Category Archives: Papua Briefings

West Papua Oil Palm Atlas: The companies behind the plantation explosion

From our hardworking partners at AwasMIFEE

April 30, 2015

West Papua Oil Palm Atlas:
The companies behind the plantation explosion.

-a comprehensive investigation into the oil palm industry in West Papua,
published by awasMIFEE and Pusaka, together with local Papuan
organisations Belantara Papua, Bin Madag Hom, Jasoil, SKP KAME and Jerat
Papua, and Sawit Watch.

Available for download:


Indonesia’s oil palm industry is moving east. With large tracts of land
increasingly difficult to find in Sumatra and Borneo, plantation
companies are now focussing their attention on Indonesia’s eastern
frontier: the small islands of the Maluku archipelago and especially the
conflict-ridden land of West Papua.

In 2005 there were only five oil palm plantations operating in West
Papua. By the end of 2014 there were 21 operational plantations. This
rapid expansion is set to continue with another 20 concessions at an
advanced stage of the permit process, and many more companies that have
been issued with an initial location permit. If all these plantations
were developed, more than 2.6 million hectares of land would be used up,
the vast majority of which is currently tropical forest.

Almost without exception, these plantations have caused conflict with
the local indigenous communities who depend on the forest – lowland
Papuans are mostly hunters and gatherers to some degree. The conflicts
have centred around community’s refusal to hand over their land, demand
for justice in the cases where they feel the land has been taken from
them by deceit or intimidation, horizontal conflicts between
neighbouring villages or clans, action by indigenous workers who feel
they are exploited, or aggression by police or military working as
security guards for the plantation companies.

The West Papua Oil Palm Atlas, published by awasMIFEE, Pusaka and six
other organisations, is an attempt to provide a picture of this
developing industry. Who are the companies involved? Where are they
operating? Which areas will be the next hotspots? The aim is to be part
of a process to push for more open and accessible information about
resource exploitation industries in West Papua – currently local
administrations and companies are often reluctant to share information
about permits, meaning that communities often know nothing of plantation
plans until a company shows up, trying to acquire their land.

Indonesian law does recognise communal land rights for indigenous
customary communities, but in reality those communities often face
considerable pressure to give up that land, and are rarely given more
than US$30 per hectare in compensation. It is hoped that this
publication can become a tool for indigenous peoples and social
movements who wish to understand the oil palm industry and defend their
forest against these land grabbers, as they themselves should be the
ones to determine what kinds of development will benefit their communities.

For environmentalists and supporters of indigenous struggles around the
world, we hope that this will also be a useful insight into the dynamics
of the plantation industry and the threats it is causing in the third
largest tropical forest in the world. Using the excuse of the conflict
around the independence movement, the Indonesian government makes it
very difficult for international observers to access West Papua, and
this has probably also resulted in a lack of awareness internationally
about the ecological threats. Yesterday (29th April) human rights groups
throughout West Papua, Indonesia and in over 22 cities around the world
held demonstrations for open access to Papua, which has long been a
demand of many Papuan movements. Publishing this Oil Palm Atlas is also
an attempt to break the isolation of Papua, by focussing attention on
the issue of indigenous land rights, in a context where local
communities which choose to oppose plantation companies often feel
intimidated by state security forces which back up the companies.

Direct download link:


Papuans Behind Bars October 2014: ‘Bloody Yotefa’: police turn a blind eye to violence against indigenous Papuans

From our partners at Papuans Behind Bars, with additional reporting from West Papua Media and JPIC

17 November 2014

At the end of October 2014, there were at least 69 political prisoners in
Papuan gaols.

At least 46 members of the West Papua National Committee (Komite Nasional Papua Barat, KNPB) were arrested in Jayapura and Merauke this month for participating in peaceful demonstrations. The demonstrators were urging the Indonesian government to release two French journalists who faced trial for breaching immigration rules.

In likely reference to the Social Organisations Law (RUU Organisasi Kemasyarakatan, RUU Ormas), police claimed during the mass arrests that the KNPB is an illegal organisation as it is not registered with the Department of National Unity and Politics (Kesatuan Bangsa dan Politik, Kesbangpol) and affiliated symbols or attributes are also therefore illegal. Last June, police conducted a mass arrest in Boven Digoel under the same auspices.  Indonesian human rights group Imparsial challenged the shutting down of peaceful demonstrations in Jayapura and Merauke, stating that freedom of expression in Papua is the worst in Indonesia, particularly when it comes to the treatment of KNPB rallies. The criminalisation of peaceful demonstrations, often under the auspices of the Ormas Law, restricts democratic space and stigmatises Papuan civil society groups.

On 27 October, two French journalists, Thomas Dandois and Valentine
Bourrat, were released after 11 weeks in detention. However, Lanny Jaya
tribal leader Areki Wanimbo, who was arrested alongside the pair, still
faces charges of conspiracy to commit treason. Lawyers from the Democracy Alliance for Papua (Aliansi Demokrasi untuk Papua, ALDP) have stated that the legal process for Wanimbo has been fraught with irregularities and that his case has been handled unprofessionally. Wanimbo faces charges different to those he was first accused of, and unsuitable evidence was used to build a case against him. The decision to impose a two-and-a-half-month prison sentence on the two journalists instead of acquitting them was a harsh blow for the campaign to open access to Papua. As noted by Human Rights Watch researcher Andreas Harsono, foreign journalists face a complex system of applying for visas to Papua, which requires the approval of 18 different government agencies – a process that severely restricts journalistic access. It remains to be seen whether Indonesian president Joko Widodo will make good on his promise of opening access to Papua.

Bloody Yotefa

In our July update we raised concerns regarding an incident which has come to be known as ‘Bloody Yotefa,’ that took place on 2 July at Yotefa market in Abepura. Early reports stated that three Papuan men were killed following a police raid on a gambling den at Yotefa market.  At least four Papuan men from the Central Highlands were tortured and 40 people arrested according to a Report from the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Desk (Keadilan, Perdamaian dan Keutuhan Ciptaan, KPKC) of the Evangelical Christian Church (Gereja Kristen Injili, GKI). Following the raid on the market, police arrested and handed over two Papuans, including a 14-year-old boy, to a mob of non-indigenous Papuans who publicly tortured and beat them while police stood by, later continuing the job themselves at Bhayangkara Police Hospital. While police beatings, torture and killings of indigenous Papuans are not new phenomena, the public involvement of non-indigenous mobs to achieve this is a particular low point.

Bloody Yotefa challenges the government perspective that torture and killings are carried out by a rogue police in isolated cells, showing instead that these arbitrary violations are becoming social events in which the non-indigenous community can participate. This dynamic
perpetuates a culture of fear and domination in which indigenous Papuans are exposed to constant risk of public violence, even in traditionally ‘safe’ spaces such as hospitals and university campuses. Police discrimination and profiling of indigenous Papuans, especially those who come from the Central Highlands, makes them still more vulnerable to public torture, violence and arbitrary arrest.

You can read the full update here:

Papuans Behind Bars team

West Papua Report September 2013

from West Papua Advocacy Team

This is the 113th in a series of monthly reports that focus on developments affecting Papuans. This series is produced by the non-profit West Papua Advocacy Team (WPAT) drawing on media accounts, other NGO assessments, and analysis and reporting from sources within West Papua. This report is co-published by the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN). Back issues are posted online at Questions regarding this report can be addressed to Edmund McWilliams at If you wish to receive the report directly via e-mail, send a note to Link to this issue:

The Report leads with “Perspective,” an opinion piece; followed by “Update,” a summary of some developments during the covered period; and then “Chronicle” which includes analyses, statements, new resources, appeals and action alerts related to West Papua. Anyone interested in contributing a “Perspective” or responding to one should write to The opinions expressed in Perspectives are the author’s and not necessarily those of WPAT or ETAN. For additional news on West Papua see the reg.westpapua listserv archive or on Twitter.


