Indonesian army forces brutally attacked the Papuan national conference in Abepura on October 19. The conference was attended by up to 20,000 people discussing West Papua's struggle for independence from Indonesia.
WestPapuaMedia.info said on October 21 that local sources confirmed six people were killed. New Matilda.com reported on October 20 an account from a priest who saw a truck full of arrested people who were “covered with blood” and had been “beaten and shot”.
WestPapuaMedia.info said many of the Petapa Papuan community security guards were shot trying to defend others. Women tending to the wounded were also shot.
Fleeing people were chased into the surrounding hillside, the Institute of Papuan Advocacy and Human Rights said on October 19.
A witness told WestPapuaMedia.info on October 20 that 800 people were being held by police, and that some protesters had “fractured their skulls, broke their legs, while others [suffered] serious injuries”.
Photos emerged on WestPapuaMedia.info on October 21 of torture injuries sustained by arrested activists.
The conference began on October 17 in an open field after authorities denied the use of Cenderawasih University. The conference was only the third of its kind in West Papuan history.
Despite the threat from the occupying Indonesian forces, thousands of Papuans bravely returned for each day of the conference.
Indonesian forces launched their attack near the end of the conference after chair of the Papuan Customary Council Forkorus Yaboisembut read out a declaration of Papuan independence, the Jakarta Globe said on October 19.
Yaboisembut was charged with “treason, rebellion and crimes of hatred against the state”, along with at least five other independence activists, WestPapuaMedia.info said.
Indonesian soldiers had been preparing for the crackdown for days. WestPapuaMedia.info said about 2200 Indonesian security personnel had surrounded the conference on previous days to try to intimidate the crowd.
The Indonesian military also had “six Army Pansers and four Police Barracuda Armoured Personnel Carriers, all containing fully armed troops”, as well as two mobile prisons, a water cannon and many other vehicles, WestPapuaMedia.info said.
Before the brutal attacks, Papuan workers had confronted the powerful forces in control of the region.
Striking workers blockaded the notorious Freeport-McMoRan gold and copper mine in West Papua in an ongoing dispute over wages and conditions, despite violent attempts to stop them.
About 12,000 mine workers have been on strike since September 15 over demands to raise wages to $12.50 an hour, an increase from the paltry $2.10, the Jakarta Post said on October 10.
The article said the mine earned $30 million a day in July.
The blockade forced the mine to stop production on October 17, although it resumed at 50% capacity the next day, AP said the next day.
Freeport spokesperson Ramdani Sirait told the Jakarta Globe on October 17: “Crowds outside the Freeport mining complex are still blocking the entrance, using our heavy machinery.”
A pipeline for copper output was also cut in an apparent act of sabotage, Reuters said on October 17.
The dispute has been marred by violence. On October 10, one worker was shot dead and nine others injured in Timika when Indonesian police fired on them, Tribunnews.com said that day.
The shooting was followed by attempts to break the strike. NewMatilda.com said on October 7: “Workers have received messages from officials via SMS, and visits to their family homes by Freeport staff and security who threaten to withhold pay and fire striking workers.”
The company also tried to intimidate workers into signing an agreement to end the strike and the home of a union leader was fired on, NewMatilda.com said.
Reuters said on October 6 that workers had voted to extend the strike for another month. Local tribal leaders have also lent their support to the strike, criticising Freeport for failing to live up to its promise to use its revenues to support Papuan society, Globalpost.com said.
Freeport has a long history of using violence and intimidation tactics against locals. Mine owners have allegedly paid millions of dollars to the Indonesian military and hired thugs to enforce the company's hold over the area and terrorise dissenting members of the community, Al Jazeera said on October 2.
The company has made billions in profits and has helped enrich elites in Jakarta, but West Papuans endure the lowest standards of living in Indonesia.
Freeport Worker’s Union member John Rumkoren told GlobalPost.com on October 18: “Freeport has been in Papua for 44 years, but they have not contributed to Papuan society at all.
“Contributions from Freeport only go to the police and the military and they [police and military] only come and kill us.”