Tag Archives: Human RIghts Watch

HRW: Indonesia: End Access Restrictions to Papua

Press release

For Immediate Release
***To download video:
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Indonesia: End Access Restrictions to Papua
Official Obstacles for Foreign Media and Monitors Defy Presidential Order

(Jakarta, November 11, 2015) – Indonesian authorities continue to restrict access by foreign journalists and rights monitors to Indonesia’s easternmost provinces of Papua, raising serious concerns about the government’s commitment to media freedom, Human Rights Watch said today in a new report. The restrictions defy a May 10, 2015 announcement by Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo – popularly known as Jokowi – that accredited foreign media would have unimpeded access to Papua.

“Government access restrictions have for far too long made Papua Indonesia’s ‘forbidden island’ for foreign media and rights monitors,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Blocking media access on overbroad ‘security’ grounds deters foreign news reporting about Papua, raising troubling questions about what the Indonesian government might be trying to hide there.”

The 75-page report, “Something to Hide?: Indonesia’s Restrictions on Media Freedom and Rights Monitoring in Papua,” documents the government’s role in obstructing access to the provinces of Papua and West Papua (collectively referred to as “Papua”), including government backlash since Jokowi’s announcement.

The decades-old access restrictions on Papua are rooted in government suspicion of the motives of foreign nationals in a region still troubled by widespread corruption, environmental degradation, public dissatisfaction with Jakarta, and a small pro-independence insurgency.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 107 journalists, editors, publishers, and representatives of domestic and international nongovernmental organizations for the report. Foreign correspondents describe an opaque and unpredictable permit application process in which they often never received a final response. Many have waited fruitlessly for months – and in some cases years – for approval.

Jokowi’s May 10 announcement has faced strong resistance by some senior government and security forces officials, Human Rights Watch said. The government has also not followed that announcement with a specific written directive, which opened space for non-compliance by state agencies and security forces opposed to loosening restrictions on foreign observer access to Papua. Various senior officials have since publicly contradicted the president’s statement. Even the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has announced that it has “liquidated” the 18-agency “Clearing House” that previously was used to vet journalists, has confirmed that prior police permission is still required for foreign media access to Papua. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is in some cases also continuing to ask some journalists seeking to travel to Papua to provide, in advance, details of their likely sources and dates of travel.

Foreign correspondents have reported mixed results from their efforts to take advantage of the announced loosening of Papua access restrictions. For instance, after Jokowi’s announcement, the Indonesian embassy in Bangkok processed and granted in just 15 days a Papua reporting visa for Cyril Payen, a Bangkok-based correspondent for France 24 television. The embassy also assured him that he was not obligated to have any check-ins with police or immigration officials while in Papua. “Whether I was lucky or not, I don’t know,” Payen said. “They really opened up.”

However, a Jakarta-based foreign correspondent showed Human Rights Watch a copy of correspondence with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from July 2015 in which a ministry official listed both a surat jalan, or travel permit, from the National Police’s Security Intelligence Agency, as well as a “letter of notification” specifying the journalist’s “purpose, time and places of coverage in Papua,” as prerequisites for access to Papua.

Foreign journalists who ultimately are granted Papua access permits often face surveillance and harassment after arrival in Papua. Several said that they were required to have an official “minder” from the State Intelligence Agency (Badan Intelijen Negara, BIN) for the full duration of their visits, significantly limiting their ability to report on issues deemed sensitive.

“President Jokowi needs to bridge the gap between rhetoric and reality by putting the guarantee of unimpeded foreign media access to Papua in writing,” Kine said. “He should make it clear to government officials and security forces alike that obstructing journalists is unacceptable in Papua and anywhere else in Indonesia.”

Indonesian journalists – particularly ethnic Papuans – are also vulnerable to restrictions on media freedom in Papua, Human Rights Watch said. Reporting on corruption and land grabs can be dangerous anywhere in Indonesia, but national and local journalists told Human Rights Watch that those dangers are magnified in Papua. In addition, journalists there face harassment, intimidation, and at times even violence from officials, members of the public, and pro-independence forces when they report on sensitive political topics and human rights abuses.

Journalists in Papua say they routinely self-censor to avoid reprisals for their reporting. That environment of fear and distrust is increased by the security forces’ longstanding and documented practice of paying some journalists to be informers and even deploying agents to work undercover in newsrooms as journalists. These practices are carried out both to minimize negative coverage and to encourage positive reporting about the political situation, and they generate distrust among journalists.

