Mixed success for Papuan Cultural parades despite pre-emptive arrests across Papua

Special Wrap-up report by West Papua Media, with local sources.

(Apologies for delay in posting as WPM was chasing hi-res photo essays from outlying regions.  This will be a separate item as soon as we get hold of them.)

August 26, 2013

Scores of non-violent activists from the West Papua National Committee (KNPB) were arrested across Papua over the last two weeks, when Indonesian Police carried out pre-emptive sweeps ahead of a day of mobilisation on August 15, a day intended to celebrate Papuan cultural identity and demand rights to free expression be respected.

Organisers across Papua claimed varying degrees of success in holding the cultural parades, hailing the assertion of Papuan cultural identity in the face of a “deliberate campaign of cultural suppression by the Indonesian colonial security forces” as a “moral victory that would show that West Papuan people are not going to die quietly,”  according to sources who spoke with West Papua Media (WPM).

The parades were organised by West Papuan activists on the anniversary of the contentious New York Agreement – that began the process of Indonesian colonisation of Papua – to demonstrate against ongoing the threats to the survival of Papuan culture.  The parades  were also celebrating the opening of the new Free West Papua Campaign office in The Hague in The Netherlands under the coordination of Oridek Ap (the exiled son of executed West Papuan musician and cultural hero Arnold Ap).

Despite Police being widely reported by Indonesian colonial media stating they would allow the parades to go ahead, activists and stringers for WPM reported from across the country of waves of arrests – or detentions as described by Indonesian security forces – and intimidation that prevented several of the parades from occurring.

Nevertheless, the events went ahead in Jayapura, Wamena and Biak, with  much smaller gatherings unconfirmed across the rest of the country.

Papuans villagers  arrested and searched, detained in Aula Fakfak Police for interrogation (photo: Alex Tethool / Jubi / Fakfak)
Papuans villagers arrested and searched, detained in Aula Fakfak Police for interrogation (photo: Alex Tethool / Jubi / Fakfak)

In the west coast town of FakFak, police arrested several dozen people on August 13, according to reports from Tabloid Jubi, and human rights sources.   Jubi reported that officers intercepted two trucks carrying dozens of villagers as they were preparing to attend the Cultural Parade on the 15th.  Police commandeered the trucks to  the police headquarters in Fakfak, detaining and interrogating the villagers – including large numbers of women and children –  in the Police Hall.  Police refused to explain their actions to Papuan media, according to local observers.  Unconfirmed reports from Fakfak say the majority of villagers were released, but the date of their release, or the ability for them to continue their participation in the cultural parades is still unknown.

Jayapura

In Jayapura, KNPB Chairman Agus Kosai was arrested by Police as he and other KNPB members attempted to move a sound system from his village near Sentani (about 12km outside Jayapura) to the gravesite of slain independence hero Theys Eluay in Waena.  KNPB treasurer Toni Kobak and National Spokesperson Wim Medlama were also arrested with 13 other KNPB members.  Police interrogated them but later released them, ordering them home after seizing their banners and equipment.

Refusing to be intimidated, the released KNPB members then ignored the Police directive, made new rally materials and proceeded with the planned Cultural Parades regardless in Jayapura.

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Thousands of local people turned out in Jayapura to showcase Papua’s vibrant indigenous cultural diversity, reflecting and representing Papuan cultures from every corner of the country.   The day itself had been planned as a deeply symbolic act of cultural resistance through survival, drawing on the actions of slain ethnomusicologist Arnold Ap in a nonviolent assertion of Papuan sovereignty resisting  Indonesian colonisation and control of Papuan lives.

Indonesian Police surveille activists during the Papuan Cultural Parade, August 15, 2013
Indonesian Police surveille activists during the Papuan Cultural Parade, Jayapura, August 15, 2013 (Photo: West Papua Media / YS)

Illustrating this attempt at control, many acts of cultural expression such as banned dances, banned songs, and banned displays of cultural heritage were actively monitored by heavily armed Indonesian Police, however the sheer number of participants prevented further arrests.

Coordinator of the Peace Demonstration Warpo Sampari Wetipo, told the crowd from a stage mounted atop a Kijang car, “we in KNPB are standing with the people of Papua, despite the Indonesian military’s terror by prohibiting any peaceful demonstration and action, we do continue to fight without fear, to demand the right of self-determination for us, the people of West Papua.”

Buchtar Tabuni, West Papua Parliament Chairman, and revolving door political prisoner currently between arrests, reminded the crowd that they were gathered to “Declare to the world that the people of Papua are demanding the recognition of their right of self-determination with fairness and dignity.”  By demonstrating their cultural resistance, Tabuni said that West Papuan people were asserting their identity “as a community of the Melanesian family, that Papuans are not part of the people of Indonesia or Malay.”

Reports from the Jayapura rally suggested that police were initially prepared to utilise force against the participants after they defied the order to go home.  Significant military hardware was deployed, with security forces surrounding the thousands of people gathered at Theys’ gravesite with Armoured personnel carriers, water cannon, tear gas trucks and several Barracuda armoured assault vehicles.

According to reports filed to WPM, activists had prepared unspecified “unique” methods of non-violent de-arresting techniques should the need arise, though it is unclear whether the Indonesian security forces were prepared to respect the nonviolence of the day.

The rally had been tightly safeguarded by KNPB members, who kept the participants separated from security forces and plain clothes special forces personnel with a simple rope line, thus preventing any agents provocateur from provoking police to create a scenario of violence.  in Papua.   Buchtar Tabuni told the crowd at the end of the rally, “the security forces to help secure us, and also I just want to explain that from yesterday until last night we kept guard patrol, to keep track of things that we do not want to happen and also it helps security deposit until the day’s activities, ”

In Wamena, KNPB activists reported that police and members of the Indonesian army were also being proactive in prevention of the parades, with banner seizures and an active show of force.  According to local sources, almost the entire KODIM 756 Wim Ane Sili (lit. “House of the Sound of War” in Dani language) Battalion (up to 1000 soldiers) surround the protest field at Sinapuk,

This massive “show force” was responsible for thousands of people being forced to stay away from the Cultural gathering, according to KNPB Wamena spokesperson Mr Mabel.  The gathering was peaceful but was only attended by several hundred people.

In Biak, local members of the KNPB organised a smaller demonstration passing the site of the infamous Biak Massacre, which recently commemorated its 15th anniversary on July 6.  Hundreds of people marched from the old market and Terminal Pasar Darfuar ending up at a traditional meeting house (pendopo adat Sorido), to support the opening of The Hague Free West Papua office.  Apollos Sroyer, Biak KNPB Chairman, told WPM’s correspondent “The parade was also planned as an expression of welcome to the arrival of messengers from the Melanesian Spearhead Groups (MSG) in the near future to West Papua.”

Sroyer also expressed “gratitude to those MSG members who have expressed their support of the right of self-determination of the people of West Papua,” without mentioning the official rejection of the bid for Observer Status for West Papua by the MSG, widely seen as a betrayal of Melanesian solidarity by many across the Pacific.

WestPapuaMedia, with local sources

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