongoing military brutality.

A spokesman for the Goliat Tabuni’s TPN-OPM command, Nikolas Tabuni, told West Papua Media in a statement that the killings were not without cause.

“Prior to the incident TNI had wanted to make a military post in the region of Tingginambut and the TPN OPM had sent a letter to the TNI asking them not to’ go ahead with the military post construction at Tingginambut.   As that is an area of which the land is formally claimed to be owned by the TPN OPM, and as it is also a sacred area under indigenous customary law of the indigenous community of that area. However TNI disregarded the request (in principle) and continued with the construction. As a result TPN OPM carried out the shooting on 21 February,” the statement read.
Nikolas Tabuni also denied statements from the Indonesian President and Police that the shootings were connected with Indonesian election campaigns in Papua.  “This shooting had absolutely nothing to do with the election of the Bupati (Regency leader) for the region of Ilaga in the Regency of Puncak Jaya in the Province of Papua, and had nothing to do with the general election of the Provincial Governor. The shooting was purely concerned with Papuan independence and the activities of the TNI in West Papua.”

Evidence of collective punishment emerges

Despite an effective information blockade imposed by thousands of Indonesian army (TNI) troops and Police, and unchallenged by a compliant Jakarta-based colonial media, detailed reports are beginning to filter through from independent sources in the area of the military offensive, painting a vastly different picture to that reported by Indonesian and international media since the shooting of the Kopassus soldiers.

TNI_puncak_jaya
TNI soldiers manning checkpoint near Sinak, Puncak Jaya (Photo: jpnn.com/ malanesia.com)

At least 1000 members of various Indonesian security forces are currently occupying and laying siege to entire communities around Puncak Jaya, with thousands more troops being sent in from other centres in Papua, according to local church, human rights, and  sources in contact with West Papua Media stringers across the conflict area.

TNI 753 Btn interrogating locals in Sinak (photo: Malanesia.com)
TNI 753 Btn interrogating locals in Sinak (photo: Malanesia.com)

According to these sources, the villages of Tingginambut, Trugi and Nelekom have been occupied by TNI forces since Sunday February 24, with villagers being forced to give all their food and houses to soldiers, and being subject to arbitrary and harsh interrogations.  TPN sources have also stated that troops are using the villages as strategic hamlets to prepare for a hunt and destroy mission to flush out the forces of Tabuni, who have claimed they are well prepared for guerrilla defence.

In Nambut and Gurake (Gurage) villages in Sinak District, security forces began to carry out house to house sweeping operations on February 26, and in villages in  Tingginambut, Puncak Jaya.  According to our sources, the TNI Commander in the area has commanded “that the sweeping operation is to be continued until the culprits from last Thursdays killings are arrested”.  The TNI have stated to local people they “need to see 11 persons sentenced,” according to the reliable source.

Two civilians were said to be arrested on February 27, according to Indonesian military reports, however independent sources could not confirm if any other civilians have been arrested.

As of February 26, at least 18 houses have been burned to the ground, 5 GIDI churches razed, 2 schools and a library have been destroyed by the combined Police/TNI forces in Tingginambut, according to reliable church sources who have safely relayed data from witnesses to West Papua Media stringers.   Witnesses have also reported that soldiers are deliberately burning and destroying food gardens and shooting livestock, including over one hundred pigs.  There are fears of a major humanitarian disaster unfolding with the reports of the destruction of food gardens and livestock, an act of collective punishment on a civilian population.

Thousands of people from the surrounding villages have fled to the high mountains and according to church sources, the entire community populations have fled throughout the area of Gurake, Sinak, Tinggi Neri, Trugi and Nelekom.  Exact numbers are not currently known but local sources indicate that several thousand people, mainly subsistence farmers, live in the area.

Human rights workers have also reported from Mulia in Puncak Jaya that townspeople are greeting news of the offensive with panic and preparing to flee.

