Category Archives: Papua Briefings

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:
http://www.papuansbehindbars.org/?p=3252

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 http://www.etan.org/issues/wpapua/default.htm. Questions regarding this report can be addressed to Edmund McWilliams at edmcw@msn.com. If you wish to receive the report directly via e-mail, send a note to etan@etan.org. Link to this issue: http://etan.org/issues/wpapua/2013/1309wpap.htm

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 edmcw@msn.com. 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.

CONTENTS

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!

PERSPECTIVE

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.

UPDATE

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.

CHRONICLE

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: http://etan.org/issues/wpapua/2013/1308wpap.htm

Back issues of West Papua Report

PAPUA – PRISON ISLAND: SPECIAL IN-DEPTH 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 http://www.papuansbehindbars.org , 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 http://www.etan.org/issues/wpapua/default.htm Questions regarding this report can be addressed to Edmund McWilliams at edmcw@msn.com. If you wish to receive the report directly via e-mail, send a note to etan@etan.org.

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 edmcw@msn.com. 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.

CONTENTS

  • Civilians Suffer as Security Force Sweeps Perpetuate Cycle of Violence

UPDATE

CHRONICLE

PERSPECTIVE

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 http://westpapuamedia.info/2013/03/06/forkorus-regrets-the-death-of-indonesian-soldiers-and-civilians/ )

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.

UPDATE

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: http://assets.survivalinternational.org/documents/877/papuanstatementsupdated.pdf

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.

CHRONICLE

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 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eMI1HouWMv4.

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.

Link to this issue: http://etan.org/issues/wpapua/2013/1303wpap.htm

Back issues of West Papua Report

 

What Kind of Solidarity for West Papua? A response to Martin Pelcher’s article ‘Fear, Grief and Hope in Occupied West Papua’

What Kind of Solidarity for West Papua? A response to Martin Pelcher’s article ‘Fear, Grief and Hope in Occupied West Papua’

by  Jason MacLeod

DISCUSSION PAPER

In a recent article, ‘Fear, Grief and Hope in Occupied West Papua’, author activist Martin Pelcher issued a thought provoking challenge to international advocates working in solidarity with West Papuans. Pelcher, who is predominately speaking to ‘White’, ‘Western’ activists, argues that a recent surge in state violence against Komite Nasional Papua Barat (KNPB – the West Papua National Committee) is cause for re-evaluating international solidarity for West Papua. Pelcher wonders whether Western support for Papuan freedom might be counter-productive. While there is much in Pelcher’s article that I agree with I think Pelcher lets Western solidarity activists – and by extension governments and transnational corporations who support the Indonesian government’s continued occupation of West Papua – off too lightly. Reflexivity is essential but we need to ensure that Western activists do not avoid responsibility for challenging the way Western governments and corporations fuel violence and exploitation in West Papua. Solidarity activists can take comfort in the fact that a broad spectrum of Papuans[1] are also asking for international support in ways that respect and strengthen their own agency.

Pelcher’s piece is an invitation to dialogue. It has already generated much conversation. The call to make that conversation more public, or visible amongst growing international solidarity networks, has been picked up by the West Papua Advocacy Team in the United States and also by the Faith Based Network for West Papua who encouraged people to respond to Pelcher’s article. This piece is a response to that invitation and written with the desire to continue the conversation.

Pelcher’s original argument

Western support for a free West Papua taps into deeply embedded Indonesian narratives of western imperialism. Pelcher writes that this is not just lingering nationalist hurt over the loss of East Timor. Even progressive Indonesian activists support West Papua’s continued integration into Indonesia. Notice, for example, Indonesian Friends of the Earth’s (WALHI) recent failure to publicly support their representative in West Papua, Fanny Kogoya when she was forced into hiding because of her links to KNPB. Indonesian citizen support for the occupation is a tremendous source of power for the state that helps the state maintain and justify military aggression.

