West Papua: How to lose a country

November 23, 2011

by Jason Macleod

with This Blog Harms at Crikey

When Julia Gillard meet Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhuyono in Bali on the weekend West Papua barely got a mention. Although the text messages inside West Papua went into overdrive with the rumour that the reason Australia and the United States were stationing 2,500 U.S Marines in Darwin was to prepare for military intervention in West Papua.

I told my friends in West Papua it wasn’t true.

But then I got thinking. Actually Australia is doing a lot to help Indonesia loosen their grip on the troubled territory. Not by design of course. But the effect is much the same as if the Government suddenly adopted a radical pro-independence policy.

Confused? Let me explain.

Last month the Indonesian police and military fired live rounds into an unarmed crowd of civilians in West Papua, killing five. The Army and Police then tried to make out that it wasn’t them, that what had taken place was a coup by the Papuan Liberation Army; that it was the Papuans who were doing the shooting. Yudhuyono tried to sell Obama and Gillard a version of that story in Bali on the weekend. That might have washed twenty years ago but in this age of social media and smart phones it is much more difficult to hide the evidence.

Since the killing of five Papuans on October 19, the wounding of scores more and the arrest of six Papuan leaders, international media coverage of West Papua has spiked and Indonesia’s international standing has taken a beating. The Army, Police and President’s denials and attempts at cover-up have not helped the government’s reputation.

The killings have also generated outrage and division within Indonesia. And October 19 was not an isolated incident. A series of shocking acts of torture of Papuans by the Indonesian military have been captured on video and recently released. And when I speak of outrage I am not talking about protests from human rights groups. National legislators from a range of Indonesian political parties have begun to publicly criticise the Indonesian military, police and even the President over the government’s policy, or lack of it, in West Papua. Even the cautious Indonesian Bishop’s Conference urged Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhuyono to hold a third party mediated dialogue without delay.

Indonesian critics recognise that the political crisis in West Papua is spiralling out of control and that the central government and the security forces are making things worse. Indonesian journalist Bramantyo Prijosusilo writing in the Jakarta Globe went as far as saying that the “powerful forces bent on forcing Papuans to separate from Indonesia are none other than the central government, especially its military and police force.”

He has a point. West Papua teeters on the brink of open rebellion. After the shooting on October 19 one student previously uninvolved with politics told me “if the police and military thought they could shoot us dead like animals and we would somehow stop pressing for freedom, they are wrong. We don’t care about the military; we don’t care about the police. We are not afraid anymore.” Days later he was on the streets along with 3,000 other Papuans calling for a referendum.

This is not just about political insurrection. The economy is on the brink as well.

Consider the massive Freeport/Rio Tinto gold and copper mine. Eight thousand mine workers there have been on strike since July. Freeport’s pipeline has been cut in more than 20 places, the company has been unable to deliver on its contracts, the local government in Mimika which depends on revenue from the mine to supply services is cash strapped, and Freeport itself is losing billions.

That could mean Australian jobs are affected. Over 800 Australian companies supply the mine through Cairns and Darwin. The Australian owned company International Purveying Incorporated sends everything from Toyota’s, heavy mining equipment, and frozen beef dinners to Freeport every few days.

How long shareholders and investors will put up with heavy loses and adverse economic risk is any ones guess. But it won’t be forever. And it is not just Freeport / Rio Tinto that is in the firing line. BP, Clive Palmer’s nickel businesses in Raja Ampat, and logging interests are all the target of a torrent of anger from landowners. CEOs like Palmer and Freeport’s Bob Moffet may not ask the Indonesian government to negotiate with Papuans demanding political freedoms but sooner or later shareholders and investors will demand just that.

So how is the Australian government responding to these shifting power dynamics? Well that is the problem. They are not. The government’s position is the same as it has always been: continued support for the Indonesian military / police unhinged from any tangible improvements in human rights such as guarantees of free speech, release of political prisoners or moves towards supporting political dialogue.

No matter what side of the political fence you sit this is not smart policy.

For years Papuans have been telling our leaders that Special Autonomy had failed, that the Freeport mine was a source of conflict, and that the military and police were killing them. Just in case we were not paying attention they described the situation as “slow motion genocide”.

So for those realists out there who think an independent West Papua would be a mistake, here’s some free policy advice: stop funding the armed group splitting Indonesia apart.

Giving a blank cheque to the Indonesian military while there is continued suppression of political freedoms in West Papua is the surest way for Australia to help Indonesia lose a country.

It seems the Australian government might be eager to usher in freedom in West Papua after all.


More Brutal Footage emerges from Congress crackdown

Fresh footage has emerged from last month’s brutal crackdown by Indonesian security forces on the Third Papuan People’s Congress in Abepura on October 19.