Reports are difficult to verify as the only media personnel allowed into the operations area are those with approval from the Indonesian army, and very few of these journalist have actually ventured into the area.  Stringers for West Papua Media in Puncak Jaya and the Baliem Valley have reported that independent journalists and human rights workers have been prevented from travelling into the area by a de facto Military Operations Area being applied across the entire highlands, including the regional centre of Wamena.

Civilians are staying off the streets as reliable local sources report a massive combat army and police show of force, including house to house searches.  On the morning of February 28, witnesses have reported to West Papua Media stringers that 8 Brimob trucks have left

Troops patrolling Wamena - February 25 (photo: supplied)
Troops patrolling Wamena – February 25 (photo: supplied)

Wamena heading to Puncak Jaya this morning, with large numbers of troops patrolling the streets across Wamena also..

Thousands more troops flooding in to attempt to destroy Tabuni’s TPN.

Thousands of heavily armed combat soldiers from Battalions 751 (Jayapura), 753 (Nabire) , and supported by the Wamena 756 Batallion, are reportedly being flown into Tingginambut over the next few days from several centres across Papua.  They are joining together with over 1000 extra Brimob paramilitary police (in addition to the at least 1000 Polda Papua police already in the highlands), and allegedly several units of the notorious Australian-funded Detachment 88 anti-terror commando, to hunt for Tabuni’s forces.  Several media reports in Indonesia are also claiming a Kostrad (Strategic Reserve) battalion is being deployed from outside Papua, though this has not been independently confirmed.

Local sources have reported that each TNI platoon is accompanied by a platoon of police, as the operation is officially under control of the Police as a “law enforcement” operation.  However, the witnesses have reported that the TNI are clearly in command.   TNI spokespeople in Jakarta have told Indonesian media outlets that there is no plan to increase non-organic troop presence in the area, but local sources are reporting a vastly different story.

West Papua Media sources in Wamena observing the airport have confirmed that two TNI Puma Helicopters are involved in the operation constantly ferrying troops between Wamena and Tingginambut, and stopping only for refuelling and crew changes.  Three Hercules c130H aircraft have each made 3 drops to Wamena then the troops have entered by road from Wamena.   Observers in Nabire have also noted daily departures of three trucks of troops from the notorious Battalion 753 Nabire, to the west of the highlands to reinforce the offensive in Tingginambut.

Human rights and church sources in Puncak Jaya and internationally have expressed deep concern about the potential for heavy civilian casualties to occur with the intensified military campaign, given extra impetus after the Indonesian President, General Susilo Bambang Yudoyhono, called for firm action on Tabuni.

Multiple narratives from Jakarta

The exact circumstances of the deaths of the eight Kopassus special forces soldiers are now mired in claim and counter-claim, with soldiers’ personal accounts of the attack conflicting with the official narrative picked up by Jakarta media.  What is confirmed is that the eight commandos – Sertu (Chief Sergeant) Udine, Sertu Frans, Sertu Romadhon, Pratu (Private 1st class) Mustofa, Sertu Edy, Praka (Chief Private) Jojon, Praka Wempi and Sertu Mudin – were killed by a cascading attack led by guerrillas of Goliat Tabuni’s TPN group as they went to the Sinak airstrip to collect cellular monitoring equipment designed to track international phone communications in the area.

However, one survivor of the attack testified in the Jakarta Post that his group was attacked by men, women and children all carrying spears, machetes and knives.  According to the TNI survivors as relayed to JP, the platoon of Kopassus was unarmed at the time of the attack, which happened as the soldiers were installing and moving communications monitoring equipment.

Troops in Tingginambut after being shot at in helicopter by TPN, Feb 24 (Photo: TNI)
Troops in Tingginambut after being shot at in helicopter by TPN, Feb 21 (Photo: TNI)

TPN forces also opened fire on a Puma helicopter that was evacuating the wounded commandos, lightly injuring three helicopter crew.

