West Papua at Boiling Point: Strike at Freeport Mine

Astronaut photo of the Grasberg Mine in Papua ...
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Workers at Freeport McMoran‘s Grasberg mine in West Papua, one of the world’s biggest copper and gold mines, have been on strike since September 15th. Their immediate demand is a large wage increases to bring their salary into line with what the company pays its workers in other countries. The conflict has raged over the past six weeks with unremitting action and brutal repression, bringing the company to its knees at a time when Papua is in turmoil generally.

Several people have already lost their lives around the mine, which has been an ongoing source of tension in West Papua since the 1960s. On Monday 10th October police opened fire on striking miners as they tried to gain access to company premises. One man, Petrus Ayamseba was killed in the incident. Several others were wounded, and one of these, Leo Wandagau, died of his injuries five days later.

There have also been three incidences of shooting along the road that leads to the Freeport mine. Three contract workers were killed in an ambush on Friday 14th October, and then another three men were also killed a week later. Three police officers from the mobile brigade narrowly escaped when their vehicle was shot at on October 26. The perpetrators and their connection with the strike remain unknown. Such ambushes have happened on many occasions in the past in the area. Security forces routinely blame the actions on OPM guerrillas who are fighting for an independent West Papua. However as US-based solidarity group West Papua Action Team explains, “In the past, similar assaults against security and Freeport personnel have been attributed to conflicts among police, military and Freeport security personnel who have long feuded over the division of spoils from extortion practices that target Freeport, as well as conflict over freelance gold-mining efforts by local people.”

The struggle of workers, nevertheless, continues unabated: The strikers have kept up a blockade of the road leading to the mine, with the result that food and medicine supplies have run very low at the mine (although reportedly the local Papuan community near the mine is also suffering from this blockade). The company was also forced to shut production when it discovered that the 60-mile long pipeline carrying gold and copper concentrate from the mine to the port had been sabotaged in several places. Freeport has claimed that it has been able to repair the pipe and resume operations, although on 26th October it had to declare ‘force majure’ meaning that it would not be able to meet its contractual obligations to supply metal concentrates to its customers.

Aside from the shootings mentioned above there have been acts of intimidation from the company. The chief negotiator of the All Indonesia Workers Union (SPSI) which represents the striking workers, Sudiro, was sitting on the verandah of his house when a shot from a silenced gun hit a bowl on a table beside him. He understood this incident as a death threat rather than a direct attempt on his life.

Anger and suspicion in the workers remains high. Duma Tato Sanda, a journalist working for Cahaya Papua, told Papuan newspaper Jubi how he was beaten by the striking workers when he was trying to research a story about an action involving the burning of three Freeport trucks. ‘I said that I was a journalist but nevertheless they beat me and threw stones at me. Luckily, someone came by on a motor-bike otherwise I could have been killed from being beaten by so many people.’ Apparently the workers are reacting to the links which Freeport has made with other journalists, and so see journalists as a threat.

Solidarity actions with the strike have taken place outside of Papua. On the second day of ‘Occupy Jakarta’ protests, the Freeport building in the Indonesian capital was chosen as a focus for the action, and in the US city of Phoenix, activists planned to picket Freeport’s global headquarters on October 28th. In Yogyakarta on the 13th of Octob er and Jakarta on the 26th October there were also demonstrations, but with the demand that the Freeport mine be nationalised. This analysis might fit uneasily with the wishes of many Papuans, who quite clearly identify the Indonesian State as part of the oppression they face, just as much as foreign corporations.

solidarity action in Jakarta

All this is taking place in a moment of intense turmoil for Papuans. At the same time as the actions around Freeport, security forces violently broke up the third Papuan People’s Congress, being held outside Jayapura. With the excuse that the meeting of many thousands of people had decided to call for independence, troops dispersed the crowd using live ammunition. Over the following days six bodies were found in the area. Three-hundred people were arrested, six of which are currently being charged with treason.

