West Papua: Independence leader on trial in new crackdown

August 11, 2012

West Papuan independence leader Buchtar Tabuni has been put on trial as part of Indonesia's crackdown on the independence movement.

Tabuni, a leader of the West Papua National Committee (KNPB), was arrested in June for allegedly organising “anarchic” protests calling on the government to properly investigate a wave of random shootings blamed on independence activists.

The protests were peaceful until attacked by police and ended with several activists dead and others injured.

The wave of violence is widely believed to be the work of those aligned with the government and military. The shootings began in May, just days after the Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council heavily criticised Indonesia's actions in West Papua, and are seen as an attempt to discredit the independence movement, particularly the KNPB.

Leading KNPB member Mako Tabuni was assassinated by security forces in June and later blamed for the shootings. The claims have little credibility, particularly as the KNPB has no history of violence.

Theo Hesegem of the Law Enforcement and Human Rights Advocacy Network told Asian Human Rights Commission News on July 31: “Problems were deliberately designed in Papua so people from outside will not come to Papua and just stop by in Jakarta.

“Problems were created so people would think, 'there are too many problems in Papua so we should not go there', 'Papua is not safe', 'it is inconvenient to go to Papua' etc.

“I have heard that actually there was a team formed by the German parliamentarians who would come to Papua but due to security reasons, they could not come.”

Indonesia's human rights abuses in West Papua have gained more international criticism in the past few years. Despite the increasing pressure, Indonesia has stuck to its long-used tactic of repressing Papuans and then blaming its victims for its brutality.

KNPB spokesperson Wim Metlama criticised the ongoing harassment of KNPB members, including the attempted arrest of new chairperson Victor Yeimo, Jubi said on August 8.

All independence activists are under threat of persecution. One example was former political prisoner Yusak Pakage, who was arrested at Tabuni's hearing on July 23. Jubi said that day that Pakage had allegedly reacted angrily to the court proceedings and kicked a spittoon, the contents of which splashed the pants of an official next to him.

When the official complained, police searched Pakage and arrested him for having a pocket knife. Bintang Papua said that day that Pakage could face five years jail for threatening someone else's security.

Pakage was released from jail last year after being arrested in 2004 for raising the West Papuan “Morning Star” flag in support of independence from Indonesia. He had recently been involved with the Papuan Street Parliament campaign for proper health treatment for political prisoners, Jubi said on July 19.

The wave of shootings has put the biased reporting of much of the Papuan media in the spotlight. Media outlets linked to Indonesian colonisers had uncritically reported the police and military claims that the KNPB were responsible for the shootings.

The media has not changed its story despite the fact that the shootings have continued after the death of the supposed mastermind, Mako Tabuni.

Church leader Benny Giay told Jubi on July 26 that journalists in West Papua were misinforming the public in the same way as journalists in apartheid South Africa did regarding the anti-apartheid struggle.

West Papua Media said on June 30: “Indonesian-owned media outlets in Papua have long been identified with Indonesian intelligence and propaganda activities, with many outlets being directly owned by military officers for profit, and almost all media outlets coming under the control (either willing or not) of Indonesian intelligence personnel.”

Concerns have also been raised about journalists working as informers for the military. Bintang Papua said on July 17 that 11 journalists in West Papua were suspected of passing information to the military, prompting concerns from the Jayapura branch of the Alliance of Independent Journalists.

Umaginews.com released a list of names of alleged informers in June, citing information from sources within security forces and a military document.

In a further crackdown, police and mobile brigade troops attacked a protest in Serui on August 9, West Papua Media Alerts said on Facebook. Several people were beaten, shot or arrested and homes were burned, said the Federal Republic of West Papua organisation.

However, in a sign of growing scrutiny of Indonesia's treatment of Papuans, exiled independence campaigner Benny Wenda was removed from Interpol's “red notice” list. Interpol ruled the case was
“predominantly political in nature”, NBC News said on August 7.

Wenda has lived in Britain for nine years as a political refugee. The red notice meant Wenda could not travel for fear of extradition to Indonesia.

West Papua was colonised by Indonesia in 1961, and its people have been kept in poverty despite the vast wealth of natural resources of the region. The independence movement is largely motivated by Indonesia's unwillingness to allow basic social justice and democracy in the region.

The role of Western corporations and Indonesian elites in plundering this wealth is the key reason why the situation in West Papua is mostly ignored around the world.

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.