This month’s PERSPECTIVE is by retired U.S. Foreign Service Officer (and West Papua Report editor) Edmund McWilliams. His analysis assesses the implications of the U.S. government “pivot” to Asia for U.S. policy regarding Indonesia and West Papua. The U.S. re-focus toward Asia and the Pacific involves closer U.S. political, security and economic ties to countries of the region. These enhanced security ties, in particular, will mean diminished U.S. government attention to human rights violations, corruption, and undemocratic behavior by regional militaries the U.S. seeks as “partners,” including Indonesia.

In “UPDATE,” we note the U.S. government’s decision to proceed with the sale of eight Apache helicopters to the Indonesian military. More than 90 NGO’s had urged the sale not go forward, due in part the likelihood that it will employed in West Papua. A “freedom flotilla” has left Australia for West Papua. Indonesian officials have threatened to arrest participants. Jakarta may renege on it pledge to invite Foreign Ministers of the Melanesian Spearhead Group nations to visit Jakarta and West Papua. Indonesian security forces have arrested scores of Papuans who sought peacefully to assert their cultural identity.

In this month’s “CHRONICLE,” we note an open letter by the Australia West Papua Association to the Pacific Islands Forum to take up the issue of West Papua and link to an interview with Benny Wenda carried by Democracy Now!


Implications of the “Asia Pivot” for U.S. Policy on Indonesia
by Ed McWilliams

The U.S.’s determination to “partner” with the TNI is reminiscent of previous administration’s partnering with corrupt and abusive militaries in the service of earlier geopolitical strategies, notably during the cold war. U.S. support for rightwing military dictatorships, delayed democratic evolution in many countries and perpetuated extraordinary suffering.

Senior U.S. administration officials continue to emphasize U.S. determination to pursue a greater focus on Asia and the Pacific. The “Asia Pivot,” according to senior Pentagon and State Department officials, reflects a growing realization in Washington of burgeoning trade opportunities presented by the economic dynamism of the region. At the same time, Washington is increasingly conscious of security challenges posed by the growing power of the Chinese military, as well as territorial disputes, notably in the South China Sea.

The Obama administration has sought to implement the pivot by strengthening existing security, political and economic ties with states in the region. In the security sector, the Obama administration has built upon relationships with regional forces established during the previous administration in the context of anti-terrorism.

The Obama administration’s expansion of ties to regional military forces, in Indonesia, but also in Vietnam, the Philippines, and Burma (Myanmar) have proceeded notwithstanding well-founded concerns that these security “partners” have well-documented histories of human rights violations, corruption, and undemocratic behavior. A number of these prospective security “partners” have records of repression of minorities. Vietnamese security forces played a key role in Hanoi’s policy of ethnic cleansing of the Montagnards, who have been forcibly displaced from much of their Central Highland homelands to make way for government-subsidized Vietnamese migrants. In Burma, despite significant democratic progress, Burmese security forces continue to carry out repressive measures against tribal groups.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, second from left, meets with Indonesia President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, in Jakarta, Aug. 26, 2013. DOD photo by U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Aaron Hostutler

The Indonesian military (TNI) is Southeast Asia’s largest military. Thanks to a sprawling commercial empire of both legal and illegal businesses and a long history of a lack of accountability before Indonesia’s civilian court system, it remains largely beyond the control of the civilian government. It also continues to violate human rights with near impunity, as documented by the UN Human Rights Commission, international NGO human rights monitors, and even the U.S. State Department’s own annual human rights reports.

The TNI’s human rights record is most egregious in West Papua, the troubled region forcibly annexed by Indonesia in the 1960’s. That annexation proceeded absent any opportunity for the Papuan people to exercise their right of self-determination. The TNI has been the principal agent through which the Indonesian government has sought to enforce its control of the resource-rich region. The brutality of the TNI-backed occupation of West Papua, the ethnic cleansing entailed by decades of “transmigration” — government subsidized migration from within Indonesia to West Papua which has displaced Papuan peoples from their homes — and policies of malign neglect in the areas of health, education and development have raised credible charges of genocide.

The U.S. administration’s determination to partner with the TNI is reminiscent of previous administration’s partnering with corrupt and abusive militaries in the service of earlier geopolitical strategies, notably in the context of the cold war. U.S. support for the anti-communist Suharto dictatorship and with rightwing military dictatorships in Central and South America, Iran, and elsewhere, delayed democratic evolution in many countries and perpetuated extraordinary suffering.

The Obama administration’s Asia Pivot inevitably must be seen in the context of these earlier strategies which sacrificed human rights concerns, democratization, and principles of civil control of the military on the altar of security objectives. As in the past, the U.S. administration contends that closer U.S. cooperation encourages reform among its security “partners.” The military-to-military relationship with the Indonesian military during the 30-year Suharto dictatorship remained extremely close despite egregious the TNI’s human rights crimes and corruption. Indonesia’s illegal invasion of East Timor in 1975 and the subsequent occupation of that small country remained largely irrelevant to Washington’s pro-Suharto and pro-Indonesian military stance.

The saga of East Timor (now Timor-Leste), in the context of U.S. policy toward Indonesia includes a particular irony. The United States, throughout the Indonesian occupation of East Timor, accepted the occupation, maintaining that East Timor was “an integral part of Indonesia” with the caveat that “no genuine act of self-determination had taken place.” The U.S. consistently ignored Indonesia’s crimes in the territory, except when it was compelled to address them as a consequence of international media attention, such as the in the case of the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre. U.S. Congressional outrage and public pressure over that crime forced restrictions on U.S. military cooperation with Indonesia.  

The sad saga of West Papua contains parallels with that of East Timor. West Papua was also invaded and occupied by the Indonesian military with the backing of the U.S. The West Papuan people, like the East Timorese, have suffered extraordinary repression under Jakarta’s rule. The United States, echoing its previous stance on East Timor, has consistently stated that it regards West Papua as an “integral part” of Indonesia. The U.S. public stance on West Papua, however, differs from its previous position regarding East Timor insofar as the U.S. refuses to acknowledge that Papuans have not been afforded their right to self-determination.

It appears that this long-denied right, along with the Papuan’s right to live free from Indonesian repression, can not be accommodated in the context of Washington’s Asia Pivot. The recent sale of attack helicopters to Indonesia (see below) is the latest example of human rights concerns and fundamental civil rights, including the right to self-determination, being sacrificed on the altar of geo-political expediency.


U.S. Approves Sale Of Apache Helicopters to the TNI

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced the sale of a squadron of eight Apache attack helicopters to the Indonesian military (TNI),  during a visit to Indonesia. The sale, which includes pilot training, associated radar, and maintenance support, is worth half a billion dollars over 10 years.

The new Apache attack helicopters will greatly augment the capacity of the TNI to pursue “sweeping” operations, extending TNI capacity to stage operations after dark and in ever more remote areas.

According to Indonesian officials, the sale includes no conditions governing how the aircraft are to be used. In the past, the U.S. government has imposed restrictions on the sale of weapons systems to the TNI as a means of reducing the possibility that those systems would be employed against civilians.

