Papuan Voices: The Papuan Serving of Culture, Video and Change

Wempie talks to KBR 68H about Papuan Voices
Wempie talks to KBR 68H about Papuan Voices (Photo credit:



The BAKAR BATU Papuan Voices Launch in Goethe-Institute, Jakarta on October 13, 2012 provided an eye-view of the struggle and inspiration in West Papua, brought to you by Papuan video activists from Jayapura and Merauke.



dancers2As the Merauke dancers waltzed into the Goethe-Haus theatre, the people who turned up for the Bakar Batu Papuan Voices Launchknew they were in for an evening of West Papuan culture which was filled with more than just the usual sad stories, but more so with hope and inspiration.Master of ceremony and Papuan Voices filmmaker Cyntia Warwewelcomed the audience, giving a bit of a philosophical explanation of the event.“Bakar Batu (literally translates to earth oven in Indonesian) or ‘barapen’ is an event where Papuans gather for a special occasion,” said Cyntia. “And this is a special event indeed, we’ve cooked up nine videos proudly, and we want to serve them to you, our friends.”

The theatre was packed. The Sisir Bambu acoustic group followed the dancers. Lead singer Sem Awom sang his work and also Mambesak songs to celebrate the cultural struggle of Papua.

“Years ago, there was a guy named Arnold Ap who worked very hard to keep the Papuan culture alive through the group Mambesak,” Sem said. “Unfortunately, his great work was deemed separatist by the then regime, and in the end he was arrested and killed.”

The award-winning filmmaker Wenda Tokomonowir kicked off the film screening  with the acclaimed “Surat Cinta Kepada Sang Prada’ (Love Letter to the Soldier). There were a total of 11 films screened. It was an emotional roller coaster as the films showed the tough lives many Papuans have to face, but encouraging as the same peoples are also not back down and fighting hard for survival. A video called ‘Salam Bilogai’ about a traditional Bilogai click handshake lit up the theatre with laughter as the audience demonstrated the handshakes with one another.

Papuan Voices co-producer, Wensi Fatubun, said that even though the project that ran since 2011 was a video initiative, both EngageMedia and Church group JPIC MSC have encouraged the participants in Jayapura and Merauke to design and use the videos for change.

“Papuan Voices is a cultural struggle,” said Wensi. “We want people to see Papua through the eyes of the Papuans themselves.”

Winning accolades was not the intention, but we are grateful of that. But to change and inspire is a lot more important.”

Web Launch

The evening was also about the unveiling of the dedicated Papuan Voices website – This particular site compiles the nine Papuan Voices videos, along with various background information about the places and issues raised in the videos, a study guide that teachers/educators can use to trigger discussions, a screening guide and a take action page that provides information on groups to join and resources to read more about West Papua.

At the end of the screening, the audience were led outside to eat the sago and betel nut made by the indigenous market traders in the video ‘Awin Meke’.


One audience said: “Thanks for letting me take a peek to the window of lives in West Papua for the first time. I hope folks in the TNI (the Indonesian Armed Forces) and the Government can have the opportunity to take a look at the videos also.”

The Papuan Voices Compilation DVD can be purchased here.





Violent Tactics Backfire In Papua

1 Nov 2011

By Alex Rayfield


The tough response of the Indonesia armed forces to the Third Papuan People’s congress has strengthened calls for freedom. NM’s West Papua correspondent Alex Rayfield reviews the fallout

If the Indonesian police and military thought shooting live ammunition into a mass gathering of unarmed Papuans would somehow dampen dissent and endear them to Jakarta’s continued rule, they were mistaken. Indiscriminate repression meted out against those gathered at the Third Papuan People’s congress is showing signs of having the opposite effect: widening the circle of dissent inside West Papua and igniting international support outside.

First the Indonesian military and police denied they shot dead peaceful protesters. But that was too difficult to sustain. New Matilda received text messages as soon as the shooting started which were followed by urgent phone calls. Gunfire could be heard in the background.

When it became clear that covering up the shooting would not wash, the Indonesian Chief of Army in West Papua, Erfi Triassunu, admitted opening fire but claimed his troops only fired warning shots. He insisted no one had been hurt. Some of the international media bought the story. With foreign journalists banned from West Papua, some media outlets went to the police and military for confirmation. This is in spite of the fact that West Papua Media, with their extensive network of citizen journalists and local stringers, broke the story, verified it and began filing reports about what happened within a few hours.

A few hours after the shooting, the Indonesian police in West Papua were telling journalists in Jakarta that an attempted coup d’état had taken place and that police had used force to defend the state. The Jayapura Chief of Police, Imam Setiawan, even went as far as saying that members of the Papuan Liberation Army had attacked the Congress.