Representatives of international nongovernmental organizations, United Nations experts, and foreign academics have also faced official obstacles to visiting Papua. Since 2009, the International Committee for the Red Cross, the Dutch development organization Cordaid, and the Peace Brigades International have all limited or closed their Papua-based operations due to pressures from the Indonesian government.

In 2013, the Indonesian government blocked a proposed visit by Frank La Rue, then the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Diplomatic sources in Geneva told La Rue that the Indonesian government froze his requested visit due to his inclusion of Papua in his proposed itinerary. “[The Indonesian mission in Geneva] asked what areas I want to go to [and] I said Jakarta and bigger places like Bali, but for me, I said, it was very important to visit Aceh and Papua,” La Rue told Human Rights Watch. “They said ‘Great, we’ll get back to you.’ What it meant was that they postponed the dates and put the trip off indefinitely.”

“It’s clear from our research that removing access restrictions is not a silver bullet to resolve Papua’s deep-seated problems or dispel the suspicions of Indonesian officials toward foreign media and other observers,” Kine said. “But greater transparency and access are essential elements of a rights-respecting future for Papua to throw sunshine on abuses of power that for too long have remained hidden from view.”

For accounts from the report, please see below.

“Something to Hide?: Indonesia’s Restrictions on Media Freedom and Rights Monitoring in Papua” is available at:
https://www.hrw.org/node/283014

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Indonesia, please visit:
http://www.hrw.org/asia/indonesia

For more information, please contact:
In Jakarta, Andreas Harsono (English, Indonesian): +62-815-950-9000 (mobile); or harsona@hrw.org
In Jakarta, Phelim Kine (English, Mandarin): +62-812 10877314 (mobile) or +1-212-810-0469 (US mobile); or kinep@hrw.org. Twitter: @PhelimKine
In San Francisco, Brad Adams (English): +1 347-463-3531 (mobile); or adamsb@hrw.org
In Sydney, Elaine Pearson (English): +61-400-505-186 (mobile); or pearsoe@hrw.org. Twitter: @pearsonelaine
In Washington, DC, John Sifton (English): +1-646-479-2499 (mobile); or siftonj@hrw.org. Twitter: @johnsifton

Accounts from “Something to Hide?”

Rohan Redheya, a Dutch freelance photojournalist who applied in The Hague for a journalist visa to Papua in July 2014, said that although the Indonesian embassy informed him that the approval process was “around two weeks,” the embassy never responded to his application. “I know many journalists who got ignored [by Indonesian visa issuance offices], and they simply never heard something again [after submitting a Papua access application].”

“The Clearing House system of consensus voting means any one person has veto power, which generally means that the opinion of the most paranoid person in the meeting carries the day. These restrictions fuel all manner of speculation about Papua: the notion that the Indonesian government has ‘something to hide’ finds purchase. But the Indonesian government finds itself in the illogical position where they hear of inflammatory reporting and this actually makes them impose restrictions, and then those restrictions prevent good journalists from writing of the complexities of the place.”
– Bobby Anderson, a social development specialist and researcher who worked in Papua from 2010 to 2015, describing the government’s “Clearing House” screening of foreign journalists seeking to report from Papua.

Marie Dhumieres, a French journalist, received a police permit to go to Papua in September 2015. A week later the police arrested and questioned three Papuan activists whom she interviewed. She published this tweet to President Jokowi, and the activists were soon released: “So Mr @jokowi, foreign journalists are free to work anywhere in Papua but the people we interview get arrested after we leave?”

“If you read all the news reports in all newspapers in Manokwari [in Papua], you will see that their sources are almost all, almost 100 percent, government officials. Their sources are always government officials, police officers, or military officers.”
– Agusta Bunay, a Papua Barat TV presenter, on self-censorship among journalists fearful of possible reprisals for independent reporting.

HRW: Five Papuans Convicted for Peaceful Protest

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For Immediate Release

From HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH

Indonesia: Five Papuans Convicted for Peaceful Protest
Amend Treason Law to Uphold Free Speech

(New York, March 16, 2012) – The Indonesian government should drop the politically motivated treason charges against five Papuan activists who were convicted on March 16, 2012, and order their release, Human Rights Watch said today.

The district court in Jayapura, the Papuan provincial capital, convicted the five men and sentenced them to three years in prison for statements made at a Papuan People’s Congress in October 2011. The demonstration was brutally suppressed by the authorities, leaving at least three people dead. The five men convicted on March 16 are Selpius Bobii, a social media activist, August Sananay Kraar, a civil servant, Dominikus Sorabut, a filmmaker, Edison Waromi, a former political prisoner, and Forkorus Yaboisembut, a Papuan tribal leader.

