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Oppression not preventing Papuan cause gathering steam

Indonesia's government continues to clamp down but independence campaigners are undeterred

Oppression not preventing Papuan cause gathering steam

Papuans rally on May 2 to support the entry of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) into the Melanesian Spearhead Group. During this rally, police arrested hundreds. (Photo by Benny Mawel)

Benny Mawel, Jayapura

November 24, 2016

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Indonesian police in Papua arrested more than 100 activists from the West Papua National Committee (KNPB) as they celebrated the organization’s 8th anniversary on Nov. 19 in Sorong city.

The police arrested the activists because their pro-independence group had been banned from assembling. They were later released.

Among the arrested were Agustinus Kossay and Warpo Wetipo, both top officials in the group.

In a previous interview with, Kossay, chairman of the KNPB, said that being arrested, tortured or imprisoned is a consequence of being a freedom fighter. However, this does not mean his group will respond with violence of their own.

"Surrender and violence are not part of our life," Kossay said. "We believe that peace, perseverance and diplomacy are the best options to realize freedom in the region."

We don’t kill people because violence or murder will only leave a stain on our noble, educated and dignified struggle towards independence, Kossay said.

The KNPB does not accept a 1969 agreement that resulted in Indonesia annexing West Papua. They claim the deal was engineered to accommodate the interests of the United States in order to exploit the province’s forests and minerals.  

"We continue to protest against the decision with peaceful rallies," Kossay said, adding that Indonesian authorities often respond aggressively.  

In the past eight years, 42 KNPB activists have been killed by security forces.  About 20,000 have been arrested and some are still in prison.

Warpo Wetipo, head of the committee’s diplomacy division, said that security enforcers have taken any opportunity to terrorize, intimidate, or even kill the activists.

"But we are not afraid," he said.

"Being killed is a risk we take. But we will never give up and will continue to fight peacefully," the activist added.


Taking their campaign to the world

Filep Karma, a former political prisoner of 11 years, has called on the government to hold a referendum in Papua, saying that it is a win-win solution that could liberate Papuans from mistreatment.

"We used to fight for separation, but now a referendum is better so we can find out the true aspirations of the Papuan people," he said.

The Indonesian government has made no moves towards holding a referendum. Instead, Indonesian President Joko Widodo continues to develop infrastructure in the disputed territory.

Father John Djongga, a human rights activist from Jayapura Diocese, said that the arrest, torture and killing of Papuan activists, besides creating trauma, has raised the profile of their cause.

"Papuans have often asked for dialogue with the Indonesian government but nothing has happened," he said.

The slow response from the Indonesian government provides more opportunity for Papuans to take their cause to the world stage, gaining the support of Pacific nations, such as Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.

In 2014, Vanuatu helped a number of political factions in Papua, including the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) apply for membership of the intergovernmental organization, the Melanesian Spearhead Group.

Similarly, the government of the Solomon Islands established the Pacific Coalition for West Papua, which includes representatives from Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and other Micronesian and Polynesian nations.

With help from the Polynesians, the issue of Papua was raised at the 71st United Nations General Assembly in New York in September.

Lukas Walilo, a seminarian from Timika Diocese, who is concerned about human rights issues in the province, said that as the Papuan issue has now garnered international attention, the Indonesian government should avoid repression.

"Violence will attract more world attention to the Papuan struggle," said Walibo, who is studying to be a priest at Fajar Timur School of Philosophy in Jayapura.

Papuan protest on May 2 in support of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) joining the Melanesian Spearhead Group. Many were arrested. (Photo by Benny Mawel)

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