Although attacks on KNPB have received more coverage – in what is still a grossly under-reported struggle – other groups also continue to be targeted by the state. Papuan political prisoners in jail represent both highlanders and islanders and a broad diversity of political groups. Political organisations aside from KNPB who also pursue independence include the Federal Republic of West Papua, West Papua National Authority, AMP (Aliansa Masyarakat Papua), AMP-PT (Aliansa Masyarakat Papua – Pegunungan Tengah), DEMAK (Dewan Masyarakat Koteka), Sonamapa (Solidaritas Nasional Mahasiswa Papua Barat), FNMPP (Front Nasional Mahasiswa Pemuda Papua Barat), West Papua National Youth Awarenesss Team (Westpanyat), AMAK (Aliansa Masyarakat Anti-Kekerasan), ParJal (Parlamen Jalanan), Garda and others. Activists in other parts of the country like Fak-Fak, Manokwari, Yapen, Merauke and elsewhere have also been hit by the repressive force of the Indonesian state. Even groups that eschew an overt political agenda, preferring to expand the contours of freedom through campaigning for basic rights, are routinely harassed by the state. They include civil society groups like Elsham Papua, Dewan Adat Papua, Bersatu untuk Keadilan, Foker LSM, Jubi, Kontras, the churches and others. Some human rights defenders have had to periodically relocate themselves and their families to Jakarta to protect themselves from intimidation and threats.

Papuans also consider the TPN-PB (Tentara Pembebasan Nasional – Papua Barat), or National West Papuan Liberation Army – which consists of a decentralised network of groups based around attachment to clan, tribe, and geographic area – an important part of resistance to the Indonesian state. But in terms of numbers, activities and effectiveness the TPN-PB are marginal players. Members of the armed struggle are routinely co-opted by the state to further the Indonesian security services own aims, whether that is about protecting vested private business interests – mostly in logging, mining and extortion – or pursuing national security objectives designed to weaken and destroy the Papuan independence movement.

The random and brutal nature repression by the Indonesian state means that citizens not actively involved in the freedom movement routinely become victims of state violence. In his article Pelcher focuses on KNPB but alludes to the fact that the whole of Papuan society is caught up in the same repressive net. Papuans live with this foreboding sense that they, their family members or their friends could be targeted at any time.

In seeking to explain the state repression in West Papua Pelcher reminds us that the Indonesian nation was formed and defended in the context of a long, and relatively recent, anti-imperialist struggle against the Dutch. Nearly two decades after Indonesian nationalists declared independence in 1945 Sukarno launched a military invasion to wrest back control of what he called the “Dutch Puppet State”. For this reason, as well as for the fact that West Papua’s inclusion into the Indonesian archipelago reinforces a multi-ethnic, multi-religious Indonesian identity, West Papua’s inclusion in the Unitary Republic of Indonesia is a source of tremendous pride for the overwhelming majority of Indonesians, including left wing activists. This view is deeply entrenched. The fact that the Indonesian political elite also gained control of bountiful supply of valuable natural resources was simply icing on the cake. Western narratives of Papuans nonviolently fighting for democracy, rights and national liberation against a brutal military occupation are rendered immediately suspect, tapping into what many Indonesians believe is a ‘hidden agenda’ by the West. The narrative of a Papuan led anti-colonial resistance struggle does not easily fit with the dominant Indonesian view that they liberated Papua. Instead sympathetic Western portrayals of the Papuan struggle are re-cast and attached to ulterior motives. Pelcher:

Western support for East Timorese independence – and signs of such support being extended to West Papua – have been easy to frame [by the Indonesian press] as vehicles for the West’s neo-imperial manipulation and pursuit of the region’s abundant mineral and petroleum resources. The more Western advocates succeed in focusing global attention on the plight of Papuans under Indonesian rule, the more the Indonesian security establishment can deploy the spectre of a “foreign intervention” (like the UN’s intervention in East Timor) to mobilize Indonesian public opinion behind its harsh policing measures.

One of the reasons why Pelcher’s article is so challenging is that he writes to us as an insider, as a fellow solidarity activist, who is searching his conscience for answers to the question ‘what to do?’, and in doing so prompting us to search our own conscience. And it is not as if the issues he raises have gone away. Since Pelcher wrote the article attacks against KNPB have gotten worse. The Indonesian state has all but “declared war” on the pro-independence civilian based organisation. At the time of writing 22 leaders had been summarily executed by the security forces. Scores have been arrested. Much of the leadership has been driven underground and into exile … but KNPB maintains it’s politically defiance stance. The group’s leader, Victor Yeimo continues to insist that KNPB is committed to resolute nonviolent resistance and will not back down from its call for a referendum.

