Indonesia's cyber war on West Papuan solidarity

West Papua protest in Sydney, November 2019. Photo: Peter Boyle.

A selectively edited and captioned video clip of a recent West Papua solidarity protest outside the Indonesian consulate in Sydney has been circulating on Twitter. It purports to show that the protesters were paid $50 each to attend the protest and agreed to burn the West Papuan Morning Star flag for $100, but only off camera.

did you know about the Free West Papua Campaign Australia paid $50 each for protester. using hired people for political purposes. can you see? @TimWilsonMP@wiwikherma@KangBangunan@jarot99@Retjeh_4Rmand@IndonesiaR4Y4@KANIGORO_HeLL pic.twitter.com/z0oisxeX6R

— Salma (@salma_salm33) January 23, 2020

Anyone who watched the clip carefully would see it was a clumsy set up. This is just one of the cruder examples of a growing cyber war against West Papuan solidarity campaigners around the world, Free West Papua Campaign spokesperson Raki Ap told Green Left.

Ap, a son of well-known West Papuan cultural leader, anthropologist and musician Arnold Ap, who was assassinated in custody by Indonesian occupation forces in 1984, now lives in the Netherlands where he works as a public servant.

His main focus as a campaigner today is highlighting the environmental situation in West Papua. This includes climate change, and the mining, gas and palm oil companies, which have destroyed large tracts of land, including rainforests, polluted rivers and caused the death of many civilians.

Pro-Indonesian cyber-troopers have targeted him with a series of propaganda videos to try to discredit his work.

Since 2016, a number of Indonesian government ministers have admitted to waging this online war, with one minister of defence calling its trolls a “cyber army”. A minister for foreign affairs preferred the euphemism “social media diplomacy” to try to “compensate for the disinformation always spread by Papuan separatist groups”.

The websites of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, International Parliamentarians for West PapuaInternational Lawyers for West Papua and exiled West Papuan leader Benny Wenda have all come under distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack.

In 2017, the Indonesian government banned the website Avaaz, which was hosting the online West Papuan People’s Petition (which, by 2019, had been signed by 1.8 million West Papuans) calling for West Papua to be put back on the United Nations' decolonisation committee's list and for an internationally supervised referendum on self-determination.

Indonesian authorities have also banned many other Free West Papua websites.

The small Pacific island nations of Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Marshall Islands, Tuvalu and Tonga, which have supported the West Papua cause, have also been targeted in this cyber war. The Indonesian cyber army posts negative reports on social media about these countries, while dressing up the Indonesian occupation of West Papua as benign.

“We see a lot of social media posts on Facebook and Twitter claiming that West Papuans receive aid and support from the Indonesian military”, Ap told GL.

“A lot are spread by fake accounts, ones with no or very [few] friends, in reaction to our social media posts. They even sent private messages to people who share our posts or events to intimidate them. This is very worrying.

“So this intimidation does not end in West Papua or Indonesia, but crosses borders into many other countries.”

The objective, Ap explained, was to “make people afraid to share our messages of human rights violations in West Papua”.

“Some are afraid they can't go to Indonesia on holiday, afraid their families will be killed or intimidated. Indonesia is criminalising any peaceful way of educating people about the truth in West Papua.”

Ap said that the administrators of social media platforms should do more to stop such intimidation, adding that perhaps there is a need for some government regulation.

“It's very obvious why Indonesia does not allow foreign journalists to enter West Papua. It is because the world will then find out about the ecocide and genocide in West Papua.

“Jakarta is worried about losing control of the world's largest gold mine, the third largest copper mine and many other resources in West Papua. It's Indonesia's secret colony, and Western governments and corporations close their eyes to many atrocities just to make money.

“But our campaign is slowly exposing to the world what is really is going on in West Papua and people are supporting our peaceful campaign for independence. This is why Indonesia is doing everything to spread fake news about the situation in West Papua, and using trolls and bots to spread this propaganda.

“But we know Indonesia is losing the battle about the truth and international law. We are educating the climate change movement that West Papua could be part of the global solution of the climate emergency.

“The world desperately needs some hope and perspective, and West Papua can offer that because its rainforests could be one of the world's 'lungs'. That is part of the vision we offer in our campaign for independence.”

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