Adrianne Ramirez – In his December 7 statement, ULMWP Interim President Benny Wenda called for the immediate release of the eight peaceful student demonstrators, and one elderly woman, that Indonesian police arrested, tortured, and charged with 'treason' for waving the Morning Star flag in Jayapura on West Papua's Independence Day (December 1). Wenda also iterated that West Papua has notified Indonesia that they will be commemorating their national day with peaceful gatherings and called for Indonesia to 'respect our independence day as we have yours.'
The arrests happened when scores of people gathered at a stadium in Jayapura to celebrate West Papua's independence from Dutch colonial rule in 1961 before Indonesia annexed West Papua under the farcical 'Act of Free Choice.' Ahmad Musthofa Kamal, a Papua police spokesman, said that the students were charged with 'organizing and attending an outlawed event as well as producing materials promoting Papuan independence.' Indonesian police also harassed other Papuan students peacefully protesting in Bali and Ambon city, lawyer Michael Hilman confirmed. The arrested students have been charged with treason and may face 25 years in prison if found guilty under Articles 106 and 110 of Indonesia's criminal code.
Additionally, Wenda condemned the Indonesian government's attacks on the West Papuan people which they then blamed on the West Papuan Army, despite the Indonesian organizations themselves having attested to the military's involvement. 'All Indonesian troops must be immediately withdrawn to put an end to the bloodshed, particularly in Intan Jaya, Puncak, Yahukimo, and Nduga. Stop bombing villages, stop firing upon civilians from helicopters, stop burning hospitals, and occupying schools. These actions are violations of international law,' stated Wenda.
At least 50 (known) Papuan activists faced treason charges in recent years, and rights groups have affirmed that Jakarta is increasingly resorting to treason accusations as a tool to trump pro-independence sentiments in Papua. Since the Indonesian colonial takeover in 1963, the Indonesian government has ensured that West Papuans have had nearly zero media presence and voice through means not limited to the following: repetitive media blackouts, restrictions on the freedom of speech and assembly, crackdowns on scholars and human rights activists, heavily-restricted movement in most of West Papua's regions, barring scholars and journalists, arbitrary detention and extra-judicial killings of anyone deemed supportive of the West Papua secessionist sentiment. This state-sanctioned crackdown comes with racism as well – during an incident in August of 2019, Indonesian soldiers stormed West Papuan students' dormitories in East Java, tear-gassed and arrested them, and called them 'dogs' and 'monkeys' under a poorly-substantiated accusation that the students damaged a flag pole flying the Indonesian flag.
While the chair of the Vanuatu West Papuan Association, Job Dalesa, said that they 'will appeal to Indonesia to stop such actions,' there has been no support from other governments or politicians. Powerful countries such as the U.S. continue to ignore Indonesia's gross human rights violations to protect Freeport, the world's largest gold mine and the de facto administrator of West Papua. Even New Zealand, which has a strong stance and relationship with its Pacific family, has refused time and time again to criticize the Indonesian government, even making sure that Indonesia knows that New Zealand recognizes Indonesia's territorial sovereignty over Papua.
As Tracey Banivanua-Mar said, '...it is not only the consent of settlers on the scene that needs manufacturing for genocide to occur. The globalized consumption of the spectacles and discourses of savagery which accompany colonialism's racial violence means that modern genocides are sold to, and allowed to happen, by all of us.' Despite their awareness of Indonesia's human rights abuses, the international community remains silent – such conduct equates to complicity. Governments and politicians do not consider the Papuan peoples by keeping diplomatic relations with Indonesia. This highlights a concerning trend of epistemic violence that has come to be normalized, as smaller countries like New Zealand follow patterns of more influential states such as the US and Canada. The denial of the West Papuans' voices enables this genocide to continue – and the international community must educate and act accordingly to dismantle this complex conflict.
[Adrianne Ramirez Adrianne has been involved with the OWP since 2019 – first as a correspondent and currently as an advocate as well. Adrianne believes strongly in pushing for human rights and social equity, and has a particular interest in international relations, indigenous rights, and feminist security.]