“If the Indonesian government wants to make an example out of these people, then it should free them as a symbol of its commitment to free expression,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead, the legacy of the Papuan Congress crackdown will be five unjust convictions, while those responsible for the violence go unpunished.”

On October 19, 2011, in Jayapura, Indonesian security forces used excessive force to break up a three-day People’s Congress demonstration supporting independence for Papua, Human Rights Watch said. After Yaboisembut, one of the leaders, read aloud the 1961 Papua Declaration of Independence, police and the army fired warning shots to disperse the approximately 1,000 Papuans gathered. The security forces then used batons and in some instances firearms against the demonstrators, killing at least three and injuring more than 90 others. Witnesses said that demonstrators had been struck on the head and several suffered gunshot wounds.

Following the incident, 17 police officers, including the Jayapura police chief, Imam Setiawan and seven of his subordinates, were given written warnings for committing a disciplinary infraction by not giving priority to the protection of civilians. However, no other action was taken against police or military personnel for possible misuse of force.

The trial of the five activists raised serious due process concerns, Human Rights Watch said. During the trial, the defense told the court that police questioned their clients in the first 24 hours of arrest without the presence of lawyers. The defense also alleged that the men were beaten by police while in custody. Police allegedly kicked Yaboisembut in the chest and beat his head with a rifle butt. Sorabut testified that the police beat him on his head with a pistol and struck his body repeatedly with an M-16 assault rifle. Kraar said he was hit by police twice on the head with a pistol.

Human Rights Watch renewed its call for the Indonesian government to release all political prisoners and allow human rights organizations and foreign journalists unimpeded access to Papua.

The Indonesian Criminal Code should be amended to ensure that no one is prosecuted for treason for exercising their rights to peaceful protest protected under the Indonesian constitution and international law, Human Rights Watch said. The constitution, in article 28(e), states, “Every person shall have the right to the freedom of association and expression of opinion.” Article 28(f) provides, “Every person shall have 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 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Indonesia ratified in 2006, similarly protects the rights to free expression and peaceful assembly.

Human Rights Watch takes no position on claims to self-determination in Papua. Consistent with international law, however, Human Rights Watch supports the right of everyone, including independence supporters, to express their political views peacefully without fear of arrest or other forms of reprisal.

“Throwing activists in prison on charges of treason will just reinforce Papuans’ beliefs that the Indonesian government uses the law for political purposes,” Pearson said. “And while the government is busy prosecuting peaceful protesters, it seems to have had no time to investigate adequately the violence against them.”

To read the October 28, 2011 Human Rights Watch news release, “Indonesia: Independent Investigation Needed Into Papua Violence,” please visit:
http://www.hrw.org/news/2011/10/28/indonesia-independent-investigation-needed-papua-violence

To read Human Rights Watch’s report on political prisoners in Indonesia, please visit:
http://www.hrw.org/reports/2010/06/23/prosecuting-political-aspiration-0

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Indonesia, please visit:
http://www.hrw.org/asia/indonesia

 

Australia must act to protect human rights in Papua: Joint letter from HRLC and Human Rights Watch (28 Nov 2011)

The Australian Government should take a leadership role in promoting and protecting human rights in the troubled Indonesian province of West Papua say two leading human rights organizations in a Joint Letter to the Foreign Minister, the Hon Kevin Rudd MP.

Ahead of the 50th anniversary this Friday of the first raising of the West Papuan ‘Morning Star’ flag, the Human Rights Law Centre and Human Rights Watch have called on Minister Rudd to publically and unequivocally condemn the excessive use of force and suppression of peaceful protest and also deploy Australian embassy staff to Papua to monitor and observe anticipated events to mark the anniversary.

“Australia must unequivocally support the human rights of all persons to freedom of expression, association and assembly,” said Tom Clarke from the Human Rights Law Centre. “It is not in Australia’s strategic interest to have a festering human rights problem on our doorstep.”

“The default policy of successive Australian Governments has seemingly been to politely look the other way while human rights abuses occurred on our doorstep. This approach desperately needs rethinking. The problem of violence and repression in West Papua needs to be acknowledged and addressed,” Mr Clarke said.

The ‘Morning Star’ flag was first raised in 1961 when West Papua was moving towards independence with assistance from its colonial Dutch Government and the Australian Government. By this time, Papua already had its own government officials. However, in 1962 a chain of events eventually led to Indonesia taking control of Papua and well documented military violence and human rights abuses have plagued the province since. Today Papuans face imprisonment for simply raising the ‘Morning Star’ flag.

