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The Indonesian military and police started shooting at around 2:37pm West Papua time, yesterday 19 October. Information about what exactly transpired are still sketchy but at least one person was shot (believed dead), scores have been arrested, hundreds have fled to the hills and jungle surrounding the capital, and the capital is in a state of lockdown.
A Papuan priest who was fleeing the shooting contacted New Matilda to report that an army truck passed him carrying Papuan participants who had been present at the Third Papua Congress. According to the witness they were "covered with blood" and had been "beaten and shot".
The violence erupted at the conclusion of the Third Papuan Congress, a three-day gathering held at the Taboria oval (Zaccheus Field) in Abepura, during which Papuan leaders declared their independence from the Indonesian state.
As many as 20,000 West Papuans met, danced and debated how to achieve their civil and political rights. For three days the atmosphere had been tense. The venue was ringed by Armed Personnel Carriers, military trucks and Barracudas — a type of armed jeep favoured by the paramilitary police. Machine guns were trained on the participants and thousands of soldiers and paramilitary police armed with automatic weapons were present.
Papuan activists feared that the military and police would try to forcibly break up the peaceful gathering. But the Papuans were determined to have the congress.
One activist told New Matilda "maybe we will die but the congress will go on". Continue it did. The banned "morning star" flag was flown and the banned national anthem was sung. By lunch time on the third day (19 October) Papuan activists, members of the organising committee and well connected church leaders heard that the police and military were going to use force to break up the congress.
By 2pm Jayapura time the Congress was concluding. Forkorus Yaboisembut, the Chair of the influential Customary Papaun Council was elected President and Edison Waromi was elected Prime Minister of the "West Papua Federal State". The crowd was ecstatic. One senior tribal leader sent New Matilda the following message by SMS: "Kongres has been successful! No reaction from the military. God bless!"
The jubilation was premature.
Immediately after New Matilda received that SMS, Yaboisembut and Waromi read a declaration of independence. The police and military then opened fire and stormed the stage. As Forkorus Yaboisembut was being arrested, his personal bodyguards stepped in to protect him. A witness reports at least one person was then shot. According to an SMS New Matilda received from Yaboisembut: "hundreds were surrounded, shot, beaten and then arrested".
Prior to being arrested, Yaboisembut spoke to a journalist from Bintang Papua, a local Jayapura daily. Yaboisembut was reported as saying that the objective of the congress was to discuss the basic rights of the indigenous Papuan people and not to destroy the the republic of Indonesia.
"Although we will be discussing political rights, we respect the Indonesian government because our intention is not to destroy [the republic of Indonesia]. This is a matter of principle," he said.
"What we are doing is to struggle for the rights of the indigenous Papuan people. This includes our basic right as a nation."
Yaboisembut knows what he is talking about. He recently wrote a book about international law, self-determination and the right to secession — a right upheld by the international community most recently in South Sudan and before that Kosovo.
Human Rights defenders in West Papua can confirm that in addition to Yaboisembut, Edison Waromi and his wife and child, Selfius Bobi (Chair of the organising committee), Agus Krar, Abraham Kareni, Yudit Kambuaya and Jan Piet Mirino were also arrested.
At the time of writing those arrested were being detained at the local Jayapura police station. Another source reports that Selfius Bobi has not been seen since. Staff from West Papua Media Alerts hold grave fears that he is being tortured.
Extreme violence has been used to break up a peaceful gathering.
This was the third time West Papuans have held a congress. The second congress was in 2000. It culminated in the election of the Papuan Presidium Council which collapsed in late 2001 after the Chair, Theys Hiyo Eluay, was assassinated by Kopassus, Indonesia’s Special Forces.
The first Papua Congress was held on 1 December 1961, a day West Papuans commemorate as their national day, and some 18 months before Indonesia occupied West Papua on 1 May, 1963.
Yesterday was the second time the Papuans declared independence from Indonesia. The first was by Seth Rumkorem on July 1 1976 at Markas Viktoria, a guerrilla base on the Papua New Guinea border.
Yaboisembut’s declaration of independence in front of thousands of Papuan people and thousands of heavily armed police is a clear escalation of the struggle for independence. It also illustrates Yaboisembut’s conviction that the struggle needs to be waged through an unarmed popular civilian uprising.
This information was gathered by West Papua Media Alerts from local contacts. It has not been verified by New Matilda.
Two victims have been named: Martinus Siep was shot dead, and Pilatus Wetipo was shot in the leg and is now in hiding.
Eight truckloads of Congress delegates were taken into police custody. People arrested by the security forces are now missing.
A witness from Wamena has said: "While I was in hiding I saw with my own eyes in front of me nine people who tried to escape up the hill behind the catholic dormitories were shot dead and were taken away by security forces in Panser [armoured vehicle]. Until now I don’t know where they’ve been taken too".
The security forces have raided Cendrawasi University in pursuit of two delegates from Serui who got shot in the leg and arm. Therefore, all students and delegates in Yawa dormitory have dispersed and are in hiding.
The security forces have also raided dormitories looking for the Congress committee, the Congress leadership and student leaders. Delegates from Biak are reporting that a lot of their representatives are still missing.
Selfius Bobi, who is chair of the Congress organising committee, is missing.
A priest who was hiding in the jungle behind the Congress venue witnessed security forces positioned in the bush shooting down to the venue below, and forces in armoured Panser and police trucks open fire, causing confusion and chaos among participants. He believed security forces had placed themselves behind bushes and were waiting for anyone who escaped up the hill so that they could shoot them and quickly throw them into the vehicles.
This message was sent to West Papua Media Alerts by a Congress participant who has just been released from police custody. 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."
Melkias Kadepa (adult male) has been found dead in the bushes in Abepura, according to Matius Murib, the Chairperson of the Papuan Human Rights Committee in Jayapura.
UPDATE, Friday 10am:
The following is a phone interview with journalist Alex Rayfield.
"Ferry Marisan, the director of Elsham — a leading human rights organisation based in the capital, Jayapura — has said that six people are confirmed dead.
"We think that a couple of people were shot as the security forces raided the stage, and some later. There are also lots of people with gunshot wounds, some of whom are in hiding and too scared to get medical assistance.
"We’ve had multiple reports that there were 800 people in jail. Many of those have been released, but a core group is still detained, charged with a range of offences including treason, rebellion, crimes of hatred against the state. These are colonial laws left over from the Dutch era and they carry long sentences — in some cases up to 20 years.
"It’s important for people to know that [Congress] is not a radical fringe movement. It’s made up of mainstream Papuan society: academics, church leaders and senior tribal leaders. In fact the radical fringe stayed away from this event because they think it’s not radical enough. So if the Indonesian government thinks this is a minority view, they are sadly mistaken. It is a mainstream view.
"Meanwhile, we should add for Australian audiences, that the strike continues at the Freeport mine [which is part owned by Anglo-Australian company Rio Tinto]. The two events are intimately connected."
Listen to an interview with Ferry Marisan here.
Read Amesty International’s statement on the incident here.
This article is no longer being updated. All new information will be posted here as it becomes available.
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