30 November 2011
Exclusive interview by Alex Rayfield (New Matilda) with West Papua Media
The President of the Federal Republic of West Papua may be behind bars, he may have been savagely beaten by the Indonesian police, but he has not been silenced. From his 5×4 meter cell in the bowels of the Jayapura Police Station – quarters he shares with five other Papuans also charged with rebellion against the Indonesian state – Forkorus Yaboisembut recently issued a rousing call to action smuggled out of prison.
“To all the Papuan people” Yaboisembut writes, “don’t be afraid to celebrate December 1st, whether you do so simply, or as part of large gatherings. Do not be afraid because we, the Papuan people, do not intend to destroy any country; we only wish to defend our political rights.”
Our interview, the first – clandestine – interview with Western media, may be constrained by time and space, but I can picture the tribal elder from previous meetings. He is a quietly spoken man, late in years but strong and alert. He walks tall, sits up straight and dresses neatly in long dark pants; polished slip-on shoes and patterned but subdued crisply ironed business shirts. His short hair and longish grey beard gives him the look of an Old Testament prophet, grandfatherly if you like.
It is painful to think that he when he was arrested on October 19 he was tortured so badly that he could barely sit down – or stand. Dominikus Surabut, from the West Papua Council of Customary Tribal Chiefs, who was detained with the man who is now the President of the Federal Republic of West Papua and who was also badly tortured, tells me that when Mr Yaboisembut was arrested the Police beat him mercilessly with a rifle butt, raining blows down on his head and crashing their weapons into his solar plexus. In a widely published Indonesian language account of the arrest, a religious leader said that an Indonesian soldier was ready to shot him dead but was urged not to by a policeman.
West Papuan’s political rights, Mr Yaboisembut says, are inalienable. “Whether you take the United Nations founding document, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Political Rights or even the Indonesian Constitution as your starting point, Papuans have the right to self-determination.”
“The preamble to the 1945 Indonesian Constitution mentions expressly, that independence is the right of all Nations, and because of this colonialism must be swept away, it is consistent with the principles of justice and humanity. Consequently, the people of Papua cannot be blamed in accordance with any law for wanting to celebrate their national day.”
These ideas, the same ideas that inspired Indonesians to liberate themselves from Dutch rule, are igniting the imagination of entire generation who yearn to be free. What makes Mr Yaboisembut’s ideas even more extraordinary is that he is urging an insurrection that grounded in what he calls “human dignity”.
“December the first 2011, is the fiftieth anniversary of when Papuans first raised the Morning Star flag. It is our golden anniversary, the year of God’s liberation” he says evoking the images of the ancient Jewish custom of Jubilee – of freeing captives and erasing debts. “It must be celebrated in an atmosphere of peace, safety and calm”.
“To Papuans, I therefore say, do not carry out acts of terror, intimidation or commit violence of any kind towards anyone, for whatever reason, whether they are Papuan or migrants.
“Do not be afraid,” Mr Yaboisembut repeats, “God is with us.”
“The roots of our oppression is political” says Mr Selphius Bobii, Chair of the Committee of the Third Papuan Congress, who also shares a cell with Mr Yaboisembut and Surabut. “The annexation of our country by Indonesia and the acquiescence of the international community has resulted in state sanctioned human rights violations and creeping genocide.”
Those arrested on October 19 in the wake of the Third Papuan Congress are not backing down from the declaration of independence. “We are committed to using people power, diplomacy and the law to achieve our rights” Bobii tells me.
Dominikus Surabut says that he and the other prisoners are refusing to sign police statements charging them with “rebellion” (makar) under sections 106 and 110 of the Indonesian Criminal Code.
“We have done nothing wrong” Surabut says. “We have a political right to declare independence. We do not seek to destroy Indonesia or any other country. On the contrary, it is the Indonesia state that has attacked us.”
How can it be, they rhetorically ask, that the Indonesian police get written warnings for killing Papuans when Papuan activists nonviolently exercising their rights to freedom of expression are beaten and jailed?
Is this the same country that Obama and Gillard lauded for being a beacon of democracy?
In a widely published letter in support of Papuan political prisoners Human Rights Watch says that the articles under which the six Papuan political prisoners arrested after the Third Papuan Congress have been charged “are a legacy from the Dutch colonial era”. Charging nonviolent activists with rebellion is “in violation of the Indonesian Constitution, Articles 28(e) and 28(f) which respectively afford “the right to the freedom of association and expression of opinion,” and “the right to communicate and obtain information for the development of his/her personal life and his/her social environment, and shall have the right to seek, acquire, possess, keep, process and convey information by using all available channels.”
The charge of rebellion is also inconsistent with Indonesia’s international obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which Indonesia ratified in 2006, a point which the jailed Papuan leaders make repeatedly to me. Besides, the Papuan leaders sigh, we have been left with no other option. “Special Autonomy has totally failed and even the MRP, a state institution convened a meeting which came up with eleven recommendations, one of which was to hold the Third Papuan Congress.”
Outside their police cell, in the streets of the cities and towns of West Papua, in the cloud covered mountains and on the coconut palm fringed coasts a new political consensus is emerging. This consensus has been forged not through endless meetings of the Diaspora, nor in stillborn discussions with political elites in Jakarta, nor in the conference halls of NGO deliberations, but in the furnace of political action. It is simply this: that West Papua must be free.
After the Congress three overlapping political groupings have emerged: the Papuan Peace Network who is calling for political dialogue, the West Papua National Committee who demands a referendum, and the Papua Congress leaders (supported by a loose alliance made up of the West Papua National Authority, the Council of Customary Papuan Chiefs, the Presidium Dewan Papua, and the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation).
The killings of nonviolent Papuans by the Indonesian police and military on October 19 have divided ordinary Indonesians, flushing out ultra-nationalists and their racist discourse, and outraging political moderates longing for a different kind of future than the one left to them by former dictator Suharto.
Inside Papua the massacre appears to be having a unifying effect, although Papuan politics remains complex affair. The West Papua National Committee who opposed the Congress later marched in support of the six political prisoners. Father Neles Tebay, respected intellectual and leader of the Papua Peace Network has intensified the demand for political dialogue. It is a call that has been supported by Yaboisembut and others. “All Papuans, wherever they are must respect the dialogue process democratically initiated through the Papuan Peace Conference and the Papuan Peace Network” wrote Mr Yaboisembut in a message smuggled out of prison.
Whether the Indonesian police and military act in a similarly dignified manner, or not, remains to be seen.
As I write this a long-term Papuan human rights activist sends me this message: “there’s an increase of military patrol of soldiers around Jayapura Township.” Some put the numbers as high as forty thousand. Reports are filtering in of troop surges in Sorong, Paniai (where gunshots have been heard), the border region and Jayapura.
“The atmosphere here is quiet but eerie” my friend writes. We are all waiting to see what December 1 will bring.
- Triple J Hack: Papuans fear bloodshed after footage emerges of Congress Violence (westpapuamedia.info)
- AWPA calls on Rudd to monitor Increasing tension in West Papua, focused on 1st December (westpapuamedia.info)
- Indon Army preparing to attack OPM in Paniai. (westpapuamedia.info)
- Why Now? A West Papua Backgrounder (westpapuamedia.info)
- Australia must act to protect human rights in Papua: Joint letter from HRLC and Human Rights Watch (28 Nov 2011) (westpapuamedia.info)