Wamena Bleeds Again : Defender of the Land of Papua killed by Indonesian Police

On October 4th, a member of Petapa (Penjaga Tanah Papua – Defenders of the Land of Papua) was shot dead by Indonesian police in the West Papuan highlands town of Wamena. With this act of extrajudicial murder, the Indonesian security forces have stepped up their campaign of repression against the movement for indigenous rights and self-determination in West Papua. They have also revived painful memories of the Bloody Wamena incidents that rocked Wamena ten years ago, when Indonesian police and army forces brutally attacked community posts flying the Morning Star flag, leaving activists dead, beaten and imprisoned, and communities traumatized and displaced.


Petapa members join hands


The increasing momentum of popular mobilizations against Indonesian rule, witnessed in the recent rejection of Jakarta’s manipulative ‘Special Autonomy’ law, is being matched by new levels of violent repression by the Indonesian police and military.  On Oct. 4, DAP’s (Dewan Adat Papua – Papuan Customary Council) security wing Petapa came under severe attack , as four of its members were shot by police, killing coordinator Ismael Lokobal, age 34, and leaving another senior member in a coma.  The incident happened after local airport police seized uniforms and cash being sent to Wamena from the coastal capital Jayapura.  Petapa members attempted to negotiate the return of the seized goods but were denied by police.  Soon a crowd had gathered at the airport police station and confronted the police; Wamena’s police chief was struck in the face by a rock.  Police launched a violent pursuit of Petapa members, chasing them to their headquarters at the regional DAP compound nearby, where Lokobal was shot dead.

Sources on the ground have reported that in the aftermath of the incident, the situation in Wamena has become extremely tense, with the military patrolling the streets and enforcing a curfew.  Local human rights advocates have sought in vain to negotiate a resolution to the crisis with local government and security forces leaders, and community leaders managed to prevent a rumoured attack against police forces by members of the victims’ clan.  The tension persists, and DAP and Petapa’s status as targets for repression and surveillance by the state apparatus is more starkly confirmed.

Meanwhile, newly obtained graphic and disturbing video footage shows Indonesian state agents torturing suspected OPM (Organisasi Papua Merdeka – Free Papua Movement) supporters as part of their brutal scorched-earth counter-insurgency campaign.  There is an urgent need for solidarity and support as Papua-wide mobilizations continue to put pressure on the Indonesian occupation and its foreign backers – which include the US and Australian governments as well as foreign resource extraction companies such as Freeport McMoran and BP.  This urgency is reflected as well by the recent disastrous flooding in Wasior, which Papuan NGOs blame on rampant logging around the area, and which has left over a hundred people dead and thousands displaced.  In light of the ongoing tension and popular opposition to foreign rule, further mobilizations and incidents are expected in the weeks to come.


DAP Hubula area office torched in Wamena

Attackers have burned down DAP’s (Dewan Adat Papua – Papuan Customary Council) Hubula area office on the outskirts of Wamena in West Papua’s Central Highlands.   Coming days before a public event planned there and amidst a state campaign of intimidation against DAP, the attack is believed to have been coordinated by Indonesian military and police intelligence and adds to the climate of repression facing West Papuan activists.

During the night of August 25 2010, unknown attackers torched the Hubula area office of DAP (Dewan Adat Papua – Papuan Customary Council) in Kama village, Wamena district, in West Papua’s Central Highlands region.  Three members of PETAPA (Penjaga Tanah Papua – Defenders of the Land of Papua) who were sleeping in the wooden thatch-roofed building managed to escape unharmed. The office had been completed in May 2010, and was scheduled to host a public unveiling on September 1.

DAP is a Papua-wide network of customary communities working to uphold the cultural rights and restore the self-determination of indigenous Papuans; its presence is particularly strong in the Wamena region.  In the weeks leading up to the attack, local DAP members have built new communication posts (‘posko’) in several villages surrouding Wamena.  In response to DAP’s growing organized rural community presence, the Kapolres (regional police commander) travelled to the sites of of upcoming posko unveilings and warned local community leaders against associating with DAP, calling it a ‘wild organization’ and accusing it of disturbing the peace.  Amidst the growing tension, additional units of Brimob’s (Police Mobile Brigade) US-funded counter-terrorism unit, Special Detachment 88, have been deployed to Wamena from the Papuan capital Jayapura.  In the eyes of DAP activists, the burning of their Hubula office carries all the signs of being organized by state security forces: “This attack is clearly the work of Indonesian intelligence agents, who are worried about the widespread support for DAP at the grassroots level in the region” according to DAP spokesperson Dominikus Sorabut.

