West Papua: Crackdown greets rallies for independence

December 8, 2013
A rally in Wamena demanding self-determination for West Papua.

Hundreds of people have been arrested and some killed as Indonesian authorities crack down on events commemorating the declaration of West Papua's independence.

On December 1, West Papuans mark the first raising of the Morning Star flag, a symbol of West Papuan independence. On that day in 1961, the flag was raised by the New Guinea Council, the parliament in the then-Dutch colony.

Soon after the ceremony, Indonesia invaded West Papua, claiming it was part of its campaign to liberate the Dutch colonies of the East Indies.

Today, raising the Morning Star flag is banned by the Indonesian occupiers, and Indonesia suppresses any advocacy for self-determination.

On November 26, a National Committee for West Papua (KNPB) rally in Jayapura was brutally dispersed by Indonesian police. Police fired on hundreds of peaceful demonstrators with tear gas and live ammunition. At least 15 people were seriously injured and one killed.

Police conducted sweeps, “targeting anyone who was wearing dreadlocks, beard, or even wearing sunglasses, and arresting them all,” a witness said. The KNPB is looking for four activists who have been missing since the rally.

The one confirmed death was of Matias Tengket. An eyewitness to his murder told KNPB he was chased by a black van to a lake after police broke up the rally. The van's armed occupants beat him and took him on a boat to the middle of the lake. His body was found in the lake the next day.

The rally was one of many celebrating the opening of the Free West Papua office in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. West Papua Media reported widespread repression, including 31 arrests in Timika.

On November 29, another man was killed in Yongsu village. More than 200 people have been arrested since and many demonstrators and their families are in hiding.

The repression extended into neighbouring Papua New Guinea. Port Moresby Governor Powes Parkop raised the Morning Star flag at City Hall on December 1. This was the first time the flag has been raised on any PNG government site.

However, police broke up the march and arrested three organisers. Parkop said it was “due to undue pressure from the Indonesian government”.

Parkop said: “We in PNG are not responsible for Indonesia’s occupation of West Papua but by our silence ... are rendered complicit in Indonesia’s crimes against our fellow Papuans.”

The day before, PNG authorities also threatened Benny Wenda, a West Papuan activist in exile in Britain, and human rights lawyer Jennifer Robinson with arrest if they attended the rally.

The border between West Papua and PNG was arbitrarily drawn up by European colonisers and both nations share a common Melanesian culture. PNG state officials agree there is great sympathy for West Papua in PNG.

But both countries also possess large reserves of natural resources. Some PNG officials say the pressure to clamp down on the Port Morseby rally came from Australia, which strongly supports Indonesian control of West Papua.

PNG is heavily reliant on Australian aid of more than $500 million annually.

The opening of a Free West Papua campaign office in Port Morseby is part of a rise in solidarity with West Papua around the world. In stark contrast to the stand of the PNG government, the commander of the Free Papua Movement (OPM, an armed West Papuan resistance group) was in Vanuatu to thank the country for its support.

Vanuatu PM Moana Carcasses won office partly because the previous government failed to continue Vanuatu’s tradition of supporting West Papua's struggle for self-determination.

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