The Indonesian military and police opened fire late yesterday on a gathering of West Papuan leaders. At least one person is believed to have been killed and hundreds have fled the capital
The Indonesian military and police started shooting at around 2:37pm West Papua time, yesterday 19 October. Information about what exactly transpired are still sketchy but at least one person was shot (believed dead), scores have been arrested, hundreds have fled to the hills and jungle surrounding the capital, and the capital is in a state of lockdown.
A Papuan priest who was fleeing the shooting contacted New Matilda to report that an army truck passed him carrying Papuan participants who had been present at the Third Papua Congress. According to the witness they were “covered with blood” and had been “beaten and shot”.
The violence erupted at the conclusion of the Third Papuan Congress, a three-day gathering held at the Taboria oval (Zaccheus Field) in Abepura, during which Papuan leaders declared their independence from the Indonesian state.
As many as 20,000 West Papuans met, danced and debated how to achieve their civil and political rights. For three days the atmosphere had been tense. The venue was ringed by Armed Personnel Carriers, military trucks and Barracudas — a type of armed jeep favoured by the paramilitary police. Machine guns were trained on the participants and thousands of soldiers and paramilitary police armed with automatic weapons were present.
Papuan activists feared that the military and police would try to forcibly break up the peaceful gathering. But the Papuans were determined to have the congress.
One activist told New Matilda “maybe we will die but the congress will go on”. Continue it did. The banned “morning star” flag was flown and the banned national anthem was sung. By lunch time on the third day (19 October) Papuan activists, members of the organising committee and well connected church leaders heard that the police and military were going to use force to break up the congress.
By 2pm Jayapura time the Congress was concluding. Forkorus Yaboisembut, the Chair of the influential Customary Papaun Council was elected President and Edison Waromi was elected Prime Minister of the “West Papua Federal State”. The crowd was ecstatic. One senior tribal leader sent New Matilda the following message by SMS: “Kongres has been successful! No reaction from the military. God bless!”
The jubilation was premature.
Immediately after New Matilda received that SMS, Yaboisembut and Waromi read a declaration of independence. The police and military then opened fire and stormed the stage. As Forkorus Yaboisembut was being arrested, his personal bodyguards stepped in to protect him. A witness reports at least one person was then shot. According to an SMS New Matilda received from Yaboisembut: “hundreds were surrounded, shot, beaten and then arrested”.
Prior to being arrested, Yaboisembut spoke to a journalist from Bintang Papua, a local Jayapura daily. Yaboisembut was reported as saying that the objective of the congress was to discuss the basic rights of the indigenous Papuan people and not to destroy the the republic of Indonesia.
"Although we will be discussing political rights, we respect the Indonesian government because our intention is not to destroy [the republic of Indonesia]. This is a matter of principle," he said.
"What we are doing is to struggle for the rights of the indigenous Papuan people. This includes our basic right as a nation."
Yaboisembut knows what he is talking about. He recently wrote a book about international law, self-determination and the right to secession — a right upheld by the international community most recently in South Sudan and before that Kosovo.
Human Rights defenders in West Papua can confirm that in addition to Yaboisembut, Edison Waromi and his wife and child, Selfius Bobi (Chair of the organising committee), Agus Krar, Abraham Kareni, Yudit Kambuaya and Jan Piet Mirino were also arrested.
At the time of writing those arrested were being detained at the local Jayapura police station. Another source reports that Selfius Bobi has not been seen since. Staff from West Papua Media Alerts hold grave fears that he is being tortured.
Extreme violence has been used to break up a peaceful gathering.
This was the third time West Papuans have held a congress. The second congress was in 2000. It culminated in the election of the Papuan Presidium Council which collapsed in late 2001 after the Chair, Theys Hiyo Eluay, was assassinated by Kopassus, Indonesia’s Special Forces.
The first Papua Congress was held on 1 December 1961, a day West Papuans commemorate as their national day, and some 18 months before Indonesia occupied West Papua on 1 May, 1963.
Yesterday was the second time the Papuans declared independence from Indonesia. The first was by Seth Rumkorem on July 1 1976 at Markas Viktoria, a guerrilla base on the Papua New Guinea border.
Yaboisembut’s declaration of independence in front of thousands of Papuan people and thousands of heavily armed police is a clear escalation of the struggle for independence. It also illustrates Yaboisembut’s conviction that the struggle needs to be waged through an unarmed popular civilian uprising.
New Matilda will post more information as it becomes available.