The letter urges Minister Rudd to call for a full and impartial investigation into recent use of force, including fatal force, by Indonesian police and military forces on a peaceful assembly on 19 October. The attacks on the Third Papuan People’s Congress resulted in at least three protesters being killed, at least 90 being injured and approximately 300 arrested.

“The West Papuan people do not enjoy the types of basic rights that we take for granted here in Australia. The right to meet to discuss ideas and express political beliefs are severely curtailed in West Papua. The international media is heavily restricted in travelling to Papua and reporting on events there. We are concerned that without international attention being focused on West Papua, human rights abuses are likely to continue,” Mr Clarke said.

The letter also requests that Minister Rudd urge the Indonesian Government to release all persons detained in Papua for the peaceful expression of their political views, including Filep Karma who the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention advises should be immediately released.

“Minister Rudd should follow US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton’s lead and directly raise concerns with Indonesia about the violence and abuse of human rights in West Papua. If he has a ‘special relationship’ with Indonesia, now is the time to make the most of it and, as a friend, help Indonesia meet the commitments that it’s signed up to under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” Mr Clarke said.

The Human Rights Law Centre will be hosting a public seminar in Melbourne with Human Rights Watch’s Elaine Pearson looking at this and other human rights issues in Asia on Wednesday 7 December. Further details can be found online here.

For further comments from HRLC: contact Tom Clarke on tom.clarke@hrlc.org.au or 0422 545 763

For comments from HRW: contact Phil Robertson on RobertP@hrw.org or +66 85 060 8406

HRW: Independent Investigation Needed Into Papua Violence

http://www.hrw.org/node/102650

 

 

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Indonesia: Independent Investigation Needed Into Papua Violence

Ensure Proper Treatment of Detainees

 

*** To download high-resolution pictures click here: www.hrwnews.org/press/papua_indonesia.zip

 

(New York, October 28, 2011) – Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono should immediately establish an independent investigation into the deaths of at least three protesters and the ongoing violence in Papua, Human Rights Watch said today.

On October 19, 2011, Indonesian police and the army fired warning shots to disperse approximately 1,000 Papuans gathered for a peaceful pro-independence demonstration in the Papua provincial capital, Jayapura, after one of the leaders read out the 1961 Papua Declaration of Independence. In an ensuing crackdown by the security forces on the demonstrators, at least three people were killed and dozens were injured. Witnesses said several had gunshot wounds.

“Papuans peacefully calling for independence does not justify a deadly crackdown,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “President Yudhoyono has an opportunity to show Papuans that he’s concerned about their rights by seriously investigating these deaths.”

The involvement of security forces in the violence, as well as government denials of any wrongdoing, demonstrate the need for an independent investigation, Human Rights Watch said. While the military announced that the National Police were investigating the incident, the government has already said that the police and military acted appropriately. “The government did not find any abuse of power nor mismanaged approaches by the security officers,” said presidential spokesman, Julian Aldrin Pasha. “Police officers and security forces just accomplished their duties mandated by the state.”

Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that at about 2:30 p.m. on October 19, at the “Third Papuan Congress,” Forkorus Yaboisembut, chairman of the Papuan Customary Council, read out a 1961 Declaration of Independence, and said that he and Edison Waromi, the president of the West Papua National Authority, had been elected by the Congress as president and prime minister respectively of the “Democratic Republic of West Papua.”

About 30 minutes later, the event concluded and the crowd started to disperse, but about 1,000 people remained in the field, talking, and socializing. At approximately 3:30 p.m., the police and military, who had deployed anti-riot trucks and surrounded the field since midnight the night before, began firing military assault weapons over the crowds and into the air.

Witnesses said that most of the people in the field began running. Others stopped and surrendered, putting their hands up. The police then arrested approximately 300 people, ordering them to strip down to their underwear. Witnesses say that security forces pistol-whipped or beat those they arrested with rattan canes and batons, resulting in several injuries.

 

Many others fled into the woods near the field, with some using a road by a nearby school and military outpost. Witnesses said the police and military forces followed into the woods and there arrested numerous others.

 

The three reported deaths are:

 

  • Daniel Kadepa, 25, a law student at Sekolah Tinggi Ilmu Hukum Umel Mandiri. A witness said that Kadepa died from gunshot wounds to the head after soldiers fired on him as he was running away.
  • Max Asa Yeuw, 35, a member of the Penjaga Tanah Papua (Papua Land Guard or PETAPA).
  • Yakobus Samansabra, 53, a member of PETAPA, had bullet wounds to his torso, reportedly in the back.

Several other PETAPA members had gunshot wounds.

