West Papua Faces Security Crackdown


Forty-eight years after Indonesia took over administration of West Papua from the United Nations Temporary Executive Authority, West Papuans continue to struggle for self-determination. Although West Papua is not often on our front pages, recent events there show that the fight for justice is not about to go away any time soon — even as Indonesian security forces employ increasingly heavy-handed tactics to quell unrest.

Thousands of West Papuans took to the streets in peaceful rallies across the province at the beginning of August calling for a referendum. Also last month, International Lawyers for West Papua held their ‘West Papua — The Road to Freedom’ conference in Oxford, UK. The conference brought together legal experts, parliamentarians and others to present "the strongest case to date that the people of West Papua have the right to self-determination under international law".

On 1 August unidentified assailants sprayed a small bus with bullets as it passed through Nafri village, Jayapura. Four people, including a member of the Indonesian Military, were killed. In response, up to 300 members of the security forces (military and police) were involved in the operation in the hills around Nafri village, searching for the perpetrators of the attack.

Because a Morning Star flag was found near the site of the incident the Jayapura Police were quick to blame the Free Papua Movement (OPM) for the attack. However, Forkorus Yoboisembut, chairman of the Papua Traditional Council (DAP), claimed that there was more to the incident than met the eye. "This could be the work of people who do not want to see stability in Papua," he told the Jakarta Globe. The local rebel commander, Lambert Pekikir, denied involvement in an ambush, saying the OPM would not randomly kill their own people. Members of the counter-terrorism squad were also brought in to hunt for the unidentified attackers. 

Another shootout took place in the Tanah Hitam mountain on Tuesday 16 August after the banned Morning Star flag was raised a day before Indonesian Independence Day. According to witnesses, shots were fired after a joint team of police and military officers arrived to take the flag down. Papua police spokesman Sr. Comr. Wachyono said the joint forces were sweeping the mountain to find the perpetrators and prevent more incidents from taking place. During the military sweeps of the area police claim they found documents that allegedly belonged to the OPM — including flags, ammunition of various types, bows and arrows, mobile phones and a list of up to 19 OPM members.

On 1 September, 13 people were arrested in Kotaraja by a combined police and military force. Kotaraja is not far from Abepura and Nafri, where the military operation had recently taken place. A shot was reported to have been heard in the area during the round up. The 13 are alleged to have been involved in shootings in Nafri and to have caused unrest during an Idul Fitri ceremony that was being held on the premises of Brimob, and are now in police custody in Jayapura. Sofyan Yoman Socratez from the Baptist church said they would investigate the incident and would release a formal report to the public next week.

Also last month, a series of articles by Tom Allard in the Sydney Morning Herald exposed leaked Kopassus documents that showed lists of West Papuans who are supposed to be supporting "separatism". In reality they are members of civil society organisations concerned about the human rights situation in West Papua.

The leaked documents highlight that the level of spying by the Indonesian military on West Papuans is oppressive, with agents infiltrating every level of West Papuan society. There is an obvious systematic campaign to intimidate both human rights defenders and the West Papuan people as a whole.

The Australia West Papua Association has written to the Australian Government numerous times about our concern over Australia’s ties with the Indonesian military. AWPA’s latest press release concerning this can be read here.

Amnesty International released a number of urgent actions concerning West Papua this month — one about Papuan political prisoner Kimanus Wenda who is in urgent need of medical treatment. He has a tumour in his stomach, and needs to be transferred to a hospital to undergo an operation. Prison authorities have refused to pay for his transport and medical costs. Another was concerning Papuan activist Melkianus Bleskadit who has been imprisoned for his involvement in a peaceful protest and for raising an independence flag, and another regarding fears for the safety of human rights defender Yones Douw. An earlier urgent action about Douw was issued on 17 June.

The Asian Human Right Commission also released an urgent action concerning medical workers who were criminally charged for protests over wages.

The 42nd Meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) starts in Auckland on 6 September. AWPA wrote to the PIF leaders in June asking that they grant observer status to genuine representatives of the West Papuan people who are struggling for their right to self-determination. An article about the forum by Maire Leadbeater from the Indonesia Human Rights Committee can be read here.

The West Papua Project at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney released a report called "Anatomy of an Occupation: The Indonesian Military in West Papua" by Jim Elmslie and Camellia Webb-Gannon with Peter King.

As pressure mounts between local human rights activists and securty forces, the International Crisis Group has also released a new briefing paper called "Indonesia: Hope and Hard Reality in Papua", which can be found here.

The West Papuan people are now calling for peaceful dialogue with Jakarta, and although not unanimous, the will is there. The international community should place pressure on Jakarta to resolve West Papuans’ issues of concern. If we don’t, we will see increasing conflict in West Papua in turn affecting the rest of the Asia Pacific region.

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