On August 23, members of Indonesia’s state security and intelligence agencies, including BIN (State Intelligence Body), the US-funded Kopassus (Military Special Commando) and Regional Police, organized a meeting with a select group of local ‘tribal chiefs’ known as BMP (Barisan Merah Putih – Red and White Front).  BMP is an indigenous militia sponsored by the Indonesian security forces and linked to LMA, the official state customary organization with close ties to the Indonesian military.  After the meeting, a notice was repeatedly broadcast on their behalf on state radio RRI urging local people to stay away from DAP activities and alleging that DAP’s opening of posko ‘disturbs public security’.  Though neither BMP nor LMA can claim any widespread support among indigenous Papuan society, the ongoing support they receive from the military and the latest violent incident raise the specter of the type of Kopassus-organized anti-independence militia violence previously seen at the peak of the brutal repression of East Timor’s struggle to secede from Indonesia.

The escalation in intimidation, manipulation and repression being organized by the state security forces sends an ominous signal of Jakarta’s unwillingness to heed growing calls to resolve the political conflict in Papua through peaceful dialogue.  The latest attack against DAP comes on the heels of unprecedented widespread mass mobilization, with a wide coalition of Papuan groups uniting to reject Jakarta’s Special Autonomy package, demanding a referendum on independence, internationally mediated dialogue, the closing of the US-owned Freeport MacMoran gold and copper mine, and a halt to the transmigration that threatens to reduce Papuans to an indigenous minority.  Mass rallies in all the main towns of Papua have been met with repression and threats from security forces.  While Papuan activists such as Filep Karma, Buchtar Tabuni and Victor Yeimo continue to be imprisoned for organizing rallies calling for self-determination, the recent murder of Papuan journalist Ardiansyah Matra’is has extended the climate of intimidation to the press, making it even more difficult to access critical coverage of unfolding events in Papua.

Meanwhile, in the Puncak Jaya region near Wamena, police and military units continue to carry out harsh collective punishment against local communities suspected of supporting the poorly-armed OPM units operating out of remote mountain strongholds.  Calls by Papuan human rights advocates for the state forces to cease their punitive operations have been met with disregard and intimidation, with the outspoken church leader Socrates Sofyan Yoman summoned for interrogation regarding his criticism of police action. In the face of such threats, DAP leaders have shown no intention of backing down from their community mobilization in defence of indigenous rights and livelihoods.  The international community has an important role to play in pressuring the Indonesian security forces and their Western backers to withhold from violent repression of Papuan activists.

To contact the head of regional police in Wamena and to urge him to stop intimidating DAP, please call Kapolres Jayawijaya, GD S. Jaya at (+62) 8123881989.  An Indonesian-language message to be conveyed could be:

Kami minta Polres segera hentikan tindakan represif terhadap Dewan Adat Papua di Wamena.  Terima kasih.

(Translation: “We ask Regional Police to stop repressive actions against DAP in Wamena.  Thank you.”)


Disturbing video released, Freeport reportedly mining uranium, special session set for August 3

Disturbing video footage has been released showing Brimob (Police Mobile Brigade) forces taunting escaped Papuan political prisoner Yawan Yaweni as he dies from his wounds in August 2009.  Graphic photographs of the disembowelled man lying in the forest had previously circulated on the web.  In the video, newly aired on Australian TV, Brimob forces are seen surveying what they say is an OPM rebel camp in the Serui region, and are seen and heard mocking the dying Yaweni as he defiantly raises his fist and says “merdeka” (freedom).

Grasberg open-pit gold and copper mine, West Papua: Is Freeport mining uranium there also?

A report in the Papuan media quotes a provincial legislator alleging that Freeport, the US mining company which controls the world’s largest gold mine in the Papuan highlands, is mining uranium in Papua.  Uranium extraction is not currently covered by Freeport’s operating agreements with the government of Indonesia.

