Indonesian crackdown deepens in West Papua

October 13, 2012
The Morning Star flag, a symbol of Papuan independence.

Indonesia has further intensified its repression of West Papuan independence activists, in an apparent response to independence leaders speaking to foreign media.

Eight independence activists from the West Papua National Committee (KNBP) were arrested in Wamena on September 29 and accused of bomb-making and treason, West Papua Media (WPM) said on September 30. The operation involved the notorious Australian funded and trained Detachment 88 anti-terrorist unit.

WPM said “many detainees [were] subjected to brutal beatings and on-the-spot interrogations by security forces according to independent witnesses”.

KNBP leader Victor Yeimo told ABC's 7.30 on October 4 that Indonesia was framing the activists to justify the security forces' ongoing brutality in the region.

“This is how Indonesia is now making a scenario with the terrorist issue in West Papua,” Yeimo told ABC's 7.30. “As you know that in West Papua we never know how to make a bomb, how to create bomb.”

Although the KNBP has no history of violence, security forces recently blamed it for a wave of mysterious shootings,. Many believe they were carried out on behalf of authorities to justify a crackdown. KNBP leader Mako Tabuni was assassinated during the crackdown and later accused of planning the shootings.

Ferry Marisan of human rights group Elsham told the Jakarta Globe on October 1: “[The evidence] must have been fabricated by police, they placed the explosives in the office so the police would have a reason to arrest them ...

“If we observed [the KNBP's] activities in Papua until the death of Mako Tabuni, they never staged violent acts, let alone kept firearms or explosives.”

Colonel David Darko of the National Liberation Army (TPN) ― the armed wing of the Papuan independence movement ― told on October 2 that the TPN had no involvement in any bombings.

Indonesian MPs pushed for a further crackdown when the parliament's House Commission I, which oversees defence, pushed the government to endorse any efforts by the military to stop the West Papuan independence movement, the Jakarta Post said on October 4.

This was justified on the grounds that the military is responsible for protecting the “sovereignty and integrity of the nation”, the Jakarta Post said.

Indonesian security forces have been emboldened by the lack of repercussions from the August 7.30 report that brought mainstream attention in Australia to the activities of Detachment 88. The Australian government has done nothing to curb Detachment 88's brutality, despite providing millions of dollars worth of funding and training to the unit.

Instead, the Australian government has played its usual role of providing political cover for Indonesia's abuses.

Australia and other Western powers have played this role since West Papua was taken over by Indonesia in 1963, after former colonial ruler the Netherlands withdrew. West Papua has suffered mass exploitation of its people and natural resources at the hands of Indonesian and Western businesses.

Indonesia's brutal mistreatment of the Papuan people has led to broad support for independence. However, Indonesia is unwilling to loosen its grip on the area and has continually responded with more repression. Even the most basic expressions of independence are treated harshly.

A recent example was when an independence rally in Manokwari was attacked by army soldiers and Brimob paramilitary police on October 2, WPM said on October 4.

More than 1000 people rallied to support the visit to the United Nations of West Papua National Authority diplomat Herman Wainggai and to reject the failed “Special Autonomy” program in West Papua. Special Autonomy was introduced in 2001 to placate growing calls for independence, but has resulted in no real boost to democracy or living standards.

During the march, hundreds of people unfurled banned Morning Star flags ― the symbol of West Papuan independence ― sparking the attack from security forces, who fired indiscriminately and used tear gas. Many protesters were badly beaten.

Peaceful political leaders are also targeted. Former KNBP chairperson Buchtar Tabuni was sentenced to eight months in jail for vandalising the prison in which he was held, Bintang Papua said on September 24. Tabuni ― who had previously been jailed as a political prisoner ― was arrested in June for organising “anarchic” protests – in reality, protests that were attacked by security forces.

Lawyer Gustav Kawar told Bintang Papua on September 25 that Tabuni would appeal on the grounds that the police and army had put pressure on the judges and that witnesses had given contradictory evidence.

Signs look worrying for the future of the independence movement. On top of the ongoing repression, Indonesia continues to build its military power in the area. Arms deals with the US and Britain are reportedly in progress and said on October 3 that plans were under way to station 15,000 marines in Sorong in north-east West Papua.

However, there are small signs that the impunity is cracking. The New Zealand Superannuation Fund dropped its investments in mining company Freeport McMoRan due to its notorious activities at the Grasberg mine in West Papua, Radio New Zealand International said on September 26. Freeport has directly funded sections of the security forces to clamp down on dissent against the company.

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