Last year, more than 90 international non-governmental organizations wrote to oppose the sale. Long standing U.S. congressional concern over the extremely poor human rights record amassed by the TNI appears not to have been taken into consideration by the U.S. administration. For over a decade, the U.S. sought to build a partnership with the Indonesian military notwithstanding that institution’s abysmal human rights record, corruption, and unwillingness to subordinate itself to civilian government control. An August 27 Jakarta Post report quotes Hagel as stating that he “welcomed the progress Indonesia has made in improving transparency and the protection of human rights.”

The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) and the West Papua Advocacy Team issued a joint statement condemning the sale. The groups said that “The new Apache attack helicopters will greatly augment the capacity of the TNI to pursue “sweeping” operations, extending TNI capacity to stage operations after dark and in ever more remote areas.” The sale of the helicopters “demonstrates that U.S. concern for greater respect for human rights and justice in Indonesia are nothing more than hollow rhetoric.”

Freedom Flotilla to Sail from Australia to West Papua

Police surrounding event in Sorong just prior to arrests of organizers (Photo: NFRPB/WPM sources)

Australian activists are sailing from Australia to Merauke in West Papua to demonstrate international concern over the denial of human and civil rights by Indonesia. The Freedom Flotilla is also as a cultural mission aimed at re-establishing millennia-old ties between the aborigine population of Australia and Papua.

Indonesia has threatened to block the flotilla by force. The flotilla, which has permission from local Papuans to land in their area, has been delayed by mechanical problems. Papuans in Merauke and elsewhere in West Papua have staged massive “welcome” demonstrations in support of the mission. In Sorong, police arrested four West Papuan leaders who organized a welcome ceremony for the flotilla.

Flotilla spokesperson Ruben Blake called Indonesian threats of arrest, force and naval interception “heavy-handed.” He noted that in the past the Indonesian government has gone to great lengths to prevent people from witnessing conditions in West Papua. He expressed concern for the safety of those participating in the peaceful mission:

“We believe that safety of a group of peaceful protesters who are going there on a cultural mission as well as a human rights mission should be respected. These threats that haven’t been ruling out the use of guns and force is a big concern. People around the world should be absolutely concerned about the safety of the people on board the boats.”

The Australian government has warned that it will not extend consular protection or assistance to flotilla participants.

Indonesia Accused of Reneging on Pledge to Invite MSG Delegation

Solomon Islands PM Lilo meets Indonesia President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Photo: Prime Minister’s Office.

Rex Rumakiek, Secretary-General of the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation, accused the Indonesian government of reneging on its promise to invite a delegation of Foreign Ministers of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) to visit Jakarta and West Papua. Rumakiek, whose group petitioned the recent MSG summit for West Papuan membership, told Radio Australia that rather than inviting an MSG delegation, Jakarta has resorted to inviting the MSG nations to visit individually. Rumakiek noted that the Indonesian government is seeking to divide the group, which has been seeking to formulate a united MSG position on the question of West Papua’s status. Indonesia refunded the US$171,000 cost of a recent state visit by Solomon Islands prime minister to Indonesia.

Security Forces Stage Widespread Arrests as Papuans Assert Cultural Identity

West Papua Media has reported scores of arrests of Papuans who sought to organize peaceful demonstrations commemorating August 15, “a day intended to celebrate Papuan cultural identity and demand rights to free expression be respected.” The demonstrations were billed as “cultural parades,” assertions of Papuan cultural identity in the face of what West Papua Media sources described as a “deliberate campaign of cultural suppression by the Indonesian colonial security forces.”

The parades were held on the anniversary of the 1962 New York Agreement which began the process of Indonesia’s formal take over of West Papua. The parades were also to celebrate the opening of a new Free West Papua Campaign office in The Netherlands.

Despite widely-reported police statements that they would allow the parades to go forward, waves of arrests and other intimidation prevented several from taking place. Nevertheless, the events went ahead in Jayapura, Wamena and Biak.

Opposition to ConocoPhillips

The Forum to Care for Papua’s Natural Resources is opposing plans by ConocoPhillips to explore for oil and gas in West Papua. In a press release issued in Yogyakarta, August 31, the group said that ConocoPhillips “will only aggravate symptoms of social breakdown and environmental damage, as such corporations are only interested in their own profits, and do not care about the environment and Papuan indigenous people.” According to media reports the company reiterated its plan to carry out seismic testing in Boven Digoel and Pegunungan Bintang in 2014.


Open letter to Pacific Islands Forum Leaders

The Australia West Papua Association (Sydney) (AWPA) has written an open letter to the Pacific Island Forum (PIF) leaders urged them to discuss the human rights situation in West Papua at the upcoming Pacific Islands Forum in Majuro. Joe Collins of AWPA said, “We would like the Forum Leaders to follow the example of the MSG leaders who at their summit in Noumea, raised concerns about the human rights abuses in West Papua in their official communiqué. They also recognized the right of the West Papuan people to self-determination.”

Guardian Reviews West Papua History

The Guardian, August 29, published an article by Marni Cordell which offered a candid review of West Papua’s history. The article, “The West Papuan independence movement – a history,” notes that the Papuan struggle for self-determination continues, 40 years after a “sham ballot” through which Indonesia annexed West Papua.
Benny Wenda Interview

Benny Wenda, human rights defender and advocate for Papuan self-determination now living in exile in the United Kingdom, was interviewed on Democracy Now! in February, 2013. The video and full transcript of the interview were recently made available.

Link to this issue:

Back issues of West Papua Report


Opinion/ Analysis

by contributors to the “Papuans Behind Bars” Project* (see end of article)

APRIL 16, 2013

An expression of people’s desire for freedom, cries of “Papua Merdeka” continue to ring out through the cities, mountains and forests of West Papua. The struggle is against fifty years of Indonesian rule, which throughout the last half-century has violently tried to subdue Papua, in its attempts to create a unified nation from the 17,000 islands that once made up the Dutch Empire.

Freedom as expressed by the word ‘merdeka’ is primarily a call for political independence, although the word is imbued with the clear hope that a new national sovereignty would also bring a wider liberation. Even when used outside the context of nations, ‘merdeka’ carries a sense of autonomy or self-reliance; from the same Sanskrit root Indonesian also inherited the word mahardika, meaning wisdom or nobility.

Those cries of freedom are also heard from the cells of Papua’s prisons, where its absence is arguably felt more strongly than anywhere else. The struggle for a national liberation suddenly becomes much more personal and immediate when deprived of your own individual liberty, by means of police handcuffs or a judge’s order.

Prison is used as a weapon against the people and their resistance to Indonesia, and over the years thousands of Papuans have found themselves locked away from the world behind prison bars. Many were arrested for expressing their aspirations for liberation, mostly relatively peacefully, but occasionally also for taking up arms. Others were merely unlucky enough to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time and got caught up in the structural violence of a justice system designed to spread intimidation throughout the entire population.

It is not always straightforward to know whether and how to relate to the macro-politics of nation states and aspirations of would-be nation states, and especially for those of us who are not in Papua and who are not forced into an existence defined by ever-present violence, repression, marginalisation and resistance. But by listening to the experiences of people caught up in that system, we can understand and be inspired by the ways that they have found to withstand oppression and create an impulse for their own freedom and that of their friends, families and communities.