According to sources in Papua, the result of meetings between FORDEM and Papuan provincial legislators has yielded a date of August 3 for the special session aimed at processing the demands of the wide West Papuan coalition that seeks to reject Jakarta’s special autonomy package in favour of all-out independence.


West Papua Update : Threatened protesters retreat from Provincial Legislature, the struggle continues

The occupation of provincial parliament grounds in the Papuan capital of Jayapura ended late Friday afternoon under threat from severe action by hundreds of army and police.  The thousands of protesters who had camped overnight at the legislature retreated and the movement entered a phase of lobbying and meetings with legislators, pressing for a special session aimed at rejecting Jakarta’s Special Autonomy package, securing a referendum on independence and internationally-mediated dialogue.

Protesters in Jayapura carry banner reading "Special Autonomy failed: Papuan people's right to life is threatened"

The mobilizations underway in West Papua now are the most far-reaching political development there in a decade, with high potential for harsh state violence and also real political space being opened up.  This importance is not reflected in the volume of media coverage coming out of the region; while Indonesian media has downplayed the importance of the mobilization and has neglected to shine light on its wide-ranging support within Papuan civil society, international media appears to be constrained by Indonesian state authorities’ strategy of restricting access to foreign journalists – who are regularly deported for covering demonstrations or for working on tourist visas.

While the focus of the ongoing mobilizations has been in the Papuan capital of Jayapura, rallies have taken place in all the centers of West Papua - including this march in the central highlands town of Wamena

Here is an update on the current situation, forwarded from an Australian colleague, Jason McLeod, who has also written a more detailed article on the latest developments:

  1. After occupying parliament for two days the police threatened to use force to disperse the crowd. Protesters leaders then called the occupation off.
  2. Significantly all protesters – moderates and radicals alike – withdrew in an orderly and disciplined manner. (Remember the last time there was an occupation like this – when students blockaded the road between Jayapura and the airport in March 2006 over the Freeport mine – it ended up in a riot with Indonesian security personnel stoned to death, retaliatory action by the paramilitary police with student dormitories ransacked and scores killed, beaten and tortured, hundreds of students fleeing to PNG, and a severely traumatised student population that is only re-grouping now).
  3. This is not a radical protest although student activists from both the KNPB (West Papua National Committee) and WPNA (West Papua National Authority) are involved. However the protest is led by respected church leaders and backed by the Majelis Rakyat Papua (MRP – or indigenous Papuan upper house). Moderate NGO leaders are also involved. In fact, all components of Papuan society are involved.
  4. There are now negotiations and political manoeuvrings to try and secure Papuan political leaders support to hand back Special Autonomy
  5. To what extent the Papuan civil service (PNS) is being drawn in is not yet clear, but there is widespread dissatisfaction with Special Autonomy by members form the PNS who are a major beneficiary of Special Autonomy along with the Papuan political elite.
  6. Equally true we know militias have been armed and that the police are out in force but it is not clear what their movements will be.
  7. Another demonstration has been called for 19 July
  8. Papuans have called for foreign governments to withhold all funds for Special Autonomy until there has been a dialogue with Jakarta to resolve the crisis.

Movement organizers – organized around FORDEM (Forum Demokrasi Rakyat Papua Bersatu – United Papuan People’s Democracy Forum) and bringing together activists from student groups, customary indigenous networks and others – are now meeting heads of parties of the provincial Parliament, seeking to negotiate a date for the special session to process the demands of the wide coalition – returning Special Autonomy to Jakarta, organizing a referendum on independence, initiating internationally-mediated dialogue, and the rest of the demands.

From now until July 19, the movement seeks to preserve and consolidate its momentum while pressuring elected representatives – the political elite in Papua – to  support this unprecendented unified civil society initiative. Meanwhile, collective punishment rages on as Indonesian military and police carry out operations around rebel-held autonomous zones in the highlands; the world’s biggest gold mine keeps sending profits to the US; massive oil, gas, forestry and agro-business projects continue to unfold; and the Indonesian state’s colonization project advances.  The West Papuan movement sees itself as fighting for the survival of the people and the land, and the next days and weeks are a crucial time in this struggle.