Then on the 24th of October, in Mulia in Puncak Jaya two men jumped on the local police chief, Adj. Comr. Dominggus Oktavianus Awes at Mulia airport and used his gun to shoot him dead. The remote Puncak Jaya regency has been the scene of many of the state’s most brutal operations over the past several years, including village burnings, murder, rape and sweeping operations that terrorise the whole community. The Vanuatu-based international spokesperson of the Free Papua Movement (OPM), John Otto Ondawame did not say whether or not this was the work of the OPM, but did make the point that Dominggus had been one of “those who must take responsibility for the series of crimes against humanity in Puncak Jaya.”

Of course the links between the Freeport strike and the wider struggles of the Papuan people for peace and self-determination are not straightforward. But the climate of tension which has put Papua on edge right at the moment surely has its effects on the mineworkers too, as they struggle to make a decent living from this company whose presence in Papua has long been one of the key reasons for the continued militarisation across the whole island, as well as widespread ecological destruction.

Freeport McMoran is a US company headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona, US,although its Grasberg mine in Papua is operated in a joint venture with UK-Australian Rio Tinto, which recieves 40% of the mine’s profits.


URGENT ALERT: Indonesian police plan to break Freeport Workers Strike

From Indonesian Solidarity (Aust)

31st October 2011

Indonesian police plan to break Freeport Workers Strike.

According to Mr Albar Sabang, the Secretary of the All Indonesian Workers Union (SPSI), Freeport Indonesia Division, “four panzers, one backhoe and one bulldozer are on the way to mile 27 of the Freeport area in Mimika”. They plan to break the strike by November 1st, when the delegation of ICEM (a member of the CFMEU is part of the ICEM delegation) will meet with the Freeport unionists in Jakarta.

In a letter that was sent to SPSI, the Mimika police commander Deny Edward Siregar states that the SPSI has breached laws such as the Indonesian criminal law, and regulation 13/2003 that regulate the
workers’ conduct. In his letter the police commander says that “the strike has shifted its orientation, and become demonstrations without asking permission from the police and has blocked access to
roads that are vitally important for the national interests”. Further he states that the strikers “have moved from CP north to CP-1, Mile 27 and Gorong-Gorong”. And the strikers “have disturbed public order”. However, the Freeport Workers have followed all the right procedures in their strike while PT Freeport Indonesia has disbursed US$14 million of funds to Indonesian National Police and Military (TNI) to protect Freeport.

Gorong-Gorong is the area where Peter Ayameseba, one of the striking workers, was shot dead by the police in protests that occurred on October 10th.

The police rationale to break the strike, in addition to what the Mimika police commander has said, is that the strikers have pressured Freeport Indonesia, and gained a lot of solidarity support both in Indonesia and overseas. Freeport’s declaration this week of “force majeure” on some concentrate sales from its strike-hit Grasberg mine in Papua was another piece evidence that the strike has been effective.

Freeport Indonesia workers reportedly receive the lowest salaries among all Freeport McMoRan (FM) workers around the world, with wages ranging from US$1.50–$3.00 per hour. Meanwhile SPSI continues negotiating with Freeport Indonesia and demands to have US$7.5 to $33 per hour for workers level 1-3.

On 19th October 2011, the Indonesian military and police attacked the peaceful Papuan People’s Congress and six people were killed, more than 300 were taken into custody, the leaders accused of treason, and many others were beaten with rattan canes and batons by police and soldiers.

Freeport workers can be contacted via Yuly Parorongan as a spokeperson of the Freeport union at +6285254951253 and Frans Okoseray at +6181240492446

Indonesian Solidarity is an independent, non-profit organisation that supports human rights, social justice and democracy in Indonesia, and promotes a better understanding in Australia of these issues.

Forkorus and colleagues must be treated fairly, says Komnas HAM

Bintang Papua 26 October 2011Komnas HAM, the National Commission for Human Rights, has urged the police in Papua to respect the rights of the six persons who were arrested following the Third Papuan People’s Congress. The six include Forkorus Yaboisembut, chairman of the Papuan Customary  Council and Edison Waromi, a well-known human rights activist.  RA Ongge, speaking on behalf of the Commission, said they had also called for the release of all the civilians who were arrested by the security forces and the immediate return of possessions that had been seized at the time of their arrest. The police subsequently returned the possessions that had been seized.