Here are some of the stories from Papua Prison Island, tales of some of the individuals who have felt the full force of Indonesia’s law enforcement in recent years, who have been arrested at random or deliberately targeted as activists, who have been tortured or beaten in detention, whose trials were a farce, who have suffered major illnesses with no access to proper healthcare – but who have in many cases kept their strength, their dignity and sense of solidarity intact.

1. Repeated Targets: Buchtar Tabuni and Yusak Pakage

A political prisoner is forever marked out as an enemy of the state.  Those who survive the horrors of the prison system and emerge to continue their resistance after being released are particular targets for petty and personalised vengeance. This was the case in 2012, when two former political prisoners who have remained politically active, Buchtar Tabuni and Yusak Pakage, were rearrested and re-condemned, both under ridiculous pretexts.

The story can be traced back to December 2010 when Miron Wetipo, a prisoner who had recently escaped from Abepura prison, was shot dead. News reached the prison and the prisoners’ anger erupted spontaneously. As a riot commenced, two political prisoners stepped in to try to negotiate a resolution. Buchtar Tabuni, the then-leader of the West Papua National Committee (KNPB), was serving three years for organising a demonstration, and Filep Karma fifteen years for raising the Morning Star flag, a banned symbol of West Papua. Their attempts at mediation were ignored and instead they were blamed for starting the riot. Along with three other prisoners they were transferred from the jail to police headquarters for three months, where they were initially denied food and family visits and were at constant risk of violent reprisals from the cops.

Eventually the men were returned to the prison and the story could have ended there. Although Filep Karma’s sentence is set to run for several more years, Buchtar served the rest of his sentence and was released nine months later. He continued to be a prominent activist fighting for independence.

However, almost a year after his release on 6th June 2012, Buchtar Tabuni was arrested again. This piece of news only made minor headlines at the time, as everyone’s attention was focussed on a wave of seemingly-random shooting incidents that was causing panic at the time around Jayapura, as they were occurring nearly every day. After Buchtar’s arrest, the Jayapura police chief said in a press conference that he had been arrested in connection with a string of recent violent incidents, which would seem to imply the that he was accused of being involved in the shootings.

However, when Buchtar’s lawyer was able to see him, he established that the arrest was actually in connection with the prison riot 18 months before. But why should he be arrested suddenly now, if the case could have been brought to trial at any point in the nine months between the riot and Buchtar’s release while he was still in custody?

In fact, it appears that this arrest was part of a new wave of repression against the KNPB, an organisation which had been gaining in momentum across Papua over the past few years, mostly by organising open demonstrations in Papua’s urban centres. It was to become a decisive move against the popular organisation; Victor Yeimo, who took over from Buchtar as KNPB chair, claimed that 21 KNPB members were killed and 55 imprisoned during the course of 2012. Just over a week after Buchtar was arrested, KNPB deputy leader Mako Tabuni would be gunned down by a police marksman as he was buying betel nut on a street corner.

Buchtar’s trial for violent disturbance started in July. It was reported that several KNPB members received threatening text messages not to attend the trial. Yusak Pakage was undeterred, however. He was also a former prisoner, having been sentenced to ten years in prison at the same flag-raising event in 2004 where Filep Karma had also been arrested. In July 2010 he was granted a pardon and released, after which he was involved in the Papuan Street Parliament (Parlamen Jalanan).

Watching the farce of a trial, Yusak’s frustration built up until he kicked over a rubbish bin. Bright red spit from someone who had been chewing betel nut spilled out of the bin and stained the trouser-leg of a public official. Yusak was arrested. While he was being searched, police found that he was carrying a penknife. This became the pretext to charge him under an Emergency Law from 1951, which prohibits carrying weapons.

So for possessing this everyday object Yusak Pakage was sentenced to seven more months in prison. He has said that he believes he was targeted for having previously been a political prisoner, and it would be hard not to see it that way, as it is totally normal to carry not only penknives but also tools such as machetes and bows-and-arrows in Papua.

Having already spent years behind bars does not make prison less of an isolating experience. Yusak Pakage, whose name is known around the world due to Amnesty International having promoted his case as a prisoner of conscience, told a local reporter how he was saddened at how few visitors he received in prison, especially after his sister moved to another city. While he knew local human rights activists were supporting him in other ways, whether out of fear or lack of motivation, they didn’t come to visit.

But prison can also sharpen the sense of solidarity with those facing the same fate. After being released from his eight month sentence, Buchtar Tabuni’s first act was to go to the site of where his friend Mako Tabuni had been killed. A few days later he flew to Wamena to try to negotiate the release of other KNPB members which had been arrested in September, accused of possessing explosives. This trip was followed up by trips to Timika and Biak, where he also visited KNPB members in prison and tried to secure their release.

2. Left to Sicken and Die: Prisoners of the Wamena Arsenal case.

On December 2012, Kanius Murib passed away in Wamena, 59 years old. He had been in prison since 2003, but in the last few months of his life the prison guards allowed his family to care for him, as by that time he was suffering from severe mental illness and failing physical health. Arrested with nine other people and sentenced to life imprisonment, he was the third prisoner from that case to die in custody.

The accusation laid against the men was that they had carried out a raid on the weapons arsenal in a military base in Wamena on 4th April 2003. Not knowing who had carried out the attack, the military went on the rampage, sweeping through surrounding villages, meting out an undiscriminating collective punishment on the whole population, burning entire villages to the ground as they so often do when they take revenge. Several people were killed in these reprisals, and it is likely that many others starved to death in the mountains as they fled their homes.

Kanius Murib’s house was one of those burnt. He was arrested on 6th April. While still in military detention one week later he was dragged three kilometres to Ilekma Village, together with another man, Yapenus Murib. Kanius was handcuffed, Yapenus was pulled by ropes tied around his neck. This torture was more than a human body could take; he died shortly afterwards.

Seven more men were arrested, and also experienced similarly brutal torture. One was able to escape, so together with Kanius Murib seven were left to stand trial. All were convicted of treason and sentenced to between twenty years and life.

In December 2004 the other six men (Apotnalogolik Lokobal, Jafrai Murib, Linus Hiluka, Numbungga Telenggen, Kimanus Wenda and Michael Heselo) were woken up and forced to get in a truck. They were being moved to Gunung Sari Prison on Sulawesi Island, isolated from friends and family by 2000km of ocean. They remained there until 2007, when Michael Heselo fell ill in prison. Before his family could raise funds to come and visit him, he died in prison, aged 35.

Protests broke out in Papua, demanding that the five men remaining in Makassar should be brought back to Papua. The authorities acceded to the request and the prisoners were divided between Nabire and Biak prisons – still a long way from home, but at least they were in Papua. But prison continued to take its toll on the men’s health. In 2011, Kimanus Wenda started experiencing stomach pains and was vomiting all the time, and feared he had a tumour. Jafrai Murib, who would have been no more than 28 or 29 at the time, had a stroke, which left him almost paralysed.

Both men urgently needed medical care, and it is the prison’s responsibility to ensure inmates receive treatment, but the only attention they received was consultations with local doctors. The prison refused to pay for operations, or for their transfer to Jayapura, where better facilities were available.

This happens time and time again. Filep Karma has also had a history of sickness in prison – kidney problems left him in severe pain for some time. After a long campaign to get treatment for him, finally local activists went out on the streets collecting donations so he could be operated on in Jakarta. In this way they managed to pay for the flights for him and his family, and international groups helped to pay the hospital bill. It is a sign of the force of his character, which has brought him through ten years of prison maintaining a stubborn and uncompromising commitment to his principles, that even as the money was being found, Filep was talking of refusing to leave unless another prisoner, Ferdinand Pakage, could also get treated – he even started a hunger strike. Ferdinand Pakage had been blinded in one eye after a beating by a prison guard, and continues to suffer as a result.