West Papua Media sources have provided a highly credible and technical but unconfirmed report that two “very large weapons” that were being moved into Sinak, and went missing during the raid by TPN.  According to our sources, there is “extreme concern from the TNI around this particular issue.”

“Apparently they have been trying to find out the whereabouts of these weapons, which suggests they might be too heavy to quickly and easily move,” explained the source.  Further investigation is still required, but credible observers in the area believe that these heavy weapons may be artillery pieces – the presence of which in Puncak Jaya represents a serious and dangerous escalation of TNI hardware to be used against civilians.  West Papua Media believes any confirmed presence of artillery is connected with the TNI’s stated aim to destroy Goliat Tabuni’s group, but any use of these weapons will place a large number of civilians at risk.  It is not the first time the TNI have used artillery against West Papuan civilians: the Bloody Wamena massacres of 2000 and 2003, as well as the aerial bombardment campaigns in the 1977 and 1984.

Indonesian outrage fuels civil society questions on Papuan motivations for resistance

The killings of the soldiers have generated outrage in Jakarta, with nationalist politicians calling for cordon and destroy missions in what human rights observers have said amount to collective civilian punishment by an occupying force.

Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin – indicted as a war criminal

Indonesian Deputy Defence Minister Lieutenant-General (LG) (Rtd) Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin – indicted as a war criminal by the UN for his role in East Timor – on Friday ordered the TNI to conduct heavy “tactical actions” in order to prevent the shooting from occurring again.  “The tactical action includes to chase, apprehend and destroy,” the deputy minister said here on Friday.  He said the latest shootings by the separatist rebels did not affect TNI`s strategic policies in Papua. TNI so far did not have a plan to send more troops to Papua, he added.

However SBY also claimed in an interview with MetroTV that “no violence” would be used to solve the situation.  The situation on the ground has illustrated that security forces have no interest in making SBY’s words truthful.

Despite  the nationalist rhetoric, there are many in Indonesia who are seeing this as a wake up call to end Jakarta’s use of state violence against civilians in Papua as it default policy.

The Indonesian Regional Representatives Council, or DPD, called for a necessary cessation of military operations to end the prolonged violence in Indonesia’s easternmost provinces, according to a report in the Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

The presence of the non-organic personnel from TNI special forces cause animosity among Papuan groups, who have launched attacks against them, according to the report.  “If Jakarta wants to end violence, the militaristic approach has to stop, and all non-garrison troops from the military elite forces must be withdrawn from the two provinces because their presence and their irregular operations have triggered attacks on garrison troops and innocent civilians,” DPD deputy chairman Laode Ida said on Tuesday.

A coalition of Papuan human rights groups urged the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) to conduct a thorough investigation into the soldiers’ killings, saying the presence of Komnas HAM could prevent human rights violations that occurred during TNI sweep operations after shooting incidents, according to a report in the Jakarta Globe.

“We encourage law enforcers to be professional in carrying out their tasks. They must ensure that their attempts to find the perpetrators do not turn into seeking revenge against all Papuans,” Ferry Marisan from the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (Elsam) said in Jayapura on Monday.

The TNI has loudly complained in Indonesian media of hurt feelings about the loss of its soldiers, with the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) leaders have been forced to apologise for “insensitive” remarks saying killing soldiers is not a human rights abuse.   But not all observers are showing sympathy for the loss of the soldiers lives, pointing to the fact that the military are occupying Papuan land against the wishes of the local people.

“One has to remember that soldiers who were shot were Kopassus special forces who have been involved in ongoing human rights abuses right across Puncak Jaya, including village burnings, collective arrests and punishment, burning of villages, and acts of torture.  Many observers suspect these soldiers were part of units involved in conducting many OTK (Unknown persons) shootings blamed on West Papuans,” a long time human rights worker in the highlands told West Papua Media by email.  “These are not innocence, nor babes in the woods; Kopassus are the original wolves in the forest.”