There is a new site with latest reports for media to republish at http://westpapuamedia.info/.  A recent post contains video footage from the massive 20 000-strong rally and overnight occupation of the provincial parliament that took place from Thursday to Friday.  There is an urgent need to break the blockade on information flows out of West Papua, and to spread news of the current mobilizations through networks of reporting and solidarity.


Thousands Rally in West Papua: Reject Special Autonomy, Demand Referendum on Independence

Situation tense as police permit protesters to spend the night at Papuan legislature

International news agencies have reported on the mass rally in Jayapura, capital of Indonesia’s Papua province. Thousands of people joined a long march, walking 17 km from the MRP (Majelis Rakyat Papua – Papua People’s Assembly) to the DPRP (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat Papua – Papuan Provincial Legislature), rejecting the Special Autonomy granted by Indonesia in 2001 and demanding a referendum on West Papuan independence and an internationally-mediated dialogue with Jakarta.  As protesters joined the rally from several points in the city, the crowd – claimed by media to number just a few thousand – swelled to nearly 20,000.  They occupied the grounds of the provincial legislature under the watchful eye of police and army units.

According to messages from organizers, police arrested KNPB (Komite Nasional Papua Barat – West Papua National Committee) member David Frans Huby at 9am in Jayapura. He was making a speech asking people to join the rally.  He is now detained at Polda Papua (Papua regional police) headquarters. Police also prevented groups of people from nearby Keerom regency from joining the Jayapura march.

The Jakarta Globe reported on the rally and quoted one of its organizers:

“Special autonomy has failed to protect the rights of indigenous Papuans,” protest leader Markus Haluk said. “We want to urge Papua’s provincial legislature to hold a plenary meeting to declare that special autonomy is a failure and return it to the central government.”

The report states that the Papuan provincial legislature cancelled a special meeting that was to be held to process the demands of the protesters. It also reports that police detained a French journalist for reporting on the demonstration while on a tourist visa.

Papuan community media reported that Papuan provincial legislators were divided on how to deal with the rally and its demands. Legislators supportive of the MRP-sponsored declaration and the mass mobilizations backing it stated that there is a faction of legislators who oppose the movement and who were not present at the legislature for the planned special session. A group of legislators met with rally organizers FORDEM (Forum Demokrasi Rakyat Papua Bersatu – United Papuan People’s Democracy Forum) and stated that they must allow protesters to spend the night on the grounds of the legislature.

According to messages from organizers, fully armed Indonesian police moved in on protesters at 6 pm, after their deadline for the rally to disperse had passed.  The situation escalated to a tense standoff and then protest leaders sought negotiations with police.  A meeting was held for several hours, resulting in an agreement with police that protesters would be permitted to spend the night on the legislature grounds and stay there until 6pm on July 9th.  Close to 20,000 people spent the night at the protest site.  The situation is tense and dynamic, and given previous behaviour by security forces, things could change quickly on the ground.  According to organizers, the decision by protesters on whether or not to disperse by 6 pm on July 9th will depend on any action taken by provincial legislators with regards to holding a special session to follow up the demands made in the MRP-sponsored declaration.  Dominikus Sorabut of DAP (Dewan Adat Papua – Papuan Customary Council) stated that “security forces attempted to disperse our rally but they are outnumbered.  With so many of us here, what can they do?”

Papuan media confirmed that police granted permission to protesters to spend the night, and that the special Brimob (Mobile Brigade) police forces had retreated, leaving only regular police units to guard the site.

Organizers have sought to deflect what they describe as misinformation campaigns aiming to provoke protesters and to spread rumours about some organizers. Dominikus Sorabut of DAP stated that “during the past weeks provocative text messages have circulated making various allegations about the intentions of this march. However, our action is peaceful and transparent. There are those who seek to provoke by spreading rumours, but this is just a scenario to bring chaos to our movement, and it is not succeeding”.

Indonesian media reported on these provocative text messages, with the regional police chief asking residents of Jayapura not to be provoked.

Meanwhile, Papuan media reported on rallies taking place in other towns in Papua, where protesters echoed the demands being made in Jayapura.