For Kimanus and Jefrai, eventually local activists had no other choice but to go out on the streets and collect donations again. For doing what should have been the state’s responsibility, collecting money to care for sick prisoners, fifteen people were arrested on 20th July 2012. One of them was Yusak Pakage, just three days before he would be arrested again in the courtroom incident.

Eventually, after many months, enough donations were collected, in Papua, Jakarta and abroad, and prison authorities gave their permission for Kimanus and Jafrai to be transferred to Jayapura for treatment. In the end Kimanus was diagnosed with a hernia. But even after all that has happened, accessing health-care continues to be a struggle – the latest news is that Jafrai Murib was temporarily denied access to the physiotherapy he needs to recover from the stroke – as punishment for having a mobile phone in his cell.

3. In the mountains where no-one is watching: Prisoners in Wamena Prison

Wamena, where Kanius Murib and the others were arrested, is the main town of Papua’s Central Highlands, which support a higher population than other parts of Papua, but remain inaccessible. No usable road connects this high plateau to the coast, and news still doesn’t reach the outside world so easily. It is in these mountains that most of the bloodiest military operations have taken place in recent years. When prisoners are taken they are usually accused of treason and often given long sentences based on spurious evidence. As lawyers and human rights groups, already overstretched in the lowlands, have not always had the resources to come up here, there is often no-one to support them. Few details about their cases circulate, and it can be difficult to find any information about them. Here’s what we know:

Tenius Murib and Jigi Jigibalom were arrested in a military sweeping operation in November 2003. Still in the early hours of the morning, troops surrounded a house in Bolakme village and opened fire, killing ten people. The two survivors were arrested, tortured and accused of belonging to the Free Papua Movement guerrilla army. One of the accusations was that they had participated in the same raid on the weapons dump described above. They were sentenced to 20 and 15 years respectively.

Dipenus Wenda was arrested with three other men in March 2004, while they were giving out leaflets campaigning for a boycott of Indonesian elections. One of the four, Marius Koyoga, was shot dead while in police custody. The others went on trial for treason. Dipenus Wenda was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

In January 2005, Yusanur Wenda and between six and eight others were arrested in Wunin district (information is so limited we are not even sure how many people were prosecuted in this case). Also accused of belonging to the OPM, they were supposed to have burnt down public buildings and schools. For this Yusunur Wenda was sentenced to 17 years, and the others also received long sentences. Local activists asked at the time why the OPM would be interested in burning schools. But there is another explanation: a week before the arrests even took place, a website called West Papua News had published an account of the burnings. In their story, it was Kopassus special forces and police mobile brigade (Brimob), which had arrived by helicopter, and burnt down not only the public buildings but all the houses in the village as well.

In 2008, nine people were arrested while walking to a funeral in Yalengga village. They had been asked to carry a banned Morning Star flag so that the dead man could be buried beneath the Papuan flag. On the way they were intercepted by soldiers, arrested and tortured. Once again, the charge was treason, this time the sentence eight years. It is believed that these men were not even activists, yet they were condemned under laws intended for major attacks against the integrity of the Indonesian state.

At present, out of all these cases, only six convicted political prisoners remain in Wamena prison. Four are from the Yalengga case: Oskar Hilago, Wiki Meaga, Meki Elosak and Obeth Kosay, as well as Yusanur Wenda and Depenus Wenda. Over the years the others have all managed to escape. Some were among the 42 people who broke out of Wamena prison on 4th June 2012. Another mass escape had taken place in 2009, with 43 people managing to escape. Finally in November 2012, two young men who had allegedly been in possession of OPM documents, saved themselves the perils of Indonesian justice by finding a way to break out before their case came to trial. It seems that the only chance for justice in Wamena is to take it for yourself.

4. Allegiance to the Wrong Flag: Repression Against Symbolic Acts of Resistance

The charge of Makar, or treason, the infamous article 106 of Indonesia’s criminal code has been used as a catch-all to repress Papuan movements. It was the principle charge in all the Central Highlands cases mentioned above. Whether the accusation is a peaceful act of dissent or armed rebellion, the charge is likely to be the same, probably because most of the other criminal accusations which could be brought are seen as lesser crimes. With article 106 it is possible to condemn someone to 20 years in prison, or even life, as in the case of Jafrai Murib.

A flag has become a symbol both of what Indonesia cannot tolerate and the Papuan challenge to Indonesian authority. The Bintang Kejora (Morning Star) was first flown on December 1st 1961 at a point when the Dutch Colonial Government was preparing to hand over power to an independent West Papua, before Indonesia sent its armed forces to claim the area. After Suharto fell a special autonomy package granted by President Gus Dur expressly allowed the flag to be flown as a symbol of Papuan identity, but the military never accepted that policy. The special autonomy still stands in theory, but a Presidential Regulation forbade the Morning Star flag once more in 2007.

Many people have gone to prison because of this particular piece of cloth, or even displaying the symbol on clothing, bags etc. Filep Karma is the most well known, and also the most extreme case, sentenced to fifteen years in prison for raising the flag on December 1st 2004. Actually this was the second time Morning Star flag had landed Filep in prison. The first time came just weeks after Suharto fell, and the people of Biak occupied the port, flying the flag from the water tower. The people held the port for four days, but then the military stormed in. Filep Karma was shot in both legs but survived, one of 150 people arrested that day. For many, the punishment was even more severe: according to local investigators, 139 bodies were loaded onto two navy ships to be dumped at sea.

As he has long been a popular figure in Papuan resistance movements, large demonstrations accompanied both of Filep Karma’s trials. At the trial for the 2004 flag-raising, the reason for the demonstrations was the prosecution’s demand for a five-year sentence, which the crowd felt was extreme. Yet in the end the judge went much further, taking the unusual step of exceeding the prosecution’s demand and condemning him to fifteen years and Yusak Pakage to ten.

The ‘Jayapura Five’ were arrested at the Third Papuan People’s Congress in October 2011. Their act of supposed treason was an act of provocation – or at least they knew the huge risks they were taking when they convened a congress where representatives from all over West Papua would meet to discuss their political future. Unsurprisingly, but bravely, the congress decided to declare independence. The flag was raised, and Forkorus Yaboisembut, leader of the Papuan Customary Council, was declared as President of the Federal Republic of West Papua. Edison Waromi, who had been imprisoned under political charges for twelve years in 1989, and then six months in 2001 and two years in 2002, was chosen as Prime Minister. Another former political prisoner, Selpius Bobii, who had organised the conference was also jailed, as were August Makbrawen Sananay Kraar and film-maker Dominikus Sorabut. They were sentenced to three years in jail.

Also still in prison for raising flags are Darius Kogoya and Timur Wakerkwa, sentenced to three years and two-and-a-half years respectively for raising the Morning Star on 1st May 2012. And there have been many more prisoners in recent years for these symbolic acts of defiance: Septinus Rumere, an activist from Biak in his sixties, simply raised a flag outside his house in 2009 – he was sentenced to six months for treason. The Iba brothers were maybe hoping to get away with raising a flag which merely resembled the Morning Star in Bintuni in 2009, but they were sentenced to between two and three years anyway.