Setiawan took this line again on Thursday 20 October. In an interview with Bintang Papua, a local Papuan daily, he outlined how he thought police should respond to a gathering of unarmed Papuans expressing their political opinion: “Whoever supports separatism or subversion activity, I will do the same as yesterday. I’ll finish them.”

The language used by Setiawan echoed hard-line nationalists in Jakarta. It follows a deadly trajectory. Cast the Papuans in the worst possible light. Label them as “separatists” — which in Indonesia is the worst kind of criminal, someone who is treasonous, dangerous and violent. From here it was only a short step to imply that those at the Third People’s Congress were using violence to try and seize control of the state. This narrative makes it sound like the police and military were taking evasive action to stop the Papuans storming the Bastille of Indonesian rule. This is pure fantasy.

Initially it was reported that police and the military raided the stage after Forkorus Yaboisembut and Edison Waromi (appointed as President and Prime Minister of the Federal State of West Papua respectively) declared independence. We now know that the attack did not happen until well after the three-day gathering had finished.

After the Declaration of Independence was read around 2.00pm local time, the Congress concluded. The leadership — Yaboisembut, Waromi, Dominikus Surabut, Helena Matuan and a few others left the field to rest in the nearby Sang Surya Catholic Friary in the grounds of the Fajar Timur Theological College where the Congress was being held. Those remaining on Taboria oval (Zaccheus Field) danced the Yospan, a traditional Papuan group dance.

The festivities continued for around 60-90 minutes. We don’t know exactly what the police, military and Brimob soldiers were doing between the time the Declaration was read out and the time the shooting started. Presumably they were discussing what to do. Most likely they consulted commanding officers locally and in Jakarta.

According to Yan Christian Waranussy, a prominent Papuan human rights lawyer, members of the security forces under the command of Police Chief Imam Setiawan arrested Edison Waromi as he drove out of the Fajar Timur grounds on Yakonde Street. Waranussy reports that the police pulled people out of the vehicle and started beating them before pushing them into a police van. Following the arrest of Waromi, Waranussy says the security forces starting firing their weapons into the crowd.

This occurred at around 3.30pm. One of the first killed was 25-year-old Daniel Kadepa, a student at Umel Mandiri Law School. According to those who knew him, Kapeda did not even attend the Congress. He was passing by when the security forces opened fire. Witnesses said that he died from gunshot wounds to the head and back after soldiers fired on him as he was running away.

Video footage obtained by EngageMedia and published by New Matilda shows people hiding in nearby buildings just after the police and military opened fire. In the background you can hear shooting. This is not automatic gunfire. They are single shots. Then there is a pause, followed by more shots. It is as if the shooter is walking around picking people off. There is very little background noise. No screaming or yelling, just an eerie silence … and gunshots.

According to Catholic clergy who witnessed the event, the police, Indonesian military and the the paramilitary Mobile Police Brigade continued discharging their weapons for approximately 25 minutes.

Eyewitnesses report that when the shooting started, Yaboisembut and Surabut were talking and relaxing in the Sang Surya Friary, a few metres from the oval. Then bullets smashed through the window. According to statements obtained by New Matilda people immediately hit the ground and began crawling to safety as the police indiscriminately fired live ammunition and canisters of tear gas into the buildings surrounding the oval.

According to statements obtained by New Matilda, police, military and Brimob personnel ransacked student dormitories, clergy residences and offices. One witness reported an Indonesian security officer yelling “Where are those idiot priests? Why do priests hide criminals?”

Those present also reported security personal using combat knives or bayonets and beating people with truncheons and rifles. At least 300 people were arrested and taken away in army and police trucks where they were detained overnight in the tennis courts at the police station.

We now know that three people were shot dead that day. They are Daniel Kapeda, Max Asa Yeuw, and Yakobus Samansabra. Two others, Matias Maidepa and Yacop Sabonsaba, were allegedly found dead behind the military headquarters in Abepura. According to the Indonesian military sources quoted in the local Papuan press, the victims had been stabbed. In addition, members of the Organising Committee of the Third Papuan Congress allege four other people died, all from gunshot wounds, two from Sorong and two from Wamena.

Six people are still in detention charged with rebellion. According to family members they have all been badly beaten. According to Human Rights Watch and KONTRAS Indonesia (the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence) those still in detention are:

• Forkorus Yaboisembut, chairman of the Papua Customary Council, probably the most prominent pro-independence leader in Papua. When New Matilda interviewed him in West Papua in 2010 and again in 2011 he was regularly receiving death threats. A few people had even come forward and told the local press that they were offered new motorbikes and other inducements if they would help orchestrate a fatal “accident”.

