On a mission to expose abuses in West Papua

By Teoh El Sen

FMT INTERVIEW PETALING JAYA: Hunted by the military, human rights activist and documentary filmmaker Wensi Fatubun left his home in West Papua, Indonesia, and continued his fight abroad.

“I received an SMS threatening me to back off from my investigations or I’ll face death. I then found out that the Indonesian military was tracking me. I had to throw away my phone. Just five days after I left and reached Bangkok, my friend, a journalist, was dead,” said Wensi, 29, who spoke to FMT in an interview here recently.

The naked body of Wensi’s journalist friend, Ardiansyah Matra’is, was found in a river. Police there had claimed the death was suicide.

Wensi, who had worked closely with Ardiansyah investigating illegal logging and corruption, said he was sure his former colleague did not kill himself.

“I believe his death had something to do with the investigative work he has been doing, especially on the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE). Before he died, a few journalists, including me received the same threatening SMS,” Wensi said, adding that such violence was not uncommon in Papua.

Wensi is on a roadtrip in Malaysia to spread awareness about the critical situation in Papua, and he would be travelling to the Philippines next to seek further support.

For almost 50 years since it was absorbed into Indonesia in 1963, West Papua, also called Irian Jaya (on the west side of the New Guinea island), has struggled for independence.

It has suffered various human rights violations mostly carried out by Indonesian security forces – intimidation, torture and brutal killing of villagers, activists and journalists; with human rights groups estimating tens of thousands of natives killed.

Worst poverty

The military is also alleged to be involved in illegal operations such as logging, prostitution and trading in endangered species to make a profit. Human Rights Watch claim Papua has the worst poverty in Indonesia, and the biggest HIV problem in the country.

Foreign media and NGOs are banned from going to West Papua.

Wensi said Ardiansyah’s death was tragic but it also strengthened his resolve to continue his simple yet difficult mission: to spread word about the abuses in Papua to other countries, and get help and support.

“I am not afraid. If I stayed in Papua, I could have been killed so I must continue this fight,” said Wensi, who worked as an investigator with a church-based organisation as well as assisted Human Rights Watch’s investigations into the human rights situation. He also trained young people to make documentaries.

Recently in October, the video of two Papuans tortured by soldiers shocked the world. The video depicted farmers Anggen Pugu Kiwo and Telengga Gire being violently interrogated by the military, who also burnt one of the men’s genitals. However, five men who were involved in a separate incident were charged.

Wensi said that such military oppression and torture happened to Papuans “every single day”.

“Before I became an activist, three of my friends were also tortured and interrogated by army personnel who wanted to know if there were part of a he separatist movement. One of them died this year,” said Wensi, who also trains young people to make documentaries.

He said that in West Papua, to be a journalist, activist or someone who fights for human rights means that you were a “separatist”.

“I am often called a separatist, an enemy,” said Wensi.

“Just last week, secret documents exposed by US freelance journalist Allan Nairn showed that US-backed Kopassus engaged in ‘murder and abduction’ and defined civilian dissidents as the ‘enemies’ in the province of Papua,” said Wensi.

Kopassus or Special Force Command is an Indonesian army special group that conducts missions for the government such as counter-terrorism and intelligence gathering.

Last July, the US government lifted a decade-long ban on US training and military assistance to Kopassus, which is considered a US ally in the fight against terrorism.

Asked how can Malaysians help Papua, Wensi said: “In any way you can. But mostly show solidarity with us whenever you read of news of military torture in my province. If in the past, Malaysia had joined Indonesia, it would now be suffereing the same fate as Papua.”

Below are exceprts of the interview:

Why did you choose to be an activist and not migrate to Papua New Guinea?

I chose to be an activist and filmmaker because I felt the need to be with the people and fight from the perspective of the people. I wanted to make documentaries as seen through the eyes of oppressed. I grew up in a village in Yodom and I saw with my own eyes a company, PT Korindo Group, take away the people’s land. As a result, the people have no place to hunt and farm. And after awhile the company leaves, but the people suffer because the richness of the land is all but gone.

Was there a specific incident that spurred your activism?

Well I saw my neighbours, my friends and my friends’ families arrested by militants. They were called Free Papua Movement (OPM). They were called separatists when in fact they were the intellectuals, the progressives. In 2005, three of my former school mates were tortured by army personnel, who claimed they were OPM members. They wanted to know “where my friends kept their weapons”. They poked a cigarrette butt into the eyes of one of them, who became blind. Another ran away and never came back. The third suffered a broken jaw and injuries to his backbone. For five years he could not walk or sit like a normal person. He died in July this year.

Why do you keep continuing this (fight) despite the dangers?