Another case highlights how the cruel reality of the prison system clashes with the ways indigenous people find to assimilate the pressures on their lives and express their desire for liberation. In Demta village, on West Papua’s northern coast, a group of villagers had built a meeting house they called Mammo and started believing in a king. Such messianic beliefs, sometimes known as cargo cults, have emerged in Melanesian cultures ever since they came into contact with colonialists, and can be seen as a reaction to these new patterns of domination. This group made a procession calling for repentance from humanity’s wickedness and obedience to the king. Alongside the flag of the king, the Morning Star was also raised. The next morning, after the Mammo had been burnt down by local Christians, people from the group went to the police to avoid a violent conflict building up. They were arrested and charged with treason. After two months their release was negotiated, even if the charges were not formally dropped.

People organising politically for the rights of indigenous people are also targetted. Edison Kendi and Yan Piet Maniamboi were arrested as organisers of a demonstration to mark World Indigenous People’s Day on Yapen island on 9th August 2012. Their trial was still ongoing as this piece was being written, with rumours that the prosecution is asking for 20 years imprisonment.

There have been no recent cases of people being imprisoned as a direct consequence of defending their land from the resource industries of logging, mining and plantations that are becoming ever-more rampant in West Papua, but the climate of repression is nevertheless opening doors to these industries, as there are plenty of reports from local people who feel too intimidated to taking a public stance against these development projects. After all, if raising a flag in your front garden can be considered treasonous, could not also standing in the way of a priority project for Indonesia’s economic development, such as the MIFEE agribusiness project or the Freeport goldmine?

5. When the law itself is violence, do guilty and innocent continue to mean anything?

While in recent years no long-term prisoners have resulted from the continuing conflict around the massive Freeport goldmine, it was a demonstration against that mine outside a university campus in Jayapura that led to a wave of arrests and intimidation in 2006. Twenty-three people spent an average of five years in jail after that demonstration, but by now most have been released. The exceptions are Luis Gedi and Ferdinand Pakage, who were sentenced to fifteen years each and are still inside, and Echo Berotabui, who succumbed to the despair and killed himself in prison.

On the day of the demo, 16th March 2006, minor clashes broke out, but then the police tried to storm the demo and they misplayed it. Four policemen and one air-force officer were killed that day. Once again, the state’s response was to react with widespread violence targeted against all and sundry. Seventy people were arrested, one or two were killed, and the campus emptied as students fled in panic.

As the weeks went on, the state’s handling of the case continued to be directed indiscriminately, more a thirst for revenge than an attempt to prosecute those who actually engaged in violence during the demonstration. Of the 23 people held and charged, all reported torture. People were forced under torture to make allegations against others. Luis Gedi was picked up on the street and forced to admit to killing policeman Rahman Arizona and to give another name as his accomplice. After being subjected to torture the name that he gave was Ferdinand Pakage. The police went to arrest Ferdinand and then they demanded to know where was the knife that had been used to kill Rahman. They made him go to the campus to try and find it. Then they shot him in the foot, and he told the police the knife was at his house. The police went there and seized his mother’s vegetable knife.

Similar stories continued throughout the trial process, with intimidation and a thirst for vengeance running high, police caring little whether the people they had in the dock were the perpetrators or not.

At one point, when 16 men had already been sentenced, police tried to force one of them, Nelson Rumbiak to appear as a witness for the prosecution in the trial of the remaining seven. When his testimony contradicted the police version of events, the police beat him up. As a response the remaining seven defendants refused to leave the prison to attend the next hearing, and convicted prisoners backed them up by throwing stones at the vehicle that came to take them to court. When another man was later arrested in connection to the same trial, all 23 prisoners wrote to the prison governor, saying that they would not testify for the prosecution, ‘even if they should be shot dead’.

Ferdinand Pakage lost an eye in prison in September 2008, after he was beaten by a guard who was holding his keys. The wound left behind has continued to cause problems over the years.

In the multiplicity of forms of struggle for Papuan independence, acts of violence do occur, but the state’s hysterical response means that ‘guilty’ and ‘innocent’ cease to be distinguishable. Dani Kogoya is believed to be a member of the TPN/OPM guerrilla army, and has been accused of co-ordinating an attack in Nafri near Jayapura, where one military officer and three civilians were killed. He was arrested in September 2012 and is being tried with four other people.

Dani has reportedly admitted his involvement in the killings, and expressed regret. Although that confession was made under duress, it is certainly possible that he was involved. What is definate is that neither he nor those accused of being in his gang will stand any chance of a fair trial. The ground has already been laid out: assuming his guilt a year previously police and military conducted a raid where Dani was supposed to have lived. The local community leader was forced to dig a hole while soldiers threatened him at gunpoint. At least fifteen people were held and tortured or maltreated. Dani’s eight-year-old daughter was reported to have been kidnapped and disappeared for a week. During his own arrest in 2012, Dani Kogoya was shot (police said that he was trying to escape), and his leg needed to be amputated. As the trial commenced, and the prosecution laid out its evidence, none of the witnesses they presented could testify to having seen Dani Kogoya carry out the attack.

Papua’s political prisoners stand almost no chance of receiving proper legal representation as the intimidation of lawyers is intense, claiming they are also committing treason. When the accusations are non-violent acts it is bad enough, but when violence has been involved the stakes are even higher. For example, in the case following the 2006 anti-Freeport demonstration, lawyers received death threats by text message against them and their family, and the house that one of them was staying in was pelted with stones. During Filep Karma’s 2004 trial, a severed dog’s head was left outside his lawyers’ office, alongside a note mentioning them by name.

6. Targeting the KNPB: how the state terrorizes social movements.

Late afternoon on 29th September 2012 at the West Papua National Committee’s (KNPB)Wamena secretariat, riot police and military showed up and arrested the people present. They claimed they had found two ready-assembled bombs on the premises. More raids would take place over the weeks and months to follow, in Wamena and also Timika, Biak and Jayapura, all involving members of the KNPB. Other KNPB members would be placed on the wanted list, effectively forcing them into hiding.

One of these arrests, in Wamena in mid-December was especially tragic. As three men were being arrested, police pressed them to give more names. They forced one of the men, Meki Kogoya, to phone another KNPB activist, Huburtus Mabel, and arrange a meeting for the next day. Being in custody, Meki was unable to turn up for the rendezvous, but the police were there and shot Huburtus Mabel, who died from his wounds and also Natalias Alua, who was left in a coma, but eventually recovered. Once again, they were allegedly trying to resist arrest.

However, beyond the names of the suspects, little information is known about this Wamena case. It is from Timika, where trial proceedings are in course, that there is much more news. It appears that twelve people were arrested early in the morning of October 19th, as the KNPB were preparing to organise public activities over the coming days. The police claimed to the press that they had found metal pipes and powders to be used in bomb-making.

Six of the activists were set free after five days, and the remaining six charged under an emergency law from 1951, which prohibits the carrying of weapons – a different article of the same law as that used to sentence Yusak Pakage for the penknife. Also used in the Wamena and Biak cases, this law is rapidly becoming the state’s preferred strategy for criminalising independence activists.

When the case came to court, the allegations were toned down somewhat. It appears that only one of the six was accused of possessing explosives, which he denies. The explosives in question are a kind commonly used for dynamite fishing – an ecologically destructive practice to be sure, but not an indication that they would be used against people. The others were accused of possessing panah wayar – a kind of barbed arrow used for fishing, and other tools. In Papua, bows and arrows are carried by almost everyone, as they are used for hunting and fishing and are a symbol of cultural identity. As the weapons charges seemed rather flimsy, the charge of treason was also added before the case came to trial.

