West Papua: Violent crackdown as 50 years of occupation marked

In West Papua, May 1 holds a special significance besides being the international day marking working-class struggle. It was on May 1, 1963, that Indonesia was granted control of the western half of the New Guinea island the by the United Nations.

Since then, many West Papuan independence and human rights activists have been jailed, tortured and killed for demanding real democracy and a genuine independence referendum. As thousands of people across the region prepared for May 1 demonstrations marking 50 years of brutal occupation, the Indonesian authorities launched raids on April 30.

Authorities detainied scores of activists, reported West Papua Media.

The crackdown was endorsed by the new Papuan governor Lukas Enembe and masterminded by the chief of Papua police, the Australian-trained former head of the notorious Detachment 88, Inspector General Tito Karnavian. The aim was to curb any show of dissent on May 1.

In the most violent incident, two Papuans, Abner Malagawak and Thomas Blesia, were shot dead in Sorong while attending a planning meeting for the next day’s rally. Three other people, Salomina Klaibin, Herman Lokmen, and Andreas Safisa, were wounded in the attack. Salomina later died in hospital.

Despite the harsh repression, demonstrations went ahead the next day. The Morning Star flag ― the flag of West Papua banned by Indonesian authorities ― was raised across the country.

Protesters in Jayapura carried banners saying “Fifty years of lies, manipulation, torture and killing”, “Not integration; annexation” and “The Indonesian occupation is illegal”.

Demonstrations were accompanied by a large police and military presence. Some actions violently dispersed and activists arrested, including in Waena, Biak and Timika.

Further repression continued after May 1, with the Jakarta Post reporting six people arrested in Sorong in relation to the April 30 incident that left two dead. Papua Police chief spokesperson Gede Sumerta Jaya said they were part of a “radical group who had voiced anti-government sentiment”.

On May 13, leader of the West Papua National Committee (KNPB) Viktor Weimo was arrested, along with KNPB activists Yongky Ulimpa, Ely Kobak and media worker Marthen Manggaprouw. The arrests took place during a violent police breakup of a rally in Jayapura organised to protest the May 1 killings.

Thousands of people had gathered for the rally but were subjected to repeated baton charges by the police after the gathering was deemed illegal.

The Jakarta Post reported Sumerta Jaya saying that Weimo was arrested because he had organised the rally. Sumerta Jaya said a rally could “lead to accidents and road blockages could cause traffic congestion” and the group “vandalised facilities at the MRP [Papua People’s Council] office several years ago”.

Australian academics signed a petition to foreign minister Bob Carr urging him to pressure Indonesian authorities to hold accountable those responsible for the deaths, to raise the protection of human rights and support unrestricted access for human rights observers and media in West Papua.

However, the Jakarta Globe reported that speaker of the Indonesian House of Representatives Marzuki Alie urged the Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa to lodge a formal protest with the government of Australia after Benny Wenda, the founder of the Free West Papua campaign, gave a speech in Sydney in which he called for West Papuan independence.

Wenda’s Free West Papua campaign recently opened its first office in Oxford, England. With the growing influence of the campaign and its successes in gaining international support for West Papuan independence, this sparked concern among Indonesia’s ruling elite.

The Globe reported that Natalegawa asked that the British government step in: “We’re asking the British government to try to understand why this cannot be tolerated, what they’re doing.”

Hajriyanto Thohari, deputy speaker of the People’s Consultative Assembly, said: “Look at the case of the exit of East Timor from Indonesia in the old days. Western nations said they supported our sovereignty. But along the way, due to the interference of foreign nations, the province was lost.”

On May 6, Natalegawa summoned British ambassador Mark Canning to protest the opening of the office. Canning was quick to reassure Natalegawa, saying: “The position of [the] British government on this matter is quite clear. We respect the territorial integrity of Indonesia and do not support calls for Papuan independence. We regard Papua as being part of Indonesia,” and that the opening of the office “has nothing whatsoever to do with the British government”.

Meanwhile, the Globe said President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has promised to free all Papuan political prisoners as part of the “special autonomy plus” program.

The program is aimed at granting West Papua greater concessions, including the promose of full management of its natural resources, in an effort to quell resistance.

Papuans Behind Bars lists 40 political prisoners, including some who have been imprisoned since 2003.

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