Still, other observers believe the actions point to an assertion of tribal identity, as a complex motivator behind the declaration of Papuan sovereignty inherent in the armed resistance against Indonesia’s militarist policy in the highlands.  An Australian church worker who worked for many years with highland communities in Puncak Jaya made the observation to West Papua Media that this was not simply an act of resistance to Indonesian colonisation, but an assertion of traditional and indigenous Papuan law and cultural survival against the onslaught of an occupying colonial army.

“This must be looked at from another perspective that is relevant.  As many indigenous communities including Australian Aboriginal Peoples and traditional highland Papuan people, observe around the world, if outsiders came into their sacred lands, they would also feel compelled at whatever cost to themselves to spear the outsider to compensate (violations of) their traditional law if they belonged to the clan that was legally responsible (under customary law) to guard that site,”  she explained.

“Indigenous Law is simply not negotiable on things like that. Things have only changed in Australia because non-Indigenous systems have for years now in Australia been locking up those indigenous peoples who have acted to maintain their law,” the former church worker explained.

“As I understand the TNI despite warnings were acting in a way that broke the Papuans’ traditional laws regarding adat (Customary law), and as the TPN are still holding strong to their traditional laws, so they acted in accordance with the laws they are living by. I can’t see any difference at that level as Melanesian peoples separated historically but only a short distance of water. The difference is that the TPN OPM represent groups that have not yet been overcome by the laws of a colonising power whereas RI does not recognise the traditional Papuan customary laws,” she said

A prominent Papuan human rights activist, Yasons Sambon, has reported that the killings are causing many military families to reconsider  their support for the Indonesian colonial occupation of Papua.  In an interview with the wife of one of the eight soldiers killed at Sinak, recorded on February 23 after the soldiers funeral in a car by the old market in Sentani, the widow called for Indonesia to abandon its occupation of Papua.

Funeral of Sentani based Kopassus officer killed in SInak incident, Feb 24. (supplied)
Funeral of Sentani based Kopassus officer killed in SInak incident, Feb 24. (supplied)

The wife of an Indonesian soldier from Sentani said in a regretful tone, “SBY would be better off giving independence to the people of Papua if it meant our husbands wouldn’t become victims. Our husbands have been murdered. What will be my fate, and the fate of my children, now that my husband has been murdered? We want to hold onto our husbands but they also have a duty to the country. They are murdered and it’s the women and children who become victims, because if they aren’t at work, then what will we eat?”

“It’s better if independence is given to the people of Papua so that we can be safe,” she said.

*from the West Papua Media Editorial team, with additional reporting from stringers in Wamena, Tingginambut, Jayapura, Nabire and sources in Jakarta.

West Papuan Morning Star flags flying at Federation Square, Melbourne (Australia), December 1, 2012.  (Photo: West Papua Media)

A History of the Morning Star Flag of West Papua

by Leonie Tanggahma for West Papua Media

Historical Analysis

December 1, 2012

West Papuan Morning Star flags flying at Federation Square, Melbourne (Australia), December 1, 2012.  (Photo: West Papua Media)
West Papuan Morning Star flags flying at Federation Square, Melbourne (Australia), December 1, 2012. (Photo: West Papua Media)

For more than 50 years, the Morning Star Flag has been the symbol of West Papua’s unity and its quest for Freedom and Justice. Thousands have been inspired by it, as it became the main icon embodying the struggle for Independence. And this flag, just like any other flag of any other country, has a history, a proud history.

5 April 1961: Inauguration of the New Guinea Council

On 5 April 1961, a representative body for the then Dutch colony of Netherlands New Guinea was inaugurated: the New Guinea Council or Nieuw Guinea Raad[1] [1]. It was the task of the Council to make the wishes of the Papuan people known on the issue of self-determination, within a year. However, news came that the United States of America and Indonesia were putting pressure on the Dutch  to convince them to transfer its colony to the United Nations, and then to the Indonesian administration. The members of the New Guinea Council immediately gathered for an emergency session and appointed a National Committee to draft a Manifesto expressing the wishes of the Papuans which would include national symbols for the upcoming State.

