New report released on 2019 West Papuan Uprising

October 1, 2020

British human rights organisation TAPOL, in collaboration with Indonesian human rights lawyer Veronica Koman, have just published an extensive report on the 2019 West Papua Uprising.

The report was made public on September 30, the anniversary of the Uprising’s last day.

It is accompanied by a short video and provides extensive detail on issues of racism, impunity, extrajudicial killings, media freedom, internet shutdown, treason charges, excessive use of force against protesters and the use of civilian militias. These issues are currently the subject of a United Nations Human Rights Committee inquiry.

The report’s introduction said: “The events of the Uprising clearly show that the Indonesian authorities went to great lengths to silence these voices through militarisation, the pursuit and prosecution of protesters, restrictions on access to the internet, harassment of independent media and the criminalisation of Indonesian activists and lawyers, including the author.

“This report acts as a witness to the people power of West Papua. It is a wake-up call for Indonesian people to stop racism and support the right to self-determination of the West Papuan people. It is a call for the Indonesian government to address the root causes of the conflict. And it is a reminder for the international community to stop turning a blind eye on the decades-long yearning by the West Papuan people for their legitimate right to self determination.”

The first chapter analyses six incidents critical to understanding what triggered the Uprising. The second chapter elaborates on the Indonesian state’s crackdown. The third chapter analyses the Uprising from the perspective of racism and human rights violations endured by West Papuans. Detailed annexes are also provided with extensive evidence gathered on the ground over the course of several months.

The following extract from Chapter 1 is based on detailed eyewitness accounts of the violence:

“The deadliest day of the Uprising, 23 September, was marked by a spate of killings, injuries and arrests. There were at least 46 people killed and 148 injured in Wamena and Jayapura that day, which also led to mass displacement.

“By that time, 21 activists had been arrested and charged with treason. Many of the protests, especially those outside West Papua, now demanded the release of these political prisoners.

“The crackdown by police in Jayapura that day was so brutal that in one of many videos available there were more than a hundred gunshots in under two minutes, further indicating the level of militarisation that had taken place by then.

“Four West Papuan ‘exodus’ students died from bullet wounds. To date, there has been no investigation into that day’s events there.

“The bloodiest event, however, was in Wamena. It began with anti-racist demonstrations led by high school students. Tensions had reportedly begun to rise during the previous week when an economics teacher at a local high school used the term “monkey” in class that the West Papuan students recognised as racist, and insufficient corrective action was then taken by the school.

“Official figures issued by the Indonesian military and police put the total number of dead that day at 33. However, the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) has suggested that the security forces under-reported the deaths and that at least 10 more people died in the violence. Staff at Wamena hospital also reported that some Papuan high school students were brought into the hospital after being shot by police, but they were not included in police reports.

“An award-winning joint journalistic investigation found that at least 42 civilians died that day.”

According to Indonesia’s security minister, former General Wiranto, 6500 military and police personnel were deployed to West Papua in the first week of September last year.

“In the second half of the Uprising, many photos taken in secret all over West Papua, especially in the capital Jayapura, emerged showing Brimob personnel in black patrolling in public spaces, including roadsides, residential areas, and universities.

“An excessive number of police and military personnel surrounded hospitals following the shootings in Deiyai on 28 August and the bloody incidents in Wamena and Jayapura on 23 September.

“Many injured West Papuans were reportedly feeling scared and preferred to not seek treatment at the hospitals, which led to even more casualties. After the shootings in Deiyai on 28 August, three people died not on the spot but later in their own villages. These deaths could have been prevented had they been able and willing to access treatment. Fourteen injured patients were taken into police custody while in the hospital there, confirming their fears.”

The restrictions on media freedom and attempts to isolate West Papua from the outside world detailed in the report are disturbing.

“There were 13 cases of attacks against press freedom during the Uprising, including four international cases. The Government of Indonesia also enforced a massive crackdown on social media, blocking over 1750 accounts by 29 August 2019.

“Many West Papuan activists complained that their social media accounts were suspended during this period.”

Indonesia also imposed internet “throttling” and a shutdown in West Papua “from the first day of the Uprising”, in the name of “national security”, according to the report. This was accompanied by a social media campaign to “doxx” (publish personal details about) human rights activists and journalists and to label media reports as fake.

“Renowned West Papuan journalist Victor Mambor was doxxed on 22 August, including the precise location of his house on the map on Twitter. The online attack also contained vilification, linking him to the independence organisation OPM [Free Papua Movement].

“Reuters’ reporting on the shootings in Deiyai on 28 August which resulted in civilian casualties was stamped as a hoax by the Indonesian military’s official Twitter account.”

The ABC’s Indonesian foreign correspondent Anne Barker and cameraman Phil Hemingway arrived in West Papua to cover the Uprising on September 3.

According to the report, “They were only allowed to be in Sorong city and were followed by intelligence officers the whole time they were there.”

The team were ordered back to Jakarta two days earlier than planned by Indonesian officials.

“When they arrived in Jakarta, police texted them again to check if they had really returned, and asked them to go to the police headquarters. They refused to go.”

The report is essential reading to understanding the events of last year. Its final chapter analyses the “time bomb” created by Indonesian occupation and nationalism and the Papuan Lives Matter movement, which has “ignited conversations among Indonesians about West Papua on an unprecedented scale.

“Many have been introduced to the problems in West Papua, and are actively learning and discussing them. This hopefully means that the Indonesian State will no longer be able to do whatever it wishes without calculating the consequences, now that more of its own people will question those in power.

"Consciousness that Indonesia has been colonising West Papua has become far more widespread among Indonesian people.”

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