In a risky and symbolic act of defiance, unidentified West Papuan pro-independence activists raised the banned symbol of West Papuan liberation, the Morning Star flag, atop a foggy Mount Syclop, Sentani near Jayapura during the Indonesian Independence day on August 17 this year “as a form of celebration and rejection of the presence of Indonesian Papua, ” according to involved activists who spoke with West Papua Media (WPM) stringers.
The flagraisings came amid a tit-for-tat psychological operations campaign ahead of August 17 by Indonesian occupation forces to raise the Merah Putih (Red/White) Indonesian national flag on prominent landmarks across Papua, and increase demands on Papuans to fly it publicly demonstrate their loyalty to Indonesia, according to a wide variety of human rights and church sources in Papua.
Organisers told WPM the act, on a mountain that could be seen from most the Papuan capital Jayapura, was about questioning the legitimacy of Indonesian occupiers to claim that all Papuans supported integration with Indonesia, and Jakarta’s claim that “Papua returned to the embrace of the Homeland.”
“Any person who was born and raised in Papua has been brought up with (the official line of the) ‘Victorious Political Integration in the NKRI, (and has) of course heard the above phrase repeatedly. This phrase has become a powerful force in the politics of integration. The Indonesian government and military believed and are so convinced that the political integration of West Papua is “absolute” they cannot answer the questions that the people of Papua ask,” the activists told WPM.
They continued their statement: “On behalf of the Nature of Papua, on behalf of the bones of revolutionary heroes who have gone before us, on our behalf and on behalf of our children, we strongly reject the claims of an Indonesian Papua. Indonesian historians were so convinced that West Papua was breathing into the territory of several ancient empires of Srivijaya, Majapahit, Sultanate of Tidore, until the time of the Dutch East Indies. Indonesia believes it is the absolute truth, the validity of its claims of West Papua as an integral part of Indonesia. But on the other hand, shame records that the history that Indonesian historians were not able to show the valid, complete and accurate data to prove the truth of what they believe it.”
“As a form of resistance we Papuans assert our Independence of the illegal Indonesian colonial occupation of our land Papua, then we burn the flag and hoisted the flag of our “Morning Star” in the mountain region Syclop,” said the activists to WPM’s stringer.
“We do this not for Indonesian attention , nor to requested positions, (those) certain positions in the country’s NKRI (colonial) bureaucracy…. (but as) a form of resistance against colonial occupation of Indonesia (who are) illegally on our land. That we demand and fight for “Self-determination” through an international mechanism that is Referendum,” the flag raisers said.
Although traditionally raised on December 1 – the anniversary of the 1961 thwarted declaration of West Papua’s independence from the Dutch, and the first flying of the flag – activists claim that it was flown atop Mount Syclop to “remind Indonesia that the people of West Papua(n) nation (have) rejected the (Indonesian) pro-independence and did not participate in the anniversary celebrations.”
Indonesian colonial forces regularly attempt to enforce compulsory celebrations of Indonesia’s independence day by West Papuan people, an act many Papuans believe is designed to suppress Papuan cultural identity.
Flag raising is seen by Indonesia as a deeply political act that determines the degree of a citizen’s loyalty to the nation. Failure to display the Merah Putih was regularly used throughout Indonesian history as a justification to extreme political violence, for example the killings of close to 2 million Indonesians during the 1965-1969 bloodbath in the first days of former dictator Suharto’s New Order regime, and the scorched-earth campaign on East TImor ending in 1999 when Indonesian security forces and militias murdered well over 180,000 civilians. Civilians in Military operations areas (whether declared or not) across Indonesia and its colonies are regularly warned by security forces to display the Red and white in order to avoid sweep operations targeting their homes. Public buildings are draped in it, private businesses are threatened by security forces if they fail to display it, and school children are bedecked in Red and White uniforms and forced to salute the flag daily.
Display of any cultural symbols or expression in opposition to the Merah Putih are interpreted by Jakarta as acts of makar (treason, subversion or rebellion) instead of acts of free expression guaranteed under the Indonesian Constitution. However, Article 6 of Government Regulation 77/2007, prohibits the display of the Morning Star, the South Maluku Republic Benang Raja flag in Ambon and the Crescent Moon flag in Aceh – despite the provision of the law in the Indonesian Criminal Code (KUHP) being been declared unconstitutional for prohibiting free expression, by the Indonesian Constitutional Court.
Indonesian security forces, since their invasion of West Papua, have imprisoned thousands of people for their involvement in raising the banned Morning Star flag, and have violently broken up almost every display of the Morning Star, resulting in thousands of deaths over the last 50 years. Each December 1 – traditionally the anniversary of West Papua’s thwarted declaration of independence in 1961, Over 90% of the current 56 political prisoners in Papuan gaols are imprisoned under makar for non-violent acts involving the Morning Star flag, including most famously Filep Karma, one of Papua’s longest serving political prisoners, who was gaoled for 15 years for his role in organising the December 1, 2004 flagraising in Abepura.
On August 14, Indonesia’s colonial police chief in Papua Tito Karnavian (the former commander of the notorious Detachment 88 “Counter-terror” death squad supported by Australia,the US and UK), drove a group of Indonesian police, military,and management of the giant Freeport McMoRan Grasberg mine in heated luxury four-wheel drives, claiming they held a ceremony atop Papua’s highest peak, the 4844-metre high Nemangkawi (known by the Indonesians as Puncak Jaya), in order to raise Indonesia’s flag of conquest over Papua. Participants in the ceremony claiming to be Papuans were families of senior Freeport employees, an Indonesian army unit known as the “Pasukan Koteka Papua” and soldiers wearing blackface make-up. However the ceremony did not occur at the peak of Nemagkawi, rather in the grounds of the Grasberg mine site some 800 metres below the peak. The Merah Putih still does not fly atop the famous summit (one of the “Seven Summits”), according to independent sources in TImika contacted by WPM.
On December 1 2011, Christian Welponer, a world famous mountaineer from the autonomous South Tyrol region of the Italian-Austrian Alpine border regions, released a video of him raising the Morning Star flag atop Nemangkawi. The act was deeply significant to West Papuan people, who sustained many casualties from Indonesian state violence inflicted on peaceful ceremonies across Papua that day. The act infuriated Indonesian officials in the Freeport surrounds, who failed to prevent Welponer from carrying out the symbolic solidarity action.