- Published on Sunday, 22 May 2016 11:28
On May 2 and 3, 2016, parliamentarians, lawyers and activists from different European countries and several Pacific states, including Australia and New Zealand, participated in an international West Papua advocacy meeting in the United Kingdom. The International Parliamentarians for West Papua (IPWP) held the event to discuss common steps for future advocacy on West Papua. Among the participants were the Prime Minister of Tonga and a governor from Papua New Guinea as well as Vanuatu Minister for Land and Resources, Ralph Regenvanu. The meeting drew attention of the national media, because some high-ranking British politicians, including opposition leader and head of the Labor party Jeremy Corbyn, had attended the meeting. The most important outcome of the two-days event was the so-called "Westminster Declaration", in which the IPWP members collectively rejected the "Act of Free Choice" from 1969 as clear violation of the right to self-determination.
In West Papua, the political movements KNPB (National Committee of West Papua), ULMWP (United Liberation Movement for West Papua), and the Alliance of Papuan Students AMP had organized peaceful demonstrations in all major cities of West Papua and several other cities in Sulawesi and Central Jawa, in order to support the UK meeting, and demand a full membership status of the ULMWP in the Pacific intergovernmental organization MSG (Melanesian Spearhead Group). Moreover, the demonstrations were held in commemoration of May 1st, 1969, when West Papua was integrated into the Indonesian state after a manipulated referendum under Indonesian control, which later became known as the "Act Of No Choice". On May 2, 2016, thousands of indigenous Papuans all over Indonesia participated in the peaceful demonstrations. The Indonesian police responded with arbitrary mass arrests prior to and during the demonstrations. On May 4, 2016, the Indonesian NGO Legal Aid Institute Jakarta (LBH - Lembaga Bantuan Hukum Jakarta) published a report, detailing the latest series of arbitrary arrests. After first investigations between May 2 and May 4, 2016, LBH Jakarta documented the names of 1,783 indigenous Papuans, all detained between April 25 and May 2, 2016. Meanwhile, the NGO has continued to investigate the arbitrary arrests and recently stated in a Jakarta Post publication, that the total number of collected names has risen to 2,282 victims.
Human rights defenders reported that the Indonesian police used excessive force and torture against KNPB members and demonstrators prior to and during the demonstrations. In Dekai, Yahukimo regency, police officers tortured six KNPB activists after they had distributed leaflets, which called on the participation in the demonstration. The six activists were forced to eat Rupiah bills and soil after they had refused to follow police officers' order to sing the Indonesian national anthem. Subsequently, the officers tortured the activists with kicks and beatings. In Jayapura, hundreds of protesters were gathered and interrogated on a large field at the Indonesian Police Mobile Brigade (Brimob) headquarter. In at least 10 cases, police officers used torture during arrest and interrogation. Human rights activists in Jayapura and Fakfak reported that police officers forcefully stopped journalists from media coverage. A journalist was arrested as he tried to take pictures of the demonstration in Jayapura. The journalist said that police officers took his personal belongings, broke his mobile phone and repeatedly beat him during interrogation at the Brimob headquarter. In Fakfak a police officer allegedly beat a journalist, because he was wearing a hat during coverage at the local police station.
Moreover, the UK advocacy meeting triggered a number of public discussions in various English-speaking newspapers. On May 9, 2016, the spokesman of the Indonesian Embassy in Australia, Sade Bimantara, published an article in the Jakarta Post. The article praised president Jokowi's efforts to strengthen democracy as well as economic development in West Papua, and heavily criticized the ULMWP efforts to become a member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group MSG. According to Bimantara, the ULMWP's presence at MSG was disturbing Indonesia's sincere interests in economic development and fruitful exchange with the countries of the southern Pacific. He also stated that ULMWP was spreading a fictional image of the human rights situation in West Papua to push their political agenda on self determination. Simultaneously, two pro-Indonesian intellectuals published a public letter to the opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn in the British newspaper Huffington Post, in which they expressed their consternation over the participation of the high-ranking politician in the UK meeting, claiming that the Free West Papua Campaign was using false data on human rights violations for their political objectives. The letter furthermore stated that Jeremy Corbyn's statements on the right to self-determination for West Papua had hurt the feelings of 250 million Indonesians.
Contrary to this claim, Indonesian attorney Veronica Koman published a counter-article in the Jakarta Post on May 18, 2016, referring to the growing number of Indonesians demanding the rule of law, equally applied democracy and respect for human rights in West Papua. The Indonesian government failed to show true commitment to deviate from a security based approach resulting in mass arrests, torture, extra-judicial executions, criminalization and limitation of democratic space in West Papua. Various media platforms in Australia also published articles about the IPWP meeting.
Likewise, the Indonesian government immediately responded to the West Papua meeting. One week after the meeting a team of government representatives, consisting of deputy speaker Fadli Zon, coordinating minister of politics Luhut Pandjaitan, and national counter-terrorism agency head Tito Karnavian, came to London to counteract Indonesia's damaged image with diplomatic means. The speech about "peace and freedom" of former East Timur president José Ramos Horta in the Indonesian National Theater Taman Ismail Marzukis on May 5, 2016, must be regarded as a further diplomatic response of the Indonesian government to the recent UK meeting. Liberation leader Horta stated during his speech it would be better for West Papua to remain part of Indonesia since the present government under Joko Widodo has proven their true commitment for the prosperity of Papuan people, emphasizing the difference between the governments of the New Order under president Suharto and the present government.