So what should international advocates do? Pelcher has more questions than answers. He acknowledges that Western advocates are increasingly putting Papuan human rights on the international community’s agenda. Pelcher also recognises the work of Papuan human rights defenders and their allies in Jakarta who have raised questions about the Indonesian security forces use of summary justice instead of legal means to investigate acts of violence. However, the dominant story in the Indonesian media supports a police narrative that pins “the blame on the student activists of KNPB as well as the wider network of underground Papuan nationalist resistance.”  The central question Pelcher raises in his article is how can international advocates generate global solidarity against injustice in West Papua without strengthening the state’s pretext for terror?

Papuans are the drivers of the struggle

I agree with Pelcher that Papuans are the drivers of the struggle. The more Papuans rise up and collectively and nonviolently resist the occupation the more the legitimacy of the Indonesian government’s continued aggression in West Papua is strained; the more likely more people outside Papua will stand in solidarity with them, and the more effective that solidarity is likely to be. Papuans are the primary architects of their own liberation. While external solidarity is important it will always be secondary to movements for change inside the country. We need critical reflection about the role of external solidarity.  As well as reinforcing the way the security forces frame Papuan resistance as a foreign led plot, at times international solidarity action has tended to tap into unrealistic Papuan beliefs about the willingness and ability of the international community to assist Papuan freedom goals. Although solidarity in other parts of Indonesia and international solidarity outside Papua is necessary to support Papuan freedom goals, by itself it will never be sufficient. We need solidarity that is respectful; solidarity that strengthens collective action that is led by Papuans. We need less solidarity action and rhetoric that fosters dependency, passivity and false hopes that outsiders will save the Papuans. They cannot. They will not. As Benny Giay, the moderator of the Papuan church once said, “Papuans are the captains of their own lives.”

South-South solidarity

Pelcher is not arguing against solidarity; he is asking what kind of solidarity might be most useful to the Papuan’s struggle for freedom. Some solutions are implicit in his article, others Pelcher is more forthright about. In particular, Pelcher calls for more “south-south” solidarity as a necessary corrective to White Western perspectives.

Two types of South-South solidarity are particularly important. The first is solidarity from Pacific Island countries, particularly the Melanesian countries. Why should other states worry about what is happening in West Papua when Pacific Island countries in general, including Australia and New Zealand, and the Melanesian nations in particular, say and do little to support West Papua? The voice of Melanesian citizens and governments are essential to mobilizing greater international support. If the Papuans continue to push for an independent state they will need the support of other states but that goal, if it eventuates, is a long way off. Independence is even less likely without the active support of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Fiji).

Secondly, there is much valuable learning that can happen between Papuans and other peoples who are resisting occupations and struggling for self-determination. Recently I had the privilege of witnessing a learning exchange between West Papuans and Burmese who shared notes about how to work nonviolently for democracy, rights and liberation in a repressive context. Papuans have learnt much from their colleagues in East Timor and Aceh. Imagine if there were more venues where focused learning could take place. Spaces where West Papuans could meet with people from other self-determination struggles who have successfully enlarged the contours of freedom: East Timorese, South Sudanese and Kosovars. Imagine too if Papuans could exchange strategies and tactics with people who are still struggling for self-determination: Palestinians, Tibetans, Saharawi’s from Western Sahara, Nagas, Kanaks (people from the French colony of New Caledonia), people from Mahoi Nui (Tahiti and French Polynesia), Bougainvillians, the Kurds and other indigenous peoples caught in the grip of the state.

 

 

Solidarity between Papuans and Indonesians

I also agree with Pelcher that solidarity with progressive Indonesians is also essential. This is something that both Papuans and their transnational allies could cultivate more. People like Budi Hernawan, Andreas Harsono and Eko Waluyo are providing leadership here. They hold out a challenge to other Indonesians who care about democracy, human rights, and social and environmental justice.

There is a strategic paradox to wrestle with here. Many Papuans opposes the Indonesian state but they also need the support of ordinary Indonesians to secure greater freedom.  This is because Jakarta depends less on Papuans to maintain the occupation than on sustaining domestic support for an Indonesian state that includes West Papua at all costs. In brief, Papuans need Indonesian allies. However, when Papuans exclusively appeal to indigenous identity and Christianity, frame their grievances around historical injustices, and communicate their aspirations in ways that emphasise independence, they unwittingly limit their ability to mobilize support from other Indonesians who are overwhelmingly nationalist and Muslim. As a result, Papuans reduce their chances of winning over a key influence on the Indonesian government: the Indonesian people.