• Edison Waromi, president of the West Papua National Authority. Edison Waromi’s daughter, Yane, was kidnapped and assaulted by the security forces in 2008.

• Dominikus Surabut, secretary of the Papuan Customary Council in La Pago region.

• Selpius Bobii, a social media activist, who organised the Papuan Congress. He initially eluded the police crackdown, but surrendered to police on October 20, accompanied by his lawyers and a Papuan journalist.

• August M. Sananay of the West Papua National Authority.

• Gat Wanda, a member of PETAPA (Defenders of the Land of Papua, an unarmed civilian defence group), charged with possessing a sharp weapon.

It will take some time before the immediate effect of the repression is made clear, but early signs suggest the use of extreme and deadly violence against nonviolent activists has enlarged the circle of dissent inside West Papua and ignited international support outside.

Certainly Church leaders — both Catholic and Protestant — have expressed their outrage. Neles Tebay, a key Papuan intellectual, defended the role of clergy who provided humanitarian protection for those seeking safety. Tebay, who also gave permission for the Committee to hold the Congress in the Theological College grounds, was quoted as saying that he “rejects the use of all kinds of repression in dealing with the problems. Using violence undermines the dignity of all concerned, above all the dignity of the victims as well as the perpetrators.”

Tebay has repeated his call “for all people of goodwill to jointly press for dialogue, for the sake of peace in Papua”.

Political representatives of the Papuan Provincial Parliament, a group that until now has sided with the government on matters of national security, expressed their dismay. Bintang Papua reported that Yan Mandenas, chairman of the Pikiran Rakyat Group in the Provincial Parliament said “the actions of the security forces in dispersing the Congress exceeded all bounds and … were in violation of the law”.

Similar views were expressed by Ruben Magay, chairman of Commission A on Politics and Law of the Provincial Parliament who reportedly urged the chief of police to withdraw his men because the Congress was already over. Magay said that what happened was clearly “a violation” and that “no one was fighting back”.

And while a large group of hard-line nationalists in Jakarta applauded or condoned police and military action, Effendy Choirie and Lily Chadidjah Wahid, both members of House of Representatives Commission I on information, defense and foreign affairs in Jakarta, warned the government that the mounting tension could lead to the province’s separation from Indonesia. In a clear rebuke of Papuan Police Chief Imam Setiawan, the two legislators added “that the government should not blame the Free Papua Movement (OPM) for the shooting but rather the security personnel in Papua”.

Internationally, things have gotten much worse for Jakarta.

United States Congressman Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin condemned the actions of the security forces. So too has Senator Richard Di Natale from the Australian Greens who has urged the Australian Government to suspend military ties with Indonesia. MP Catherine Delahunty from New Zealand has also called for the New Zealand Government to withdraw its training support for the Indonesian police. This is more than words. The United States, Australian and New Zealand Government all provide money, training and material aid to the Indonesian police and military. In this sense we are beginning to see the early signs of what could become an international withdrawal of legitimacy for continued Indonesian repression in West Papua.

Papuan calls for UN intervention won’t happen, at least not in the foreseeable future. And the movement internally still faces serious challenges. But the Congress, the Declaration of Independence and the subsequent shooting has realigned the political landscape. There are now three main political groups, the Congress, the Papuan Peace Network led by Neles Tebay who is calling for dialogue, and the West Papua National Committee who want the giant US/Australian Freeport Mine closed and a referendum on West Papua’s political status. At a fundamental level there is not a lot of difference between these positions. They all point to the need for a political solution to the Pacific’s longest running conflict.

The Indonesian political elite and security forces can no longer pretend that the problem in Papua is economic. Papuans want political freedoms. The Congress made that abundantly clear. It opened with raising the banned Morning Star flag and singing the banned West Papuan national anthem, Hai Tanah Ku, and closed with a Declaration of Independence.

And it wasn’t as if the military or police was unaware of this depth of feeling. When an open peace conference organised by the Papua Peace Network was held in Jayapura last July, Erfi Triassunu, the local Army Chief, took the podium. In attendance were 800 respected Papuan civil society leaders. Triassunu tried to get the audience — who were mostly Papuan — to chant “peace!” in response to his “Papua!”. But as soon as he called out “Papua!” the crowd responded as one with “Merdeka!” (freedom).