I feel that there are not many like us. Some of the activists and journalists in Wes Papua are siding with the government and the people there do not have a good idea of what is going on. The Human Rights Commission has written about these cases but there are no solutions. For example, in one incident, the people of one village had clashed with another but it was labelled as a ‘tribal war’ and gave a wrong impression that the natives are still primitive. A lot of people out there are not aware of the situation.

Were there incidents you could not forget?

The worst was when I interviewed a girl who was only 17 when she was raped by a soldier and she later carried his child. It was hard for me because she was so young. She dropped out of school later. Now she is waiting for justice but no one is doing anything. I could only tell her to wait and be patient. I know that the Indonesian police and military do not care, they are not doing anything. But she is still waiting. She was given two million rupiah for her pain and loss. That’s all. She kept crying when she was talking to me and all the while holding her ‘daughter’. I was very angry and sad and I felt like punching an Indonesian soldier.

What are some of the problems in Papua you would like to highlight?

A persistent problem which involves the military and the government is land grab. The big companies will come in and take away the land of the Orang Asli. One such mega project is the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE). This is a 1.6-million-hectare integrated food-production zone where companies are supposed to grow, process and package their products. It has 32 foreign investors coming in to develop 32 districts in Merauke, southeast of Papua.

What they are doing do not benefit the Papuans at all. The people there don’t like this because this would mean the demolition of their buildings and their holy sites. The people have written many times to the president and held demonstrations but to no avail. The Indonesian government does not care. The leader of one group formed to oppose this project was arrested. Anybody who disagrees will be targeted. The authorities also intimidated me because of my opposition against the MIFEE project.

How were you intimidated?

I was told that the regent of Merauke Jhon Gluba Gebze had instructed his men to target me. I also received an SMS saying that I would be killed if I continued to oppose the MIFEE project. This was one of the reasons I left West Papua for Thailand. I was told by reliable sources that they had formed a five-men team to hunt me down.

What are the other issues in Papua?

So many. There are so many problems there. First and foremost, the military there is working together with large companies to exploit the land of the Orang Asli, the Papuans. If you come to West Papua,the moment you step off the plane, you would see the military. In every village, there would be 17 to 20 army personnel… this is not good.

Recently, there was a Youtube video depicting the torture of Papuans by military men. Does this happened often?

These things – beating and kicking villagers – happened every single day.

You mentioned that you interviewed victims raped by army men. How bad is that?

It’s not that good. Our interviews were conducted in the Budul village from 2006 to 2010. We managed to find that there were some 54 cases there and interviewed the women from 19 years of age.

You mentioned that prostitution and HIV are a big problem too?

Yes, I believe that in the whole of Indonesia, Papua is number one in prostitution. What is worst is that the police and the military are the pimps; they are the ones who facilitate prostitution. Prostitutes from Jawa, Surabaya, Sulawesi, and Manadao come to Papua and many are also infected with HIV.

In one case, I visited one of the villages in Assue. A prostitute told me that she knew she had HIV but everyday she had sex with 10 Papua men. And in the same area, there was a nurse who admitted to me that she had used a single needle for the whole village… and the result was disastrous. In less than a week, from three people who are HIV positive, our tests found 35 more had been infected.

The problem is that the people of Papua don’t know anything about HIV/AIDS. This is because they lack education. It’s a sad truth: we have health facilities in almost all Orang Asli villages but zero doctors. Papuans are just waiting for help. So in the meantime they used their own primitive methods to cure themselves.

What other cases or examples can you tell us of the human rights abuses in Papua?

There are so many. Okay, in one fishing village, three people were shot dead, and some villages were burnt because the local fishermen were against companies coming in with their large boats to fish in their area. Nine policemen were charged in court but were released because the excuse given was that they were shooting at separatists. There was also a border incident. The military erected some buildings at the border between West Papua and Papua New Guinea. But the people who opposed it were beaten and the women raped. The military also forced youngsters, aged between 16 and 20, to sell items to the people in Papua New Guinea. If the things are not sold, they would be tortured. I know of six teenagers who hid in Papua New Guinea because they were afraid to return. I interviewed one of them.

You said the military there is so cruel. Why?

I think the army is behaving like this because it is taking orders from its political masters. Besides, it does not like the Orang Asli. I once sneaked into a military meeting and saw the army slideshows. Based on these, I know that the military thinks that Papuans have no nationalistic feelings and must be beaten so that they love Indonesia.

Why are foreign journalists and NGOs not allowed in West Papua?

Foreign journalists and NGOs are not allowed inside because I believe the government does not want the world to know the true situation there. It does not want people to know how bad the situation was after the annexation of West Papua into Indonesia.

What is your hope?

My hope is that Southeast Asia will know about the situation in Papua. Help us. Show solidarity. If there is military torture, we can protest together. I must continue writing and producing more films so that more people can understand the situation in Papua.

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