It seems very strongly that this wave of arrests has been very deliberately planned to neutralise the KNPB. Even more so when coupled with a string of assassinations throughout 2012 and the politically-motivated use of the police wanted list.

The KNPB is an organisation which, since 2008, has tried to organise big demonstrations in cities across Papua. Their principal call has been for a referendum on independence to replace the flawed UN sponsored ‘Act of Free Choice’ in 1969, and they have closely aligned themselves with international initiatives to mobilise support for the Papuan cause amongst lawyers and parliamentarians. Papuan people responded and many thousands dared to come on the demonstrations, building a rapidly growing movement across West Papua.

To organise openly in this way was a bold step, relocating the focus of the struggle from the forest to the cities. Although many KNPB members see theirs as a revolutionary struggle, they also recognise the need for mass participation, and so there is a desire to focus on more non-violent forms of struggle. KNPB leaders have repeatedly stressed this point.

Actually it appears that there have been a couple of explosions that have taken place in Papua recently. Both were in Wamena – one in an empty police outpost and the other in an empty government building. It’s important to emphasize that these were empty buildings and there were no injuries – and also that those arrested in Wamena are not believed to be charged with causing these explosions. But it is also possible to imagine that some independence activists may end up choosing this kind of clandestine action. Especially as attempts to organise openly using peaceful methods which should be interpreted as legal are met with long prison terms or even police bullets.

Increasingly prominent in the political policing of West Papua is a group called Densus 88. Set up as an anti-terror squad after the 2002 Bali bombings, their focus has mainly been countering Islamic terrorism. There too, the sensationalism that surrounds their attacks on radical Muslims, and the frequency that they shoot-to-kill has raised accusations that they are causing the radicalisation of certain Muslim communities in response. In Papua, they are accused of carrying out assassinations, of activists and non-activists. A sign of their increasing prominence is that the latest chief of police in Papua was promoted to the position after running Densus 88.

In Papua, it is not really clear whether some activists are storing explosives or not, and if so what they intend to do with them. What is certain is that during the course of 2012 it has become much more difficult for groups who want to express their aspirations openly on the streets to do so. In early 2013, prominent Papuan advocate Benny Wenda made a major diplomatic tour around the US, Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Island States. Normally the KNPB would have been out on the streets to show support for his initiatives. But there have been no such demonstrations. It seems that right now, actions like this have become almost impossible.

7. Papua Prison Island

In 2013, the arrests continue: One person arrested and two others on the wanted list for organising a demonstration in Manokwari, four people arrested in Sarmi accused of being OPM members, another seven held near Jayapura and tortured by police demanding to know the whereabouts of independence activists, two of which have been kept in prison. Then there have been a number of cases in Paniai, in the western part of Papua’s highlands: six people were arrested and held for a month before being released for a lack of evidence, two teenagers were also arrested in a separate case and held for two weeks, and there have been two other reported cases of arrest and torture.

And these are only the political cases: with Papuans so extremely economically and socially marginalised in their own land, and with clear evidence of systematic racism in all parts of the state bureaucracy, we can only wonder what might be the stories of those condemned to prison for non-political crimes.

Prison is just one extreme form of how people are deprived of their freedom in West Papua. While some Papuans are being giving jail sentences, others are being cheated out of their ancestral land by plantation companies, forced to flee their villages due to military operations, or simply unable to find a way to make a living when the possibilities for work fall overwhelmingly to migrants from outside Papua. But none of these injustices are isolated. The prison system is one tool the Indonesian state uses to crush opposition and so maintain these patterns of oppression. Many of those held captive have been denied their personal liberty as punishment for seeking a wider liberation.

Meanwhile Indonesia’s latest strategy is to pacify Papua with promises of development programs, organised unilaterally from Jakarta, whilst glossing over the structural causes of oppression – for example ministers have denied that there are any political prisoners in Papua, only criminals. But economic development without freedom cannot bring peace, merely intimidate people into coercive obedience. It is encouraging that so many in Papua, including many prisoners, refuse to be intimidated.

—Much of the information for this article came from , a new project to document the cases of West Papuan Political prisoners. That site has profiles of current and former political prisoners and releases monthly news updates on arrests, trials etc. However, this is an opinion piece which does not represent the position of the Papuans Behind Bars project—

West Papua Report March 2013

This is the 107th in a series of monthly reports that focus on developments affecting Papuans. This series is produced by the non-profit West Papua Advocacy Team (WPAT) drawing on media accounts, other NGO assessments, and analysis and reporting from sources within West Papua. This report is co-published by the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN). Back issues are posted online at Questions regarding this report can be addressed to Edmund McWilliams at If you wish to receive the report directly via e-mail, send a note to

The Report leads with “Perspective,” an opinion piece; followed by “Update,” a summary of some developments during the covered period; and then “Chronicle” which lists of analyses, statements, new resources, appeals and action alerts related to West Papua. Anyone interested in contributing a “Perspective” or responding to one should write to The opinions expressed in Perspectives are the author’s and not necessarily those of WPAT or ETAN.

For additional news on West Papua see the reg.westpapua listserv archive or on Twitter.


  • Civilians Suffer as Security Force Sweeps Perpetuate Cycle of Violence




Civilians Suffer as Security Force Sweeps Perpetuate Cycle of Violence

In late February, the Indonesian military (TNI) and National Police (POLRI) launched new “sweeping operations” in the Central Highlands of West Papua. The security force campaign follows the February 21 attack by the armed anti-Indonesian resistance which killed eight Indonesian military soldiers and two Indonesian civilians in Tingginambut, Puncak Jaya, reportedly carried out by Goliat Tabuni-led elements of the National Liberation Army of the Free Papua Movement (TPN-OPM). These latest Indonesian security force sweeps are disrupting civilian life in communities around Sinak, Gurage, Mulia and Tingginambut in Puncak Jaya District. Papuan leaders have condemned the violence and called anew for a Jakarta-Papua dialogue. (see for example )

The latest “sweeping operation” parallels a similar ongoing operation in the neighboring Paniai area., where “helicopters belonging to illegal gold miners in Degouwo were again being used by Indonesian troops to support the operation.”

The West Papua Advisory Team (WPAT) condemns the February 21 violence. Such violent acts only perpetuate the cycle of violence that has trapped Papuans, particularly in the Central Highlands, for decades.

WPAT vigorously condemns the actions of the Indonesian state security forces which, regardless of the provocation, have a fundamental international obligation to protect civilian life. The seizure and destruction of civilian homes and communal buildings as well as destruction of civilian food sources inevitably will force the flight of civilians to inhospitable forests and mountains. Many of those caught in such a maelstrom will surely soon begin to die.

We call on governments, especially those like the United States which have partnered with Indonesian security forces , to use the influence garnered by such dubious cooperation to bring an end to these sweeps. The United States government, which condemned  the February 21 attack on the Indonesian military is obliged to forthrightly condemn and seek an end to the Indonesian security forces ongoing assault on innocent civilians.

We urge international bodies, especially the appropriate offices of the United Nations, including the Human Rights Commission, to turn their attention to these sweeping operations and which pose a lethal threat to large numbers of civilians.

Humanitarian mechanisms must be immediately established to provide for the welfare of civilians whose lives have been disrupted and the area must be opened to both the humanitarian offices that will undertake that vital work and to credible reporting by journalists and human rights reporters.

