At Papuan Congress, a Brutal Show of Force

via Jakarta Globe

by Oktovianus Pogau

October 22, 2011

Jayapura, Papua. Anxiety was apparent among the participants of the Third Papuan People’s Congress on Wednesday as they marched toward the event venue in Abepura, passing by lines of military and police officers in full combat gear and holding assault rifles.

By 8 a.m. that morning, the final day of the three-day congress, security officers were standing at the ready. Five Barracuda armored jeeps were parked not far from the Zakeus oval, the site of the event, as were seven police trucks and three trucks from the region’s Cendrawasih Military Command.

As the congress drew to a close, the 3,100 officers sprang into action, marching toward the venue with their fingers on the triggers of their Pindad SS1 assault rifles. As the prospect of a full-blown attack became evident, fear could be seen in the eyes of many congress-goers.

Minutes later, the situation descended into violence.

Soldiers from the Armed Forces (TNI) and police officers fired bullets into the air and ordered the participants to disband. Some of the officers pointed their weapons directly at the unarmed civilians.

As the crowd dispersed in panic, the troops pressed forward.

A four-by-three-meter gate collapsed, shaken down by TNI officers. It fell onto the some 100 members of the Papuan Caretakers Movement (Petapa) who were guarding the congress.

Those outside the gate did not escape unscathed. Soldiers and police beat them with batons, bamboo poles and the butts of their rifles. Man after man fell to the ground, pleading with the officers to stop the show of force. Their pleas were met with kicking, stomping boots.

“Disband them, disband them immediately,” a high-ranking officer ordered his men. “They have committed acts of treason. Disband them now.”

Several men wearing kotekas, the traditional Papuan penis gourd, tried to push authorities back, but they were greatly outnumbered.

Less than 100 meters from the congress was a monastery and a pastors’ dormitory. Security forces raided it.

“Nobody leave the house. Everyone stay where you are,” several TNI officers shouted, shooting into the air and toward the pastors’ homes.

Later, bullet holes could be seen in some of the walls, and bullet fragments were found in some bedrooms.

“Dozens of officials forced their way into the monastery and walked back and forth for two hours in front of us,” the Rev. Adrianus Tuturu said. “We were so afraid we hid in our rooms.”

More than 300 people were arrested. They included Forkorus Yoboisembut, chairman of the Papuan Customary Council (DAP), and Edison Waromi, president of the West Papua National Authority. The congress had earlier declared the men as president and prime minister of an independent Papua, respectively.

“So you want to be the president of Papua?” an officer told Forkorus, grabbing his shirt. “Try to protect your citizens who we are arresting.”

The arrested were told to squat down with their hands behind their heads for two hours. Some were made to take off their trousers and shirts and lie on the earth. Blood stained many of the Papuans’ cheeks.

“Papua will never be independent. Don’t you dare dream. Forkorus will not set you free,” witness Yustinus Ukago quoted a police officer as saying.

Eventually, security forces told the men to march, still squatting, to the police trucks. As the congress-goers made their way slowly forward, some officers kicked them in the back and side.

Some Papuans managed to escape. They hid in nearby food stalls and pretended to be innocent bystanders or made for bushes or gutters. Others fled into the forest.

Free expression or treason? 

Papua has seen a low-level insurgency since Indonesia annexed the resource-rich province in 1969. Following the annexation, exploitation of Papua’s mineral resources, most notably at the hands of American mining company Freeport McMoRan, and a massive security presence fueled resentment toward Jakarta.

In 2000, Indonesia granted the province special autonomous status, giving Papuans greater control over their economy. But the plan opened the floodgates for migrants into the province, further marginalizing the natives.

The recent congress was a continuation of a similar one in 2000, held to unite Papua’s seven tribal areas and discuss the natives’ basic human and political rights.

This year’s congress once again declared independence. “The Papuans’ freedom and independence must be restored in the West Papua country which was stolen by the Indonesian government in 1962,” leaders there proclaimed, announcing the Victoria Crowned Pigeon as a national symbol, the banned Morning Star flag as the national banner and the song “Hai Tanahku Papua” (“Oh My Land Papua”) as the national anthem.

Amnesty International condemned the crackdown, saying it “believes that the right to freedom of expression includes the right to peacefully advocate referendums, independence or any other political solutions that do not involve incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.”

The heavy-handed repression, the group said, was “a clear violation of the rights to freedom of expression, opinion and peaceful assembly which are guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Indonesia is a state party, as well as the Indonesian Constitution.”

But chairman of the House of Representatives commission on defense, Mahfudz Siddiq, said security forces “should have been firmer” and refused to issue a permit for the congress.

The Jayapura Police chief said he would do whatever it took to quash subversion.

“Whoever supports separatism or subversion activity, I will do the same as yesterday [the day of the congress]. I’ll finish them,” Adj. Sr. Comr. Imam Setiawan told state news agency Antara.

Imam said the congress had not been conducted according to the permit it had been issued, so he was forced to take action. He said he was paid to protect civilians and the unity of the nation.

“If there is anyone supporting such movements, I’m ready to die and finish them,” he said. “This is my duty.”

Djoko Suyanto, the coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, also defended the government’s tactics, according to Antara.

“The police raided the rally because it was considered as a coup d’etat,” Djoko said. “They declared a state within a state and did not recognize the president of Indonesia.”

The brutality of the crackdown was further revealed the following day, when all but six of the arrested were released. Many of the congress-goers had sustained cuts and bruises, and one man who had been beaten with an automatic rifle had marks all over his body.

Another man had scrape marks on his stomach. He said they came from police dragging him, face down, on the field’s jagged ground.

Of the six who remained in custody, five were charged with treason. The lone exception was Gat Wenda, who was charged under the 1951 Emergency Law for carrying sharp weapons.

The five who face treason charges are Forkorus, Edison and event organizers August Sananay Kraar, Dominikus Sorabut and Selpius Bobii.

Despite military and police claims that security forces only fired warning shots, three dead bodies were found on Thursday morning just behind a military compound some 50 meters away from the congress venue. They were 25-year-old university student Daniel Kadepa and Petapa members Maxsasa Yewi, 35, and Yacob Samonsabra, 53.

That afternoon, three more bodies were uncovered: James Gobay, 25; Yosaphat Yogi, 28; and Pilatus Wetipo, 40.

“The security forces should have used dialogue and persuasion to disperse the crowd,” said Matius Murib, deputy chairman of the Papua branch of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM). “Next week, officials from the central Komnas HAM office will conduct an investigation.”

The Rev. Benny Giay, a respected religious leader and human rights advocate in Papua, said the TNI and police had used disproportionate force by using heavy fire power to quell a meeting of unarmed civilians.

This report is supported by the Pantau Foundation.

3 thoughts on “At Papuan Congress, a Brutal Show of Force

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