This highlights the conundrum for Papuan activists. There is a perception that working for intermediate objectives means selling out the long-term goal of independence. Yet to build Indonesian support for greater political freedom in West Papua and to put pressure on the Jakarta government requires framing campaigns around intermediate objectives like: freedom of expression; open access to West Papua for journalists, diplomats, NGOs, tourists, and others; democracy; environmental protection; corruption; sustainable development; economic justice, civil rights, universal access to education and health services; accountable government; and human rights. This does not mean giving up on larger goals like independence. As one senior Papuan leader recently said to me: “the struggle for basic rights is not the enemy of independence”. It means taking a longer view about building political power.

Campaigns for more limited strategic objectives can simultaneously strengthen Indonesian democracy and build Papuans’ international reputation—developments that will leave Papuans in a better position to realize larger aspirations. This is a strategic challenge. Papuans need to use collective action frames that resonate with different audiences at different times, define intermediate demands, and time mobilization to achieve short-term objectives, but in ways that leave the movement in a stronger position to achieve their ultimate goal: full political freedom.

In this way a new Papua gets built on an inclusive vision and a deeper articulation of the multiple meanings of merdeka (freedom). People like John Rumbiak and Benny Giay urge that this vision needs to include not only diverse Papuan tribes, but also Indonesian migrants, another source of the Indonesian government’s power in West Papua. Mobilization through an exclusive Papuan identity and through a single focused demand for independence framed exclusively in opposition to Indonesia will create a fragile unity, perhaps liable to break down under stress and less capable of carrying through an agenda for democratic transformation.

 

Non-partisanship

There are other areas where Pelcher and I agree, particularly his implicit argument for solidarity that is non-partisanship. It is clear from his article that Pelcher is close to the radical highland independence youth movement, KNPB. This is a group that I also sympathise with. However, Pelcher does not exclusively take sides. He also writes about the leadership of the Federal Republic of West Papua currently imprisoned for determined, unapologetic and nonviolent acts of insurrection. Pelcher articulates the challenges the movement for freedom in West Papua poses not only to the Indonesian state but also to transnational capital in West Papua. We need more activists like Pelcher who can reach out to the different parts of the movement and in doing so make more space for unity from inside the movement and solidarity from outside.

 

Where we disagree: the paradox of repression

While I agree with Pelcher’s analysis about how Western support for freedom in West Papua can tap into Indonesian suspicion that there is a foreign plot to access West Papua’s resources I disagree with his conclusions. I think Pelcher is mistaken in his understanding of the dynamics of repression. I also think that part of our role as solidarity activists is to continually emphasize that the struggle is being led by Papuans and that role of outsiders is to support their efforts and amplify their voices. I don’t think that solidarity by Westerns is the cause of repression, even though the state will use whatever means they can to justify their repression.

One of the reasons why the Indonesian government is employing repression against KNPB and other resistance groups – including sanctioning extrajudicial killing – is because they fear the growing power of organised nonviolent resistance against the state. Kopassus’ (the Indonesian Special Forces) own intelligence analysis of the Papuan freedom movement, leaked by Alan Nairn and the West Papua Project from the University of Sydney, reveals that the armed struggle is not a threat because they ‘hardly do anything’.

One of the reasons the armed struggle does not “do anything” – or rarely engages in military action – is because it is hard to recruit people to join the armed struggle. Guerrilla fighters often live difficult lives isolated in the jungle and mountains. The TPN does also not have a state sponsor, and while it will be extremely difficult for the state to destroy the TPN militarily, the TPN will also never be able to out gun or outnumber the Indonesian military. The use of violence to achieve political goals also favours fit young men and involves high levels of commitment and risk. Few Papuans are willing to risk their lives joining an armed struggle that has little prospect of success.

According to the Indonesian military nonviolent resistance is “much more dangerous” because they have “reached the outside world’’ with their ‘obsession’ with ‘merdeka’ (the independence/ freedom struggle) and persist in “propagating the issue of severe human rights violations in Papua,’ i.e. ‘murders and abductions that are done by the security forces.’’

