Nearly 2000 people were arrested in the Indonesian-occupied nation of West Papua on May 2. The crackdown came amid a mass unarmed civilian uprisings across West Papua. Jason MacLeod, the author of the recently published Merdeka & the Morning Star: Civil Resistance in West Papua, told We Are Moving Stories: “The Indonesian police were completely overwhelmed by the size, scale and disciplined defiance of the activists who came from a range of groups organised by the United Liberation Movement for West Papua.”
West Papua, one half of the island of New Guinea, has been occupied by Indonesia for more than five decades. Like East Timor, which won independence from Indonesia in 1999, West Papuans want to be free to determine their own political future. At least 100,000 people have been killed by the Indonesian military since it took control in 1963 but the West Papuans continue to struggle.
MacLeod, an organiser, educator and researcher who has been active in the West Papuan solidarity movement since 1991, spoke to We Are Moving Stories on May 5, which is abridged below.
How many people were arrested on May 2? Why were they arrested?
Nearly 2000 people were arrested on May 2, in mass unarmed civilian-based uprisings across the country: in Jayapura, Wamena, Merauke, Manokwari, Timika, Sorong and Fak Fak.
The Indonesian police were completely overwhelmed by the size, scale and disciplined defiance of the activists who came from a range of groups organised by the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP).
In Jayapura, for instance, activists were detained on the oval inside the mobile police brigade's headquarters. Most people arrested were released by last night. At the time of writing, 45 people, including 19 children aged 8-18, remain in detention in Fak Fak.
The Indonesian police routinely use torture against Papuan dissenters, so we are concerned about their welfare. I expect the organisers will be charged with treason and rebellion later this week.
At the same time we are noticing that Jakarta is becoming constrained, or at least uncertain of what to do, in the face of rising international support for a free West Papua, especially in the Pacific.
Your exclusive video from West Papua has been posted at We Are Moving Stories. What does it show?
The video shows activists being transported by an Indonesian police truck from Waena, a suburb in Jayapura, to the Mobile Police Brigade's headquarters in Kotaraja, about 15-20 minutes away, where they were detained on a sports oval.
You can see fists being raised in defiance and hear them yelling “merdeka” (freedom). This is the fifth truck with activists that went past in minutes. The film was shot by a local organiser hidden behind a fence.
Much of the equipment — weapons, trucks, body armour — is supplied by foreign countries, including Australia and the European Union.
What are the demands of the West Papuans?
Since November last year, the ULMWP has been campaigning to become a full member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group, a sub regional forum comprised of Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Fiji and the pro-independence coalition from Kanaky (New Caledonia), the FLNKS (the National Liberation Socialist Front of Kanaky).
In June last year, the ULMWP gained observer status. At the same time, Indonesia was accepted as an associate member. Through the MSG the ULMWP has an opportunity to take their concerns to the 16-member country Pacific Islands Forum and the United Nations.
That is why activists in West Papua are calling for the ULMWP to get full membership of the MSG. This will legitimise and internationalise the struggle in a major way.
Of course, that move challenges Indonesia's legitimacy and the economic and political interests of other countries – notably Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand/Aotearoa, and is being resisted.
Consequently, the ULMWP is taking to the streets inside West Papua to raise the political costs of the occupation for Indonesia and the same time try to compel Pacific Island countries to take a position on West Papua.
It's a strategy that is working. Last month for instance, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat agreed to put West Papua on the agenda of the forthcoming leaders meeting in September as a result of grassroots pressure from across the region.
Why is it so difficult to see videos about what's going on in West Papua?
Foreign journalists are effectively banned from travelling to West Papua. In recent years, particularly since 2011, social media has been the quickest and most reliable way to get information out. It has only really been in the last six months that we have been able to send video out quickly.
Given the Indonesian government's media blockade, citizen media activism is vital. The movement is seeking to strengthen its capacity to use video and various digital platforms to extend its reach into new audiences and deepen its impacts on those audiences, mobilising them in support of movement-led goals.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on this platform?
The ULMWP together with their allies invite film makers to come to West Papua to tell the story of Papuan resistance to the Indonesian government occupation. But we are also looking for other industry people who can work with movement leaders to develop short 90 second films that we can integrate into various campaign strategies — such as the campaign to end foreign support for the Indonesian police in West Papua, to secure full membership of the MSG and other campaigns. \
What's a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
What would it take for film and creative industry people to work with movement leaders and solidarity groups to mobilise resources in support of West Papuans' aspirations for self determination and independence?