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West Papua 2021: criminalisation, collusion and broken promises

TAPOL Press Release - October 21, 2022

London – "Reports of intensified violence... (have) result(ed) in unknown numbers of civilian casualties and fatalities and internal displacement" and shock at "reports of the dismembered bodies of four indigenous Papuan civilians found outside Timika in West Papua Province (sic) on 22 August".

These are the words of the UN Acting High Commissioner For Human Rights, Nada Al-Nashif, at the opening of the 51st Human Rights Council at the UN in Geneva last month. Al-Nashif's inclusion of West Papua highlights further recognition of the worsening human rights situation on the ground by the UN.

Our contribution to the 4th cycle of Indonesia's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) highlighted Freedom of Expression and Assembly in this forum. We stated that the possibility for the West Papuans "to challenge the implementation of the Special Autonomy Law had been severely repressed by the security forces who have carried out arrests and had criminalized protest activities".

As TAPOL's latest report, 'West Papua 2021: Freedom Of Expression And Freedom Of Assembly' shows, this declining situation has gone hand in hand with the erosion of free expression and assembly in West Papua and on West Papua-related issues in 2021, with activists subject to criminalisation and security forces engaged in collusion with non-state actors.

Steve Alston, TAPOL's chairperson said: "The security forces have carried out 45.9 per cent more arbitrary arrests compared with 2020, with a total of 671 arrested, only 17 of which were outside West Papua. The security forces are arresting more people and using various excuses to do so. They are closing down expression in public spaces where Papuans and Indonesians should not feel that they risk being treated as criminals for exercising their rights."

The report provides a record of security force repression against those speaking out in support of West Papua's self-determination and against the Indonesian Government's treatment of West Papuans, including arbitrary dispersals, arbitrary arrests, terror and intimidation and internet shutdowns or cyber attacks. As the report notes, "2021 saw the continuation and, in certain cases, the intensification, of attacks on the rights of West Papuans and Indonesians to assemble and express their opinions".

The authorities have used excuses to restrict free expression: Covid-19 has continued to be used to shut down demonstrations they do not agree with; the Government has maintained that its arbitrary definition of "separatism" does not warrant its protection of freedom of assembly; and the military has labelled the armed resistance as 'terrorists' claiming that innocent civilians are involved in 'terrorism'.

After an unusual year under the shadow of Covid-19 lockdowns and quarantine measures, the report makes clear that it has been "back to work" for the Indonesian authorities in their silencing of protest in West Papua. The number of arbitrary arrests and people dispersed in protests increased compared to 2020, there were continuing violations of the dignity of political prisoners and online meetings by activists who speak out for West Papua were targeted. This gives the lie to both the authorities' assurances to the international community that it is addressing human rights concerns through trainings, and the military's promise of an alleged new 'humanitarian' approach.

For media enquiries, contact: Ian Moore, TAPOL Campaigns, campaigns@tapol.org

Take a look at our full report here: https://www.tapol.org/reports/west-papua-2021-freedom-expression-and-freedom-assembly-full-reportLondon, 20th October 2022

Executive summary

Criminalisation, collusion and broken promises have been the main issues in regard to the state of freedom of expression and assembly in and related to West Papua in 2021. After an unusual year affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns across the world, there has been renewed pressure from the Indonesian government which has criminalised, imprisoned and intimidated activists who have spoken out on West Papua-related issues, with increasing numbers of arrests and increasing incidents of police and militias acting together. The police have been involved, either solely or in concert with other actors, in a staggering 85.3 percent of all incidents. The report further shows:

That there were a total estimated number of 671 people arrested over the course of 2021, a 45.9 percent increase on numbers compared with 2020, which may in part be explained by the easing of Covid-19 restrictions and by the ability and desire to assemble for protests on the streets again.

At the same time as total arrests have increased, total arrest incidents have declined, meaning that mass arrests are being used more frequently by the security forces. Mass arrests indicate an attempt to disrupt and make further free association difficult.

In common with previous years, the authorities have continued to use treason charges to criminalise activists who are promoting the right to self-determination for the people of West Papua. The fact Indonesia have stated they do not recognise activities that, in their arbitrary definition, promote "separatism", directly leads to the chilling effects these criminalisations bring.

The military used anti-terror laws to classify armed groups as 'terrorist'. Despite a claimed new 'humanitarian' approach at the end of 2021, a 'terrorism' reasoning was used by the security forces and intelligence operatives to disrupt and criminalise nonviolent civilian groups.

The authorities still used Covid as the most common reason for dispersing protests, despite official restrictions easing. It was used on no fewer than 10 occasions, mainly in dispersals outside West Papua. By far the most targeted group were students, who were the primary targets in 29 of the reported cases, making up over 69 per cent of the total incidents.

The authorities have carried out violations by commission – arbitrarily breaking up demonstrations and arresting perpetrators, and torture, beatings and cruel treatment of those arrested – as well as omission, such as deliberately neglecting prisoners who needed treatment.

On several occasions, assemblies were confronted by militia groups whose members physically assaulted, intimidated and harassed demonstrators, as police stood by. Student demonstrations in particular outside West Papua were subject to this tactic.

Full PDF report: https://www.tapol.org/sites/default/files/sites/default/files/pdfs/West_Papua_2021_Freedom_of_Expression_Assembly_Report.pdf

Source: https://www.tapol.org/press-statements/tapols-latest-report-west-papua-2021-criminalisation-collusion-and-broken-promise