As of February 26, the Indonesian security force sweeps had burned at least 18 houses to the ground, destroyed five GIDI (Protestant) churches, and destroyed a library and two schools in Tingginambut, according to reliable church sources who relayed eyewitness accounts to West Papua Media.

The toll on local civilians posed by the military/police operations is grave: “Witnesses have also reported that soldiers are deliberately burning and destroying food gardens and shooting livestock, including over 100 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,” writes West Papua Media.

Entire populations in villages the area of Gurake, Sinak, Tinggi Neri, Trugi and Nelekom have fled to the mountains. Several thousand people, mainly subsistence farmers, are said to live in the area. Townspeople from Mulia in Puncak Jaya are preparing to flee. As in the past, civilians who flee to the remote forests and mountains face possibly deadly separation from sources of food, shelter and medical care.

Another trademark of these sweeping operations, also employed in the current military/police campaign, is the prevention of reporting on developments by the authorities. The only media personnel allowed into the operations area are those with approval from the Indonesian army. Independent journalists and human rights workers have been prevented from traveling into the area by a de facto Military Operations Area being applied across the entire highlands, including the regional center of Wamena.

Papuan civil and religious leaders Rev. Dr. Benny Giay and Rev. Socratez Sofyan Yoman, among others, have pointed to the failure of Indonesian authorities to control the illegal sale of weapons in the Central Highlands as contributing to the February 21 attack. They have also noted the government’s long term objective of creating a new military command in the Central Highlands, an intention that is well served by violence in the area. “We believe that the Indonesian government and the security forces  are part of the problem of violence [emphasis in original] which has been created by the state, preserved by the state and allowed to continue in order to legitimize yet more acts of violence in the Land of Papua and to take advantage thereof in order to strengthen the security forces,” they wrote.  Both leaders called anew for “the Indonesian government to enter unconditionally into a dialogue based on the principle of equality between Indonesia and West Papua, with mediation by a neutral party, which is what happened in the dialogue between GAM (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka — the Aceh Liberation Movement) in Aceh. ” They urged the release of political prisoners and an end to the violence. Giay is Chair of the Synod of KINGMI Church, Papua; Yoman, Chair of the Executive Board of the Alliances of Baptist Churches in Papua.


Papuans Seek to Join Melanesian Spearhead Group

Radio Australia, on February 5 reported that West Papuans are seeking membership in the Melanesia Spearhead Group (MSG), a regional political and trade block which represents Melanesian peoples in the region, with the exception of the Papuan people in Indonesian-controlled New Guinea. The West Papua National Coalition for Liberation presented its petition asking to join the group to the MSG Secretariat in early February.

The MSG is comprised of four nation states: Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Fiji, and the Solomon Islands. The group also includes the FLNKS of New Caledonia. The inclusion of the FLNKS, a non-state actor, could serve as a precedent for inclusion of the Papuan petitioners.

U.S. Author Defames Papuan People; Ignores Consequences of Indonesian Occupation

Papuan civil society leaders strongly protested statements in a book by U.S.-based author Jared Diamond which portray Papuans (in both parts of New Guinea) as warlike and backward. Diamond’s argues in The World Until Yesterday that “most small-scale societies… become trapped in cycles of violence and warfare” and that “New Guineans (Papuans) appreciated the benefits of the state-guaranteed [Indonesian Government] peace that they had been unable to achieve for themselves without state government.”

Papuan leaders noted that Diamond ignored the extraordinary violence meted out to Papuans by Indonesian security forces since Jakarta forcibly annexed West Papua over four decades ago. Diamond also ignored Jakarta’s deliberate marginalization of indigenous peoples in favor of non-Papuan “transmigrants” brought to West Papua in a decades-long project that amounts to ethnic cleansing.

Among the many protests was one by Dominikus Surabut, currently jailed for treason for peacefully declaring West Papuan independence. He aptly compared the relationship of Papuans and the Indonesian state to South African apartheid. In a statement smuggled out of his jail cell, he said, “This is the very nature and character of colonial occupation of indigenous peoples, where they are treated as second class citizens whose oppression is justified by painting them as backwards, archaic, warring tribes — just as suggested by Jared Diamond in his book about tribal people.”

Diamond was sued for defamation by purported “sources” from Papua New Guinea for article published in the New Yorker magazine in 2008. While the suit was withdrawn, it is expected that it will be re-filed soon.

WPAT Comment: The U.S. government leaders, in justifying the betrayal of Papuan self-determination aspirations in the infamous New York Agreement of 1962, similarly demeaned the supposed backwardness of the Papuan people. Both  the U.S. then and Diamond in his recent analysis rely on defamation of the people being victimized.

See various statements by Papuan leaders at:

Tensions Grow Along Indonesia-PNG Border

The Papua New Guinea government announced the deployment of new military forces to its border in order to protect PNG citizens located near the border from the Indonesian military. The surprising February 18 announcement was accompanied by a formal protest by PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill’s government over the Indonesia’s construction of new military posts along the border. The protest also addressed Indonesian military harassment of PNG citizens.

WPAT Comment: The Indonesian military has long operated smuggling operations across the Indonesia-PNG border and has regularly harassed Papuan refugees who have fled military pressure from Indonesia-controlled West Papua to Papua New Guinea.


A Half Century of Failure

Bobbie Anderson in Inside Indonesia provides a detailed and insightful portrayal of life in remote, rural West Papua. Anderson describes how life is extraordinarily difficult and dangerous for Papuans and writes that the population there is completely bereft of government services. The government’s neglect of the majority of Papuans who live in rural West Papua over a half century is perhaps the most devastating critique of Indonesian governance.

Urgent Appeals on Behalf of Papuans Detained and Tortured by Police

Amnesty International is calling for action to help two men detained in Jayapura. The February 25 Urgent Action states that “Daniel Gobay and Matan Klembiap are currently detained at the Jayapura district police station in Papua province. Police officers allegedly tortured or other otherwise ill-treated them and five other men while interrogating them about the whereabouts of two pro-independence activists.” While the other five were released, the other Gobay and Klembiap “have not received medical treatment and they have not had access to a lawyer since their arrest.”  The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) also released an alert on the case, as well as a video with an interview with two of those picked up at the same time as Gobay and Klembiap. The two activists, Eneko Pahabol and Obed Bahabol, describe how they “were arrested and tortured by the police on 15 February 2013 on the false allegation of being related with two pro-independence activists.” The video is available on AHRC’s YouTube Channel on

Prison Torture

On February 22, AHRC has issued an Urgent Appeal on behalf of prisoners at the Abepura Correctional Facility. The appeal cites allegations of  torture by guards. It details how three prison guards “with the acquiescence of the head of the prison,” beat the prisoners “with bare hands as well as whipped [them] with thick wire until some parts of their bodies were bleeding. The guards did not give any medical treatment to the tortured prisoners.”

Papuans Behind Bars

Papuans Behind Bars published an “Update” in which it reports that “At the end of January 2013 there were 33 political prisoners in Papuan jails.”  The Update contains important information on prisoners, prisoner releases and ongoing and upcoming political trials in the region. Papuans Behind Bars is a new grassroots initiative of Papuan civil society groups working together as the Civil Society Coalition to Uphold Law and Human Rights in Papua. The project plans to “provide accurate and transparent data, published in English and Indonesian, to facilitate direct support for prisoners and promote wider debate and campaigning in support of free expression in West Papua.”

The project will publish records of over 200 current and former political prisoners on its website, which will go live in March.

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