Now the Papuans’ cry for freedom is echoing around the world. And it is the Indonesian police, military and their nationalist political allies in Jakarta who are helping amplify it.


by EM News — last modified Oct 20, 2011 04:15 PM
Indonesian soldiers and police officers opened fire on the Third Papuan People’s Congress in Jayapura on Wedsneday (19/10) afternoon. The shooting began after the Chairman of the Congress, Furkorus Yebeisembut, declared independence from Indonesia. As communications broke down, text messages began to picture the tensions around the city.
Updates: More Stories Unravelled as Indonesian police and military attacked the Third Papuan People's Congress

Just in:

A congress participant who was recently released by the police sent this text message to West Papua Media Alerts. It has been translated from Indonesian.
Sister/brother, I’ve just left the police headquarters along with other students who have exams this morning. There are still around 800 detainees in the Jayapura Police Station at the moment. Yeboisembut was injured by the police, he is still being interrogated in a special room. Eduard Pariri, Mrs. Sroer, Kelly Pedai, Abraham Kareni, Nova Sroer, DAUD ABON (Governor of Yapen-Waropen and Mamberamo), Mr. Jacob Sroer and Elieser Awon (ex Free West Papua – OPM – member), Mama Sroer and there are still so many other activists, youths, students, petapa [community security force], mama-mama [older women], OPM and others. They are still being detained in the Jayapura Police Station’s tennis court since last night. The repressive and violent act by the authority has caused a lot of injuries to the people, some fractured their skulls, broke their legs, while others suffer serious injuries. We had to sign the letter stating we’ve committed criminal acts as they did not allow us to defend ourselves.

October 19, 2011:

Text messages were sent out earlier this week by unidentified senders, warning that there would be trouble at the gathering:

Free Papua congress. There will be slaughter of the sons and daughters of Papua, so stay at home and don’t go out until it is safe.

But thousands of people have attended the congress since Monday. The original venue for the event was the Cendrawasih University, but it was later moved to Lapangan Sakeus (Sakeus Field) in Abepura, on the outskirts of Jayapura. Papuan video activists said at least 4000 people attended the congress today.

The congress itself was not a popular idea, particularly among the armed independence groups.

The commander of the TPN/OPM (the National Liberation Army/Papuan Independence Movement), Lambert Pekikir, strongly rejected the congress. He said it would not solve the Papuan independence issue. The TPN/OPM only supports secession from the Indonesian republic

However, Papuan video activists said it was clear today that independence from Indonesia was the hot topic at the gathering. As attendees addressed the issue of independence in their speeches, several hundred military officers began to close in.

One Papuan video activist sent a text message to EngageMedia this morning:

Good morning, brother, I’m down at the field, and we’re surrounded by the military. Please pray so the congress is safe.

Then, at 3.30pm Jayapura time, he sent another one:

Brother, they’ve opened fire … to us all.

The TNI’s Regional Commander, Major General Erfi Triassunu, confirmed the declaration of independence during a press conference today: “MRP (Majelis Rakyat Papua – Papuan People’s Council) has declared the separation from Indonesia and plans to establish a new government,” he told

“The police officers were only trying to prevent [the situation from escalating] by firing warning shots to the air,” he said.

“No shots were fired directly to the people, hopefully there was no one hurt.”

However, sources on the ground have confirmed that people did get hurt during the panic that ensued. They also claim some people were assaulted by military personnel. Papuan video activists told EngageMedia that their cameras were confiscated, even though they were not using the devices.

Roads are currently blocked in Abepura, as are phone and internet communications.

UPDATE: Andreas Harsono, from Human Rights Watch, has told EngageMedia:

“At about 3pm Papua time, one of my contacts called me, frantically telling me that the troops had opened fire. He said he had heard about 30 shots. It is not clear whether it was fired to the air or the crowd. Over the phone I heard at least five more shots. If my hearing did not betray me, it seemed like the sound of SS-1 semi-automatic weapons…

“Another contact sent me a text message, saying that the troops had opened fire and [were] dispersing the Papuan Congress participants of various tribes throughout Papua. He estimated at least 2000 people were in the field this morning…

“I also talked to an anthropologist, a close friend of mine, who had difficulties [passing] the Abepura area. He saw police and soldiers blocking roads around Abepura. He also said that rumors had started to circulate that leaders associated [with] the Papuan Congress i.e. Forkorus Yoboisembut, the chairman of the Papuan Customary Council; Selfius Bobii, a social media activist and the organizer of the Congress; and Edison Waromi, the president of the West Papua National Authority and a former political prisoner, were about to be arrested by the police…

“They all said that the atmosphere is very tense in Jayapura. The anthropologist is worried that they might be “penyisiran” or “combing” this evening like what the Indonesian troops [did] in 2006. Abepura and Waena, where most participants stay, are quite empty now.

“My contacts are still not sure whether the shots were live bullets or blank ones. Phone connection is rather difficult with Jayapura now.”

EngageMedia will continue to monitor and update the situation. If you are interested in following up the story with the authorities, please contact:

Jayapura Police Chief – +62811950376

Regional Commander Major General Erfi Triassunu – +62811136522

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: