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.


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