 

Indonesian security forces should abide by the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms, Human Rights Watch said. These which call upon law enforcement officials, including members of the armed forces, to apply nonviolent means before resorting to the use of force, to use force only in proportion to the seriousness of the offense, and to use lethal force only when strictly unavoidable, to protect life. The principles also provide that governments shall ensure that arbitrary or abusive use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials is punished as a criminal offense under their law.

 

Police have since released all of those arrested except for six men, five of whom were charged with treason, and one charged with possession of a sharp weapon:

 

  • Forkorus Yaboisembut, chairman of the Papua Customary Council, probably the most prominent pro-independence leader in Papua. Documents from Indonesia’s special forces, or Kopassus, leaked by Australian media in August, have revealed that Yaboisembut was on the top of the military’s watch list. Kopassus reportedly placed informants around Yaboisembut, including his neighbors and a journalist.
  • Edison Waromi, president of the West Papua National Authority.
  • Dominikus Surabut, secretary of the Papuan Customary Council in La Pago region.
  • Selpius Bobii, a social media activist, who organized the Papuan Congress. He 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, charged with possessing a sharp weapon.

The six men have had access to lawyers. Human Rights Watch has previously documented torture and ill-treatment of political detainees by police and prison guards in Papua, and the failure of the government to hold those responsible to account.

“Past mistreatment of Papuan political prisoners means the safety of these detainees is also at risk,” Pearson said. “Those detained should be treated fairly and have access to Indonesia’s human rights commission and local human rights groups.”

This incident follows a string of violent incidents in Papua since July, including:

· On July 31, a deadly clash between two local Papuan groups in Puncak Jaya, Papua, that claimed 17 lives. Leaders of both groups were planning to run for office for the same political party.

· On August 1, the fatal shooting of three Javanese migrants and an Indonesia soldier, in Nafri, Jayapura. Police later arrested 15 Papuan villagers, including several children, in Horas Skyline village, Jayapura, allegedly beating and kicking the detainees. All but two of those detained have been released without charge.

· On August 3, the fatal shooting of Pvt. Fana Suhandi, a member of the Army 753rd Battalion, as he guarded a military post in Tingginambut in Puncak Jaya. A sniper shot at a military helicopter that had arranged to transport his body from Puncak Jaya.

· On August 22, in Mulia, the capital of Puncak Jaya, the fatal shooting by a sniper of an unarmed motorcycle taxi driver near a post of the Army 753rd battalion. Media reports say the victim may have been an army informer.

· On August 23, Army Capt. Tasman M. Noer was stabbed to death by two men as he rode his motorcycle in broad daylight near his home in Abepura. A witness to the attack was beaten and hospitalized later the same day.

· Since October 10, the killings of at least four people at the Freeport mine site in Timika, southern Papua. More than 2,000 workers stopped work in July and again in September demanding wage increases. Freeport has replaced workers on strike with other miners. On October 10, one of the striking workers was killed by police and several others injured. Several police officers and two journalists were also injured in the melee. Unidentified gunmen shot dead three non-Papuan workers on October 14.

· On October 24, two unidentified men shot dead Mulia police chief, Dominggus Oktavianus Awes, in Mulia, Puncak Jaya. The men seized his pistol and used it to shoot him in the face.

Police investigations into these incidents have lacked transparency, and it has been difficult to gather information about the progress of investigations. Police efforts to hold the killers accountable have been frustrated by a lack of serious investigations, equipment, and manpower. In some areas, police have not gone to the crime scene or collected evidence due to concerns for their safety.

Documenting human rights violations during protests and other events is especially difficult because of restrictions, since 1962, on access to Papua for foreign human rights monitors and journalists. Human Rights Watch called on the Indonesian government to lift these restrictions. Human Rights Watch takes no position on the self-determination of the Papuan people.

“Police and military personnel have also been the victims of violence in Papua,” Pearson said. “But police investigations have been woefully inadequate, and there’s a need for independent investigations into this escalating violence.”

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Indonesia, please visit:

http://www.hrw.org/asia/indonesia

 

For more information, please contact:

In London, Brad Adams (English): +44-7908-728333 (mobile); or adamsb@hrw.org
In New York, Elaine Pearson (English): +1-212-216-1213; or +1-646-291-7169 (mobile); or pearsoe@hrw.org

In Washington, DC, John Sifton (English): +1-917-838-9736 (mobile); or siftonj@hrw.org


UPDATES: MORE STORIES UNRAVELLED AS INDONESIAN POLICE AND MILITARY ATTACKED THE THIRD PAPUAN PEOPLE’S CONGRESS

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 BeritaSatu.com.

“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