Following the creation of a special team to deal with the arrests, Ongge said that they had visited the homes of Daniel Kadepa, Max Sasay and Yacob Samonsabra who had also been arrested, in order to gather information about the killings and other acts of violence that followed the end of the Papuan Congress..The victims said they had been badly treated  for two hours after the end of the Congress.

Forkorus who was able to meet members of Komnas HAM said: ‘As I was being arrested I was beaten and forcibly pushed onto a Baracuda. There was no way I  could resist as the police struck me in the back with their weapons,’ he said, while showing marks on his body. Members of Kontras, Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence were also witnesses to what happened to Forkorus.

Haris Azhar of Kontras  said that the violence against the men who were arrested was a case of gross human rights violations. These acts of violence by members of the security forces against civilians, acting on behalf of the state and using facilities such a vehicles which were state property  could be defined as gross human rights violations.

Members of Komnas HAM also visited other participants at the Congress who had also been taken into custody when many strange things had happened, including the discovery of people who had been killed . These matters have been raised with the chief of police. ‘None of these people offered any resistance when they were arrested,’ said Ridah Saleh of Komnas HAM.

Several sernior officials from Komnas HAM in Jakarta arrived in Jayapura to assist their local team and have met with members of the police force, as an indication of the seriousness with which the events following the Papuan Congress are seen in Jakarta.

Haris Azhar said:  ‘We regard this as an example of the appalling treatment of Papuans by the security forces , an example of their discrimination and suppression.’

Selpius Bobii, a member of the organising committee of the Congress, also told journalists  said none of those arrested were responsible for anything as it was he himself who as chairman of the Congress committee who accepts responsibility for everything that happened during the congress.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the police told journalists that the police were now in the process of investigating the case and were currently interrogating a number of people as well as some witnesses who were on duty with the security forces at the time.

LP3BH: Police and army chiefs must be held responsible for attacks on Papuan Congress participants

Statement by Yan Christian Warinussy, executive-director of LP3BH/Manokwari

The attack by members of the Indonesian Police/Polri  and the Indonesian Army against partiipants at the Third Papuan People’s Congress on  19 October was a gross violations of human rights because it was perpetrated against ordinary civilians who were unarmed  and were not involved in any acts of resistance.This is abundantly clear from video which I and the LP3BH-Manokwari have in our possession and which have been shown to  government officials and members of the European Parliament as well as to members of the German Parliament last week in Berlin.

The videos clearly show that the attacks that were launched by members of Polri and the TNI were acting under the command of the chief of police in Papua and in Jayapura. There were no acts of resistance whatever by members of the public or by any of the participants at the Congress, including members of the special defence group for the Congress, the PETAPA.

The videos also show a number of persons in civilian clothing, wearing short pants and shirts  who are clearly intelligence agents of the police and the army, who can be seen holding  pistols as well as rifles and who can be seen firing their weapons into the air, and even show some members of the security forces firing in the direction of the large crowd of people who were running away towards the mountains or to places in Abepura, in fear of their lives.

The discovery of six dead bodies following the tragedy of the Third People’s Congress is a clear indication of the use of ammunition being aimed against the mass of people.

As a human rights activist in the Land of Papua, I saw no actions aimed at dispersing the people or attempts to prevent chaos. The Congress was already over and  one hour later, members of the security forces who were under the command of  Police Commissioner Imam Setyawan SIK can be seen trying to prevent a  vehicle which was driving along Jalan Yakonde with the lawyer Edison Waromi on board, which  was damaged by the security forces who pulled the people of the vehicle and started beating them and then pushed them into a  police van to be driven to police headquarters where they are now being held in custody.

Following the arrest of Waromi, the security forces starting firing their weapons and chasing participants of the Papuan Congress as they were leaving the location of that event.

I herewith, as Executive Director of LP3BH/Manorkwari and a human rights defender in the Land of Papua, urge Komnas HAM, to investigate the matter and to bring formal charges against the Papua chief of police and the police chief in Jayapuara, as well as the commander of the 1702 military command in Jayapura  who were in command of the operation to be held fully accountable for the bloody incident that occurred on 19 October 2011

Breaking News:First Demos since Papuan crackdown to demand Indon take abuse responsibility


October 31, 2011

(Jayapura) Renewed demonstrations are being held in Jayapura today demanding Indonesia take formal and legal responsibility for ongoing human rights abuses in West Papua, most recently the brutal attack on the Third Papuan People’s Congress (KP3) on October 19.

In the first act of political expression since the violent crackdown by Indonesian security forces on the declaration of the Democratic Republic of West Papua (RDPB) by KP3 participants, local organisers of today’s rally have expressed concern that security forces will again resort to extreme violence to suppress peaceful dissent.

The demonstration, which started at 0900 local time in Waena, near Jayapura, is also demanding the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in West Papua, including those arrested and charged with treason for organising the historic KP3 Congress from October 16-19.

According to witness reports received at the beginning of the march, over 500 police are present with 300 armed riot police and water cannon shadowing the peaceful march.  2 Corps of Brimob (2628-XVII and 2627-XVII0) and 2 SSK (Special Security Company – 150 men each ) of normal police from Polresta Jayapura are attendance, with almost a company of plain clothes police are in attendance, with armoured equipment.  Over four companies of Indonesian army in full battle gear are also present.

Speaking by phone to West Papua Media from Jayapura on Sunday night,  a Prime Ministerial spokesman for the recently declared RDPB transitional government said that “the increased militarisation of Papua is not the solution that we wish for”.  The spokesman further mentioned that Indonesia must allow a platform for us to peacefully express out views in accordance with internationally accepted human rights”.

Rolling civil resistance activities have also been planned across West Papuan towns in coming days, partly to socialise the outcome of the KP3  meetings, and also to up the ante on the Indonesian state to accept the need for political change in Papua, including allowing West Papuan people to exercise their universal human right of self-determination, according to organisers.  Despite brutal tactics, intimidation and nightly terror sweep operations by police and military across Jayapura creating significant tension and fear amongst the local population, people are prepared to stand for their rights and prepared to be arrested.

Over 800 people were arrested by Indonesian security forces after simultaneous premeditated raids on various venues in Jayapura on October 19 after the declaration of an independent West Papua.  Most of the 800 were released, with scores sustaining serious injuries from beatings and torture by security forces. Seven of the leaders of KP3remain in detention having been charged with makar (Rebellion) and Treason, accused by Jakarta of holding a coup d’etat.  Evidence is beginning to emerge that the crackdown was known about in Jakarta before the declaration  was made, though it is unclear at this stage who ultimately authorised the use of extreme force against unarmed Papuan delegates.

Seven victims have been formally named, but local human rights activists claim that 17 people were killed by Indonesian police and soldiers, including  members of the elite Australian-trained and funded Detachment 88 counterterrorism unit.  Over a thousand people are still in hiding, including many with significant untreated injuries meted out by security forces during the simultaneous attacks on Congress .

Organisers of today’s rallies are expecting  several thousand people to attend the event in Jayapuras, starting in Sentani (about 25 km outside Jayapura) and  then via a long march to Waena, to finish outside the DPRP, the Papuan Provincial Parliament.  According to organisers, Jayapura area Police have granted permission for the march and demonstration to go ahead but it is unclear at this stage if a crackdown will occur.

The Indonesian Police Commander for Papua province, Iman Setiawan, held a press conference after the crackdown at KP3 saying that he will “do his duty to defend the integrity of Indonesia” and “destroy”  anyone who would speak of a Free West Papua.  He told the Jakarta Globe on October 21 “Whoever supports separatism or subversion activity, I will do the same as yesterday [forcefully dissolve the 3rd Papua People’s Congress]. I’ll finish [them],”  “So, if there is anyone supporting such movements, I’m ready to die and finish them,” he said. “This is my duty.”

It is unclear whether Jakarta is going to call for restraint of its security forces again, or if they once again will kill people for engaging in peaceful free expression.

This is a developing story that West Papua Media will continue to monitor closely – please stay tuned.

West Papua Media

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