Community organizers throughout Papua reported to their networks on the situation in the various regions.  In Manokwari, police violently blocked the rally and dispersed protesters.  In Merauke, over 1000 people marched to the regional legislature to present their demands, and rallied against the failure of Special Autonomy to protect indigenous people, particularly in regard to the planned 80 million-hectare Merauke Food Estate.  In the highlands town of Wamena, shops and businesses closed as thousands rallied, denouncing Special Autonomy and calling for economic justice and self-sufficiency, and marched to the regional legislature.  Organizer Yulianus Hisage stated that “we are demanding that the Papuan people’s sovereignty be restored”.


Mass Mobilizations in West Papua : Broad coalition pushes Jakarta and international community for dialogue, demilitarization, referendum

An unprecedented mass mobilization is sweeping West Papua, where a broad coalition of community organizations has come together to demand that Indonesia and the international community grant West Papua its right to self-determination.  In a context of ongoing human rights violations by Indonesian security forces, a Papua-wide general strike was called for July 8 to 10, 2010 in support of a recent joint decision sponsored by the MRP (Majelis Rakyat Papua – Papuan People’s Assembly) on the failure of the 2001 Special Autonomy Law.  In mounting a movement to return Special Autonomy to Jakarta and voice explicit demands for internationally-mediated dialogue and independence, this common front of Papuan civil society is moving forward boldly, desperately even, risking harsh repression as it seeks to bring under control processes of colonization and resource exploitation seen to threaten West Papuans’ very survival.

Background: 40 years of struggle

In 1961, the Netherlands began to implement a decolonization process in what was then their colonial possession of Netherlands New Guinea.  By 1969, the western half of New Guinea had been annexed by Indonesia, aided by political support from the United States, on the strength of the UN-sanctioned “Act of Free Choice”, a consultation with a selected group of tribal leaders that was widely decried as rigged, undemocratic and enforced with threats of violence.  Since then, Indonesian security forces have secured access to Papua’s abundant natural resources – mining, oil, gas, logging, fishery, oil palm, and more – for corporations including Freeport, Rio Tinto and BP.  Meanwhile, a transmigration program has brought millions of Indonesian migrants to Papua, altering the demographic makeup of the territory such that indigenous Papuans may soon become a minority in their own land.  Political and economic marginalization, systemic racism and threats to the viability of Papuans’ land base constitute a process that many Papuans describe as a slow genocide, in some respects similar to the early stages of the colonization of the Americas centuries ago.

Since Indonesian annexation, Papuan activists have waged a national liberation struggle by a diversity of strategies and tactics.  In 2001, the Indonesian government responded to the growing power of the movement for independence by instituting the law on Special Autonomy, granting a greater share of resource revenues to the Papuan provincial government and mandating a limited set of safeguards for Papuan cultural and political rights – including the formation of the MRP.  While more radical sections of the Papuan movement rejected Special Autonomy from the outset, its implementation has disappointed even its former supporters within Papuan civil society, setting the stage for the recent emergence of a wide political consensus among indigenous West Papuans.

June 2010: Consultation and Mass Action

On June 9-10, MRP held a consultation together with a wide selection of popular organizations representing customary indigenous communities, student associations, legal organizations, women’s groups, NGOs, Papuan nationalist organizations and religious congregations.  This consultation yielded a joint declaration with a set of recommendations including:

  • the return of the Special Autonomy Law to the Government of Indonesia;
  • an internationally-mediated dialogue and a referendum on independence;
  • the restoration of West Papuan sovereignty;
  • an embargo on international aid provided for the implementation of Special Autonomy;
  • an end to transmigration from outside Papua and tight controls on migration to Papua;
  • demilitarization and the release of all Papuan political prisoners;
  • the immediate closing of the Freeport Indonesia mining company.

On June 18, a mass of 8000 people gathered to accompany the delivery of this declaration by the MRP to the DPRP (Papuan provincial parliament).  Since then, a wide front of Papuan civil society organizations has united to pressure the DPRP to call a special session to act on the demands of the MRP’s consultation.  On July 8 a large rally of nearly 20 000 people converged on the DPRP office in the Papuan capital, Jayapura.  Organizers declared that they will maintain a sit-in at the DPRP for days, until the special session on the MRP declaration is held and its satisfactory outcome made public.