19 October 1961: Flag and other national symbols officially adopted by way of Manifesto

Committee members Bonay, Jouwe, Tanggahma and Torey were asked to submit designs for the flag and arms. Mr. Torey withdrew and a choice had to be made between the designs of Messrs. Bonay, Jouwe and Tanggahma. The designs of Mr. Jouwe were accepted by 14 votes to 17 as national symbols.  After the national symbols were officially adopted, everyone was visibly moved and proud. According to official testimonies: “Then, all those present rose from their seat and while the emotion was clearly overtaking all those present the manifesto was read by the Chair of the National Committee, Mr. Willem Inury; it was subsequently unanimously accepted and signed by the National Committee. The attendees were then invited to also sign the manifesto … The national flag consists of a red vertical band along the hoist side, with a white [five-pointed] star in the center. Adjacent to the red band, is a series of [consecutive] blue and white lines, with a total of seven blue and six white lines.”[2]

This manifesto dated 19 October 1961 stated that: “in accordance with the ardent desire and the yearning of our people for our own independence, through the National Committee and our parliament, the New Guinea Council, insist with the Government of Netherlands New Guinea and the Netherlands Government that as of 1 November 1961,

a) our flag be hoisted beside the Netherlands flag;

b) our national anthem (“Hai Tanahku Papua”) be sung and played in addition to the Netherlands national anthem;

c) our country bear the name of Papua Barat (West Papua), and

d) our people be called: the Papuan people.”[3]

he Manifesto of 1961 may not have been an independence Proclamation, but its wording was strong and clear in relation to the will of the Papuan people to become independent, it was a declaration of intent, as it also stated that: “On that basis, we, the Papuan people, demand to get our place in the midst of other independent nations and peoples. In addition, we, the Papuan people, make our contribution to the preservation of peace and freedom around the world.”[4]

1 December 1961: Official inauguration of the flag as a territorial flag

The Dutch accepted most of the terms of the Manifesto except for the date of installation and the denomination of the flag: the inauguration of the flag happened on 1 December and not on 1 November as requested by the Papuans. The General Assembly of the UN was to hold a meeting in late November on the issue, and recognition by the Dutch of the symbols could have been interpreted as an endorsement of an independent West Papua by the Dutch Government. The Dutch did not want to provoke the Indonesians, even if it meant that the demand of the Papuans would not be heard. In terms of the denomination, the Dutch authorities recognized the new flag as a territorial flag (landsvlag) and not as national flag.

All the specifications concerning the flag and other Papuan symbols can be found in the so-called “Territorial Flag Ordinance” (or “Landsvlagordonnantie”) Number 68 of 1961. This Ordinance specifies among others that: “(1) The territorial flag of Netherlands New Guinea shall be a rectangle consisting of a vertical wide red striped at the hoist and seven horizontal blue stripes separated by six white stripes. In the centre of the vertical red stripe is a white five-pointed star, with one point pointing vertically upwards. The five points of the star shall each form an angle of 36 degrees. (2) The height and length of the flag shall bear to each other the proportion of 2 to 3. The width of the red stripe shall be two fifth of the height of the flag. The blue and white stripes shall be equal in height. The diameter of the circumscribed circle of the star shall be seven eighths of the width of the red stripe.” [5]  Another ordinance (Number 69 of 1961) provided for a national anthem for Netherlands New Guinea. Ordinance Number 70 of 1961, also called the “Administrative Order for the implementation of Section 2 of the Territorial Flag Ordinance”, stipulates the terms and conditions under which the flag is to be raised. And Section 5 states: “This Order, which may be cited as Flag Order, shall come into operation on December 1, 1961.”[6]

And so on 1 December it happened, for the first time, our Morning Star flag was raised, next to the Dutch flag; our national anthem (”Hai Tanahku Papua”) was played and sung together with the Dutch national anthem; our country was given the name of Papua Barat (West Papua), and our people were given a name: the Papuan people.