Stopping Papuans who are organising to win freedom is easier if the movement uses violence or if the Indonesian government can convince outsiders that Papuans are engaged in armed struggle. If Papuans respond – or are seen to be responding – with violent action the Indonesian government will be able to frame their actions as terrorism and threats to national sovereignty. This allows the Indonesian government to justify their use of violence against the movement. Action that physically harms others or threatens other people reduces support from third parties. Even if third parties are sympathetic to the goals of the movement the majority of people will question the legitimacy of using violence who tend to view armed movements as extremists. Innocent villagers from the rural areas are particularly vulnerable to disproportionate violent retaliation by the security forces because few journalists, church workers and human rights groups are present and able to hold the security forces accountable through human rights reportage.

The purpose of state violence is to inflict pain but to do so in ways that lessen the likelihood that repression will generate moral outrage and consequently, more political mobilisation. The Indonesian government wants to stop people coming together to press for rights and freedom and they are prepared to use any means necessary. In one sense, therefore repression – if it occurs when the movement is growing in numbers and power – can be interpreted as success; that the opponent recognises the growing strength of the movement.

There is no guarantee of success for any liberation movement. But using nonviolent action increases the likelihood of success and provides more opportunities for large numbers of people to participate in the struggle. The consistent use of disciplined and collective mass nonviolent action over time will is more likely to prompt ordinary Indonesians to question the occupation and even divide their loyalties. That is why nonviolent discipline is so important. The Papuan freedom movement needs to encourage ordinary Indonesians to question what their government is doing. It also needs to carry out actions that encourage and enable more support from domestic and international third parties.

If the Indonesian state continues to use violent repression against Papuans, which it is doing at the moment and is likely to continue to do, the Papuan freedom movement needs to be prepared. The evidence from studies of liberation movements around the world, including from places where repression is more severe than in West Papua, shows that repression can backfire. The most important thing that helps make repression backfire is that repression becomes visible to outside audience and gets interpreted as an injustice in ways that promote moral outrage. Solidarity activists, working in cooperation with Papuan activists, have a big role to play with this. Inviting outsiders like PBI, diplomats, journalists and others to witness and report on both state violence and nonviolent resistance can also help.

There are a range of other things movements can do. Tactically they can emphasise actions that are low risk and high participation. Movements can also build decentralized network structures coordinated by a shared vision, shared goal and a shared strategy. These kinds of structures are more resilient than hierarchical structures because they encourage collective leadership, support tactical innovation and help protect more visible leaders who may be targeted by the state.

People inside and outside West Papua need to raise the political and economic costs of the Indonesian government not negotiating with the Papuan freedom movement. Make no mistake – we need militancy, but militancy of a determined, disciplined nonviolent kind. Papuans are already acting in this way. We need more outsiders to get behind them. One of the reasons the Indonesian government has not engaged in dialogue is because it is not worth them investing political capital in doing so. In other words the conflict in West Papua has not become enough of a problem for them, both domestically and internationally. The conflict has to become more costly economically for transnational capital in West Papua. Papuan activists and the solidarity movement need to use nonviolent methods to compel the Indonesian and foreign governments, and transnational capital to sit at the table in ways that take control of how the struggle is portrayed. We need to understand that the role of repression is to stop Papuans demanding freedom and rights. We need to find ways to continue to support Papuans who live with the tension between the risk of making change and keeping safe. But we also need to be realistic; there is no path in life that does not involve suffering. That is particularly true for those committed to struggling for liberation in the midst of the Indonesian government’s occupation of West Papua. To a much lesser extent that is true for solidarity activists. We need more people like Pelcher who travel inside Papua, get close to Papuan activists struggling for freedom, and provide practical support and moral solidarity to unarmed resistance at some risk to themselves.

 

 

Waging the struggle in three domains

It is foreign governments that help supply the Indonesian military and police with arms. It is the Australian and U.S governments that train and arm Detachment 88, the counter intelligence police force that has no qualms about using extra-judicial killing as a form of conflict management. It is unchecked transnational companies that are fueling conflict in West Papua.

In situations where one’s own government supports the Indonesian’s government’s occupation of West Papua the role of solidarity activists is fourfold: first, to nonviolently resist our own government’s support of Indonesian state violence; second, to find ways to support nonviolent resistance in West Papua; third, to make both the human rights violations by the Indonesian state and the nonviolent resistance by the Papuans more visible and more audible; and fourth, to communicate both these to ever expanding audiences who can mobilise on behalf of the Papuans.

I think solidarity activists, including Western activists, need to be more active not less. My own view is that the job of international solidarity activists is to work in collaboration with Papuans to raise the political and economic costs of the Indonesian government’s occupation. And because the Indonesian government depends on support of ordinary Indonesians, foreign governments and transnational capital as well as West Papuans to maintain the occupation we need a stronger movement that wages nonviolent conflict inside West Papua, inside Indonesia and in the societies of the Indonesian government’s international allies. When it comes to West Papua, people inside and out need to generate more conflict, not less. We then need to find nonviolent ways to resolve that conflict that support justice and peace. That does not equate with supporting or being involved with political violence.

 

What kind of international solidarity for West Papua?

So what kind of international solidarity is needed for West Papua? I think those of us in Western countries that have been ‘armed’ with wealth and opportunity need to use our privilege ethically. Elites in countries like the Netherlands, the U.S and Australia created the problem in West Papua. These countries continue to benefit politically and economically from the situation. That creates a moral imperative for Australians, Dutch, German’s, English, Irish, Scots, U.S citizens and others to act in solidarity with the Papuans. We need to care just as much about decolonization and liberation as Papuans do.

I want to suggest seven things international Western solidarity activists can do.

Firstly, we need to be committed to supporting the struggle through nonviolent means, not just for moral reasons, but primarily because nonviolent resistance is more effective. It allows more people to participate in the struggle, it is more likely to win over uncommitted third parties and it is more likely to blunt the political effectiveness of the Indonesian government’s use of violence to repress the movement.

Secondly, we need more people like Pelcher who visit West Papua. West Papua is isolated internationally. Personal face to face relationships help deepen people’s commitment to accompanying Papuans in their struggle for peace and justice, sensitise them to the issues and provide the means for getting information out. Quantitatively more ties between Papuans and sources of outside support and qualitatively stronger relationships between Papuans, Indonesians and outsiders that are orientated towards respectfully assisting Papuan goals help maximize the likelihood that Papuans will realize their desire for freedom.

Thirdly, and related to the second point, we need more people who learn Indonesian. While many Papuan activists are doing their bit to break down West Papua’s isolation by learning English we also need more people who take the time to learn Indonesian and make long-term commitments to the struggle. Again Pelcher is an inspiration in this regard.

Fourthly, if and when we are invited by Papuans to do so, we can provide technical support to assist nonviolent struggle. Building a strong and secure communications network and increasing strategic capacity is particularly critical.

Fifthly, we need to target the Indonesian government’s external sources of power located in our own countries of origin. We need more U.S’ers to target the way their government and the way Freeport exports terror and exploits West Papua. We need others to target other corporations like BP, Rio-Tinto and logging companies who exploit West Papuan resources and foster economic and environmental injustice. We need more citizens to challenge and disrupt their own government’s willingness to arm and train the Indonesian military and police.

Sixthly, and lastly, we need to build relationships with and collaborate with progressive Indonesian activists and support and work with Papuan activists to do the same. Indonesia will never be a free and equitable society while West Papuans are denied their right to decide their future; while they live in poverty, while their resources are plundered, while foreign journalists are locked out, while political prisoners continue to languish in jail, while the Indonesian security forces continue to use torture with impunity, and while Papuans are denied the right to free speech.

Seventh, Pelcher makes the point powerfully that we all – Papuans, Indonesians and international allies – need to find ways to recast the story that the struggle in Papua is violent and foreign led and that solidarity with West Papua is anti-Indonesian and imperialist. That story is false. It serves vested corporate and military interests, both in Indonesia and in the offices of governments and boardrooms of transnational corporations. We need new memes that recast the story. The struggle in West Papua is a nonviolent anti-occupation struggle for justice, human rights and democracy. West Papua is Indonesia’s Palestine.

West Papua needs more friends and more solidarity from the West, not less. We especially need to continue with the solidarity when the Indonesian government uses ruthless repression in an attempt to silence the Papuan movement for freedom.

I want to leave the last word on solidarity to KNPB chair, Viktor Yeimo. Recently arrested for leading a nonviolent action in West Papua, Yeimo issued a clear invitation to solidarity. Paraphrasing Ché Guevara Yeimo wrote: “when your heart trembles at oppression you are a friend of ours”.

In the spirit of Yeimo’s request may Papuans find that the numbers and commitment of their friends growing daily.


[1] This includes religious leaders, traditional leaders, women, students, academics, NGO activists, human rights defenders as well as members of resistance groups. Notable exceptions like Franzalbert Joku and Nick Messett, who actively support the Indonesian government’s position, notwithstanding.