DAP mobilizes in Wamena

Meanwhile, in the central highlands town of Wamena, a mass rally is planned for July 10 by the La-Pago regional branch of DAP (Dewan Adat Papua – Papuan Customary Council), a mass movement for indigenous rights and signatory to the MRP-sponsored declaration.  This event will see the launch of a campaign for economic justice and self-sufficiency for indigenous Papuans as well as a healing ceremony which all cultural communities present in Papua are invited to attend in customary attire.  The July 10 events come less than two years after DAP’s last mass rally in Wamena – the August 9 2008 rally at which Indonesian security forces responded to the raising of the Morning Star flag by firing on the crowd, killing one man, Opinus Tabuni, in a case for which the Indonesian government has yet to accept responsibility.

Puncak Jaya and OPM: collective punishment and racism

While the political struggle has intensified in Papua’s cities and towns, the lightly-armed rebels of the OPM (Organisasi Papua Merdeka – Free Papua Organization) continue to defend a handful of remote territories in forested and mountainous zones.  The OPM struggle is particularly fierce in Puncak Jaya regency west of Wamena, where rebels under the command of Goliat Tabuni have carried out occasional raids on Indonesian police and army posts.  The response of the security forces to the OPM presence has been harsh; reports out of the tightly-controlled area allege that police and military have raped indigenous women, destroyed farms, extracted forced labour from locals, occupied local churches and carried out sweepings where indigenous Papuans who fail to show ID cards are subjected to beatings and extraction of information about the whereabouts of OPM members.  Communities have been displaced by the violence, creating an isolated IDP crisis while security forces bar access to humanitarian assistance.  Indonesian police and army troop reinforcements are currently being deployed to Puncak Jaya.

The racism of the security forces is evident in the statement of the chief of police for Puncak Jaya justifying the arbitrary nature of collective punishment measures: “As the faces of highlands tribes are almost all the same, it is difficult for us to tell apart OPM members from ordinary members of the community.  Their guerilla tactics of mingling with communities, and the fact that they all look alike makes it difficult for us to conduct our search operations” (as reported in Bintang Papua, 29 June 2010).  The report states that local OPM units possess a total of 8 firearms.  The Indonesian security apparatus’ strategy of harsh repression and collective punishment complements its unwillingness to engage in dialogue with OPM, as reflected by the police’s December 2009 killing of Kelly Kwalik, OPM commander operating in the Mimika area near the site of the Freeport / Rio Tinto operations at the world’s largest gold and copper mine.

Mourners carry the coffin of OPM commander Kelly Kwalik, draped in the Morning Star flag

Repression, fear, hope and the power of international networks

The political context in West Papua is framed by tight state controls on the content of public expression and gatherings.  Papuan political prisoners continue to languish in Indonesian jails, where they are denied medical treatment and subject to beatings.  Amnesty International has issued calls for action on the cases of Filep Karma and Yusuk Pakage, jailed for raising the Morning Star flag.  Buchtar Tabuni of KNPB (Komite Nasional Papua Barat – West Papua National Committee) continues to serve a jail sentence for having organized rallies supporting the formation of International Parliamentarians for West Papua (IPWP) in October 2008.

Papuan activists operate in a climate of fear and mistrust instilled by the Indonesian military intelligence establishment, enduring surveillance, telephone threats and misinformation campaigns.  While authorities continue to criminalize political dissent in Papua, they attempt to keep foreign observers under tight control, deporting international reporters and expelling the International Committee of the Red Cross following their visits to Papuan political prisoners.

In such a context, Papuan activists view international networks as privileged sites for the flows of information necessary to secure links of solidarity and support.  Indonesian authorities are aware of this potential, and strive to portray a sanitized portrait of the political situation in Papua – a portrait that Western governments seem happy to accept, apparently content with the productive working relationships between foreign resource extraction companies and the Indonesian state.  Unbiased reporting on current political events in Papua is crucially needed so as to increase the chances that the ongoing political mobilizations will lead to productive and peaceful developments rather than drastic repression and violence.  While mainstream media’s occasional attention to West Papua regularly lapses into a patronizing primitivism, alternative media and grassroots support networks have a crucial role to play in airing the articulate voices of Papuan activists and organizers.  The general strike and demonstration at the DPRP in Jayapura, along with DAP’s mobilization in Wamena, carry potential for momentous conflict and upheaval in a region with important foreign economic interests, and are crucial sites for critical international advocacy, outreach and solidarity.