Mass arrests are bullying tactics – Indonesia’s position over West Papua is fraudulent

11th September 2018

From 3rd to 8th September, 104 West Papuan people were arrested by the Indonesian Security Forces, for peacefully demonstrating to call upon the leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) to bring West Papuan self-determination back to the United Nations.

West Papuan people sleeping on the floor of the Indonesian police station in Bintuni for peacefully demonstrating to call for Pacific Islands Forum support.

This is a direct attempt by the Indonesian government at suppressing Freedom of Expression in West Papua. It is little more than bullying tactics with the clear intent of hiding the truth from Pacific Islands Forum Leaders. By systematically gagging West Papuan people every time we demonstrate for self-determination, the Indonesian government hopes that our voices will be silenced and that our fellow Pacific Island nations will turn a blind eye and deaf ear to the suffering of their fellow people in West Papua. This will not work. Despite such tactics, West Papua remained on the Pacific Islands Forum Communique and support for West Papuan self-determination at regional and now international levels is only getting stronger; accelerating every day.

West Papuan people demonstrating in Sentani and giving thanks to Vanuatu as a leading supporting Pacific nation for West Papuan self-determination.

Similar scenes of mass arrests have occurred during leaders’ meetings of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG). During the ULMWP’s successful campaign for MSG membership in 2015, over 487 West Papuan were arrested, and many were tortured. Indonesia is now an Associate Member of the MSG and a Dialogue Partner of the Pacific Islands Forum. Therefore, the Indonesian government should respect the fact that the people of West Papua are actively supporting the efforts and every meeting of the Melanesian Spearhead Group and the Pacific Islands Forum.

West Papuan people peacefully demonstrating to call upon the Pacific Islands Forum to support West Papua, while being intimidated by Indonesian police and intelligence services.

This month, all around West Papua, people gathered to thank supportive Pacific Islands Forum nations and called upon all the PIF leaders to bring West Papuan self-determination back to the United Nations agenda; where it remains unfinished business. Rallies and other peaceful demonstrations were held across West Papua, including in: Abepura, Bintuni, Keerom, Merauke, Port Numbay (Jayapura), Sentani and Sorong. Another peaceful solidarity demonstration was also held in Ambon. In Abepura 34 people were arrested for peacefully demonstrating. In Bintuni, 25 people and in Sentani 45 people.

Other such demonstrations and actions were held right around the world in solidarity. On behalf of ULMWP and the people of West Papua, I would like to thank everyone internationally who took part in this historic global action for West Papua. Your support is going a long way in raising our profile internationally and giving more hope and encouragement to the West Papuan people. We know that we are not alone, but have true friends and family around the world.

From inside an Indonesian police truck, West Papuan people look out after being arrested for peacefully demonstrating for Pacific Islands Forum support.

The arresting of 104 West Papuan people for peacefully supporting the PIF brings into question again, why is the Indonesian government involved the Pacific Islands Forum at all? What kind of respectful participation in regional affairs do their actions show?

Year by year, month by month, week by week and day by day; the Indonesian government’s ongoing repression against West Papuans is only getting worse. In fact, the human rights alliance, the International Coalition for Papua (ICP) has documented at least six cases of extrajudicial killings in West Papua from January to June 2018 alone. Yet still the Indonesian government still proudly proclaims at the United Nations that Indonesia is a democratic country. Whatever Indonesia’s democratic credentials in its own land, there is no democracy in occupied West Papua. Whatever their rhetoric in public, in the eyes of the Indonesian government, West Papua is a colony and we West Papuans are seen merely as animals.

At the same time, the Indonesian government’s efforts to spread propaganda are only intensifying, as is their self-stated ‘economic diplomacy.’ While the PIF meeting was happening, Indonesian Security Minister Wiranto, who is implicated in the Biak Massacre of West Papua and is wanted by the United Nations for Crimes Against Humanity, announced a new budget of 60 billion Rupiah (about 4 million US dollars). He said that this was budget to be used to “Finance soft diplomacy efforts in the South Pacific” and in doing so “improve the image of West Papua”.
It seems as though the Indonesian government is holding a gun in one hand and a money bag in the other.

Indonesian police arresting West Papuan demonstrators, peacefully demonstrating for Pacific Islands Forum support.