Nine years of international Fraud and Deception led by greed, racism and the total disrespect for human life

Just 18 days after the installation of the Papuan symbols, on 19 December 1961, the President of Indonesia, Soekarno, made his call for the infamous Tri Komando Rakyat (or TRIKORA), the People’s Threefold Command. On that day he called for a total mobilization of the people of Indonesia, (1) to destroy what he considered a Dutch-promoted Papuan State; (2) to fly the Indonesian flag over the territory of West Papua, which he erroneously called West Irian; (3) to prepare for war over what he called West Irian. For Indonesians this represented the so-called liberation of the territory from the Dutch. For Papuans the TRIKORA was the call for an illegal military aggression from a country which did not recognize its sovereignty. Military aggression was followed by legal deception as the Dutch and the Indonesians signed the New York Agreement of 15 August 1962, an agreement regarding the future of the Papuans but they themselves were never consulted. The Papuans were betrayed by those who signed this agreement which regulated the transfer of the administration of New Guinea to the United Nations. This administration lasted from 1 October 1962 to 1 May 1963. Then it was to be handed over to Indonesia for a period of six or seven years, after which the Papuans were supposed to freely choose, through a referendum, whether to join Indonesia or become an independent nation. Legal deception was followed by political fraud. In August 1969 the so-called “Act of Free Choice” was organized. At the time, West Papua had been under Indonesian rule for over six years: every expression of Papuan nationalism was systematically bloodily suppressed, possible opponents were arrested and tortured, punitive expeditions were carried out across the country and bombings and rocket attacks were conducted by the Indonesian army. The so-called “Act of Free Choice” itself was pure deception, fraud and deceit, a stage-managed play in which Indonesian officials selected 1026 Papuan electors who voted on behalf of 800,000 Papuans at the time. The electors were all carefully prepared for the Musyawarah: an Indonesian system of decision-making where there is unanimous agreement: 1025 Papuans finally decided unanimously that they wanted to belong to the Republic of Indonesia (one was sick that day). The normal one-man/one-vote principle usually applied for a referendum had not been respected as the Indonesians argued that Papuans were too primitive!

1 July 1971: the territorial flag becomes a national flag

In protest against the failure of the implementation of the “Act of Free Choice” the Free Papua Movement (OPM) proclaimed the independence of the Republic of West Papua on 1 July 1971.  Under Article 2 of UN resolution 1514: “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”  Another UN resolution, Resolution 1541, explains that exercising your right to self-determination means that you are allowed to choose between independence, autonomy or integration within an existing state. Since the beginning, the Papuans chose for independence; and they opted for that same option time and time again.

The Manifesto of 1961 was a declaration of intent; the Proclamation of 1971 was the realization of that intent. The proclamation stated: “With the help and blessing of God Almighty, we take this opportunity to declare to you all that today, 1 July 1971, the land and people of Papua have been proclaimed to be free and independent (de facto and de jure)”.

On 1 July 1971, the Papuans chose to take the Morning Star Flag which had been recognized by the Dutch as a territorial symbol. The Papuans decided to proclaim it a NATIONAL symbol; they did the same with the national anthem (Hai Tanahku Papua).


[1] Newspaper report. Sydney Morning Herald, 6 April 1961.

[2] Official government magazine Pengantara of 21 October 1961.

[3] Official government magazine Pengantara of 21 October 1961

[4] Official government magazine Pengantara of 21 October 1961

[5] Bulletin of Ordinances and Decrees of the Government of Netherlands New Guinea, 1961, No. 68, issued on 20 November 1961.

[6] Bulletin of Ordinances and Decrees of the Government of Netherlands New Guinea, 1961, No. 70, issued on 20 November 1961