The West Papuan community and its supporters around Australia will raise the Morning Star flag today – a criminal offense within the Indonesian province – despite allegations of Indonesian pressure to prevent the ceremony from going ahead in Melbourne.
To mark the 53rd anniversary of the raising of the flag, the West Papuan community organised an event called “19 days of freedom”, held in the heart of Melbourne at Federation Square.
The documentary Isolated will be screened, and there will be screenings of short videos every day until the 19th, when the Strange Birds in Paradise film will be shown to end the commemoration.
But New Matilda has learned after the event was advertised on Facebook last week, the Indonesian consulate in Melbourne immediately sought a meeting with Federation Square.
They raised concerns about the Facebook event, wanting it to be taken down despite it being separate from the organisation, and then wanted assurances the Morning Star flag would not be raised or shown at the event.
It is understood Federation Square refused because it is apolitical, supportive of all cultural groups, and cannot prevent members of the public wearing whatever they want and raising their own flags.
West Papuan activist Ronny Kareni told New Matilda members of the West Papuan community often had their events threatened, or were under surveillance by Indonesia.
“They use scare tactics behind closed doors to go after organisations or groups of people that want to support West Papua,” Mr Kareni said.
“They approached Federation Square a couple of days after they saw the event page on Facebook. They rang a particular day five times and pressured them to pull down the event on the website.”
Mr Kareni says there was a similar situation in 2004 when the consulate pressured organisers of a screening of the documentary Journey to Freedom, which charts the activism of West Papuan leader Herman Wainggai.
He says members of the community will be looking out for Indonesian surveillance at the event today.
Earlier this year, Lateline aired allegations of Indonesian students spying on activities by the West Papuan community in Melbourne. https://newmatilda.com/2014/10/08/indonesian-students-accused-spying-west-papua-activists
The pressure from the consulate has made it hard for the West Papuan community to promote its culture and stories.
“This has caused a lot of challenges for West Papua as a community here trying to build and tell our stories, just to do our cultural things. It’s very difficult to put the name ‘West Papua’ on community events.
“They’ll apply this fear tactic and stop organisations from supporting us.”
But despite this, Mr Kareni says the West Papuan community remains strong.
“The flag brings hope and strengthens the movement itself. It’s a national symbol and a lot of people have died just for that Morning Star. A lot of people have been imprisoned for that Morning Star.
“[The flag] gives us that strength to fight and pursue self-determination and struggle until West Papua is free, and we can fly it freely.”
The Indonesian consulate in Melbourne did not respond to a request for comment.
December 1, 1961 marked the first time the Morning Star was raised and the national anthem sung alongside the Dutch flag and anthem. It came after the Dutch, who had control over West Papua, accepted a manifesto put forward by the New Guinea Council.
The council was a representative body set up to inform on the wishes of West Papuans for self-determination.
But 19 days later, Indonesian President Sukarno launched a military operation to annex West Papua, which began the invasion of the province (although Indonesian military had been secretly entering the area before that).
In 1962, the Dutch and the Indonesians signed the New York Agreement, which transferred administration to the UN, who handed it over to Indonesia the following year. Indonesia officially took control of West Papua after the controversial Act of Free Choice in 1969.
There have been consistent allegations of human rights violations by the Indonesian military and police inside West Papua ever since, and peaceful protests often suffer brutal crackdowns.
There is a notorious foreign media ban within West Papua which means the situation has largely stayed off the international radar.
But those short 19 days of freedom before Indonesian occupation are being celebrated today across the world, and also inside West Papua, despite it being a criminal offense to raise the Morning Star, with political prisoners like Filep Karma serving sentences of up to 15 years for doing so.
Mr Kareni says the day is very significant for West Papuans.
“When the flag was raised, we knew that freedom was coming. But then on the 19th day, the Indonesian invasion through Trikora was announced and West Papua has fallen under Indonesian brutality ever since.
“On December 1 we celebrate and also stage our defiance against Indonesian colonialism.”
This year’s celebrations come as a meeting of West Papuan leaders and activists converge on the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu this week to talk about the way forward for West Papuan self-determination.
Indonesia’s Acting Ambassador to Vanuatu, Imron Cotan has already warned it could cut diplomatic ties with Vanuatu over the issue.
Mr Cotan told Radio New Zealand “Indonesia is ready to go to war in order to maintain Papua within our territory, so we are indeed serious about Papua”.
He was responding to plans by Papuan activists to open an embassy in Vanuatu.
“Nobody, I believe, should take it lightly. Indonesia will be more than prepared to freeze anything if our sovereignty over Papua is questioned. That is definitely a no go in Indonesia."
Vanuatu has been the only consistent supporter of West Papuan independence and has declared December 1 a public holiday in solidarity.
“This forum in Vanuatu is a very significant meeting, and a positive step forward towards achieving a greater voice and leadership,” Mr Kareni says.
“… It’s about bringing not only political organisations but also church groups, tribal groups and women’s groups and NGOs together to have a discussion about a united and inclusive voice in pushing West Papua’s cause of self-determination into regional organisations like the Pacific Island Forum and the Melanesian Spearhead Group.”
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