Last week, New Matilda published a breaking report on the violence at the Third People’s Congress in West Papua. Indonesian military and police opened fire on participants and took civilians and leaders into custody.
As reports of fatalities and injuries continued to emerge from Jayapura, NM was in contact with local sources and provided up to date information and footage.
Now, Jakarta has given its side of the story — and it stands by the violent crackdown.
Indonesian Government spokesperson Julian Aldrin Pasha told the Jakarta Globe yesterday that the government initially had no problem with the plan for the Congress, but that when Congress leaders declared their independence from the Republic of Indonesia, something had to be done.
Indonesian security forces maintain they did not shoot directly at civilians during the crackdown, despite witness reports that some were shot at point blank range. A number of bodies have now been found with gunshot wounds.
At a meeting with US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on the weekend, the Indonesian Defence Minister explained away the deadly attack on civilians as a separatist rebellion that had to be quashed. Indonesia reportedly initiated the bilateral talks to hose down concerns about human rights abuses in the province.
"We clearly explained that the [gathering]was a separatist movement," Defence Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro said after the meeting. "Everywhere it’s the same — separatism has to be put down. The Indonesian government will not tolerate separatists."
For its part, the US has said that despite the violence it will continue to develop military ties with Indonesia — but keep a watchful eye on human rights abuses.
Here, Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd has largely remained silent on the issue.
You can read Greens Senator Richard di Natale’s call for a more principled foreign policy response here. Di Natale writes: "Indonesia insists it is a democracy. Its constitution guarantees all its citizens the right to free speech and free assembly. We should hold them to this promise by immediately suspending all military assistance to and cooperation with Indonesia."
Local sources say at least six people were killed in the attack.
Journalist Alex Rayfield told NM on Friday: "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."
Another six, including Congress leader Forkorus Yaboisembut, have been charged with treason.
Rayfield told NM: "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."
Many of those who were released say they were beaten in custody — and sustained serious injuries, including a fractured skull.
Late last week these photos were sent by a credible source to West Papua Media Alerts and allegedly show injuries suffered in police custody. They have not been verified by New Matilda.
On Saturday, we published this exclusive footage from EngageMedia. It was shot by several observers and shows people dancing, soldiers closing in, and gunshots. The last sequence was shot while the camera person was hiding from gunfire.
You can also watch Al Jazeera’s story of the attack here.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has made it clear that he will not tolerate calls for independence in West Papua. But according to Alex Rayfield, the Papuan People’s Congress is not a radical fringe movement. "It’s made up of mainstream Papuan society: academics, church leaders and senior tribal leaders," Rayfield told NM.
"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."
New Matilda will continue to monitor the situation.
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