SBS Television broadcast the following footage which was also sent to West Papua Media.  The footage shows plain clothes and uniformed security personnel shooting hundreds of rounds into the crowd, beating and brutalising scores of participants, and violently attacking the elected President of the West Papuan Transitional Government, Forkorus Yaboisembut.

West Papua Media has also been provided with the remainder of the Congress footage through a source inside West Papua (via Tapol/ Down to Earth).  We have decided to make this available for the use of all media.  Please spread  widely.  Please be aware this contains images of extreme Indonesian state violence against unarmed civilians.


MEDIA NOTE:  For access to this original footage, please visit the contact page on this site and send an email or contact the number.

Breaking News:First Demos since Papuan crackdown to demand Indon take abuse responsibility


October 31, 2011

(Jayapura) Renewed demonstrations are being held in Jayapura today demanding Indonesia take formal and legal responsibility for ongoing human rights abuses in West Papua, most recently the brutal attack on the Third Papuan People’s Congress (KP3) on October 19.

In the first act of political expression since the violent crackdown by Indonesian security forces on the declaration of the Democratic Republic of West Papua (RDPB) by KP3 participants, local organisers of today’s rally have expressed concern that security forces will again resort to extreme violence to suppress peaceful dissent.

The demonstration, which started at 0900 local time in Waena, near Jayapura, is also demanding the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in West Papua, including those arrested and charged with treason for organising the historic KP3 Congress from October 16-19.

According to witness reports received at the beginning of the march, over 500 police are present with 300 armed riot police and water cannon shadowing the peaceful march.  2 Corps of Brimob (2628-XVII and 2627-XVII0) and 2 SSK (Special Security Company – 150 men each ) of normal police from Polresta Jayapura are attendance, with almost a company of plain clothes police are in attendance, with armoured equipment.  Over four companies of Indonesian army in full battle gear are also present.

Speaking by phone to West Papua Media from Jayapura on Sunday night,  a Prime Ministerial spokesman for the recently declared RDPB transitional government said that “the increased militarisation of Papua is not the solution that we wish for”.  The spokesman further mentioned that Indonesia must allow a platform for us to peacefully express out views in accordance with internationally accepted human rights”.

Rolling civil resistance activities have also been planned across West Papuan towns in coming days, partly to socialise the outcome of the KP3  meetings, and also to up the ante on the Indonesian state to accept the need for political change in Papua, including allowing West Papuan people to exercise their universal human right of self-determination, according to organisers.  Despite brutal tactics, intimidation and nightly terror sweep operations by police and military across Jayapura creating significant tension and fear amongst the local population, people are prepared to stand for their rights and prepared to be arrested.

Over 800 people were arrested by Indonesian security forces after simultaneous premeditated raids on various venues in Jayapura on October 19 after the declaration of an independent West Papua.  Most of the 800 were released, with scores sustaining serious injuries from beatings and torture by security forces. Seven of the leaders of KP3remain in detention having been charged with makar (Rebellion) and Treason, accused by Jakarta of holding a coup d’etat.  Evidence is beginning to emerge that the crackdown was known about in Jakarta before the declaration  was made, though it is unclear at this stage who ultimately authorised the use of extreme force against unarmed Papuan delegates.

Seven victims have been formally named, but local human rights activists claim that 17 people were killed by Indonesian police and soldiers, including  members of the elite Australian-trained and funded Detachment 88 counterterrorism unit.  Over a thousand people are still in hiding, including many with significant untreated injuries meted out by security forces during the simultaneous attacks on Congress .

Organisers of today’s rallies are expecting  several thousand people to attend the event in Jayapuras, starting in Sentani (about 25 km outside Jayapura) and  then via a long march to Waena, to finish outside the DPRP, the Papuan Provincial Parliament.  According to organisers, Jayapura area Police have granted permission for the march and demonstration to go ahead but it is unclear at this stage if a crackdown will occur.

The Indonesian Police Commander for Papua province, Iman Setiawan, held a press conference after the crackdown at KP3 saying that he will “do his duty to defend the integrity of Indonesia” and “destroy”  anyone who would speak of a Free West Papua.  He told the Jakarta Globe on October 21 “Whoever supports separatism or subversion activity, I will do the same as yesterday [forcefully dissolve the 3rd Papua People’s Congress]. I’ll finish [them],”  “So, if there is anyone supporting such movements, I’m ready to die and finish them,” he said. “This is my duty.”

It is unclear whether Jakarta is going to call for restraint of its security forces again, or if they once again will kill people for engaging in peaceful free expression.

This is a developing story that West Papua Media will continue to monitor closely – please stay tuned.

West Papua Media

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