It is an obvious blood money offer. In fact, the largest proportion of Indonesia’s national profit comes from exploiting West Papua’s natural resources anyway. In West Papua, we know that our fellow Pacific Island brothers and sisters will not be bought by Indonesia’s blood money attempts nor its “economic diplomacy”. Our fellow Pacific Islanders will not sell their own West Papuan family down the river.

The West Papua issue is not a domestic issue but is a key regional Pacific issue and an international issue, now at a United Nations level.

That is why we the people of West Papua are democratically expressing ourselves in great numbers, to help to bring the West Papua issue back to the United Nations where this struggle began. Only then can the world finally address the root cause of the suffering and conflict in West Papua.

Last year over 1.8 million West Papuan people representing over 70.88% of the population hand-signed an historic petition for an internationally supervised vote (in accordance with our fundamental right to self-determination). The Indonesian government’s reaction was to simultaneously claim that the petition “Did not exist” while at the same time arresting, torturing and jailing people for signing it.

Regionally, we continue to seek support from our Pacific Islander brothers and sisters to peacefully resolve our struggle, the longest running conflict in the Pacific, within the framework of the United Nations. This is the only place where this conflict can ever truly be resolved.

Ever since the formation of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, the people of West Papua have shown to the international community that we are disciplined and united under one organisation with one agenda – independence through self-determination. We cannot and will not accept anything less.

Every action now taken is coordinated and organised under ULMWP, now officially recognised by the Melanesian Spearhead Group and governments across the world. As Chairman of ULMWP I therefore call upon the Indonesian government to also respect ULMWP’s efforts. We are now going through the proper through international mechanisms. They cannot stigmatise us as separatists or as acting sporadically; that is an old song, sung by a colonial government.

A message from the people of West Papua calling for Pacific Islands Forum leaders to support West Papuan self-determination.

The ULMWP and the Indonesian government are diplomatically sitting in the same room now. The Indonesian government should respect the right of ULMWP, both inside the country and outside internationally. It is the recognised legitimate representative of the West Papuan people and refusing to even acknowledge the ULMWP is childish and is not how we are going to resolve the long running, and ever-worsening crisis in occupied West Papua.

As Chairman of ULMWP, I call upon the Indonesian government not to arrest my people but to let us peacefully advocate for our fundamental right to self-determination. We want to one day live in an independent nation and to be good neighbours with Indonesia. By crushing peaceful expression, what is the Indonesian government trying to hide in occupied West Papua?

Indonesian police arresting West Papuan demonstrators, peacefully demonstrating for Pacific Islands Forum support.

Just last month, a West Papuan man, his 6-year-old son, his wife and his sister in law were all arrested and he was charged with “disseminating hostility against the state ideology”, just for uploading a video on Facebook calling for a referendum and West Papuan independence. He could now face 6 years in jail. What kind of respect for human rights and Freedom of Expression is that?

We need all such human rights violations this to stop. I call for his immediate release along with all other West Papuan political prisoners.

The Indonesian government has already lost the moral argument over West Papua, lost the legal argument and lost the political argument. They are turning to using blood money – “economic diplomacy” as a desperate last solution to maintain their colonial grip on power over West Papua. It will not work.

West Papuan people demonstrate to call for for Pacific Islands Forum support and to show their thanks to supportive Pacific nations.

The Indonesian government has shown internationally that it is becoming increasingly scared of the rising and accelerating solidarity and support for West Papua’s freedom from across the Pacific and around the world. West Papua is not a domestic issue for Indonesia, it is increasingly becoming an international issue. The United Nations and other such international fora are the only places to address and resolve the ongoing crisis. That is why the people of West Papua are so visibly putting our hope through these proper international mechanisms.

Therefore, the solution for West Papua is very clear; Let West Papua Vote. Rather than clinging onto the fraudulent and illegal Act of NO Choice of 1969 through which Indonesia wrongly claims sovereignty over West Papua; let the will of the people of West Papua be finally put to the test for the eyes of the world to see. Let the people of West Papua freely and peacefully choose our own fate through an Internationally Supervised Vote on self-determination.

The only resolution to the crisis in West Papua is through self-determination.


Benny Wenda

Chairman of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP)