Members of Papuan Peoples' Assembly face intimidation and arrest during preparation of hearings about Papuan Special Autonomy

In 2001, the Indonesian government adopted Law No. 21/2001 on the Special Autonomy for the Papua Province. The government also approved special autonomy funds for 20 years. As the funding period is coming to an end, the Papuan Peoples’ Assembly (MRP) has launched a series of consultation hearings (Bhs Indonesia: Rapat Dengar Pendapat or RDP which can be translated as “meetings to listen to opinions”) to determine the aspirations of the Papuan people regarding a possible prolongation of Special Autonomy funding for the provinces of Papua and Papua Barat. Article 77 of the law No. 21/2001 provides the legal foundation for “any proposals regarding the amendment of the Law” and mandates the MRP to hold RDP hearings across West Papua.

The meetings were supposed to take place in all five customary areas of West Papua between 17 and 18 November 2020. The meetings were finally cancelled because MRP members faced intimidation and obstruction by civil groups in multiple cities. Human rights defenders witnessed that law enforcement institutions neglected the obstructions and the potential outbreak of horizontal violence between pro-government and pro-independence groups. There are numerous indications that the groups that obstructed the RDP hearings – among them civil militias – were facilitated by security forces and local government representatives.

A leaked confidential letter by the state intelligence dated 29 October 2020 reinforces this suspicion. The letter recommends the state intelligence to monitor the RDP hearings, consolidate pro-government groups and encourage them to show public presence as counter-initiative to pro-independence activism. The letter also suggests the Papuan Regional Police (Polda Papua) to disperse or prevent mass assemblies by pro-independence groups and obstruct their participation in the RDP meetings. Shortly before the implementation of the RDP hearings, the Polda Papua Chief, Paulus Waterpauw, issued an edict on the RDP which demands police officers to enforce the law if participants “engage or incite to treasonous acts”.

The MRP delegations in Wamena and Merauke cancelled the RDP hearings because they feared possible outbreaks of horizontal violence between pro-government and pro-independence groups.

Obstruction of MRP team in Wamena
Sixty-two members of the MRP team for the implementation of the RDP consultation meeting in the Lapago customary area were reportedly intimidated and obstructed at the airport in Wamena, Jayawijaya Regency, on 15 November 2020. The MRP delegation arrived at the airport around 9.30 am. Still, it was not able to leave the airport building because members of the government's customary organisation LMA (Lembaga Musyawarah Adat) and the civil militia Red-White Front (Barisan Merah Putih or BMP) blocked the entrance gate. They demanded the MRP delegation to cancel the RDP hearing. The situation was reportedly witnessed by members of the military and the police.

Thereupon, the MRP delegation called the Regent of Jayawijaya, Jhon Banua, as well as military representatives. However, none of them answered the phone calls. According to information received, the Jayawijaya Police Chief, Dominggus Rumaropen, came to the airport and talked with the delegation. The MRP representatives asked the Police Chief to secure the situation, so the delegation could leave the airport and prepare the RDP hearing. Instead of protecting the MRP delegation, Police Chief Rumaropen asked the delegation for a list of names and subsequently left the airport. Shortly after, four military trucks and five police trucks arrived at the airport but failed to take any measures to protect the delegation or deescalate the situation.

IMG-20201115-WA0003Human rights defenders criticised the negligent behaviour of the local police and the military for not taking a neutral position in this matter. Activists who monitored the situation witnessed LMA and BMP members talking with security force members in front of the airport (see photo on the right). They suspect that the state intelligence facilitated the LMA and BMP to obstruct the implementation of the RDP meetings.

Being concerned about an escalation of the situation and the outbreak of horizontal violence between pro-independence groups and pro-government groups, the MRP delegation chartered an aeroplane and flew back to Jayapura. They left Wamena around 5.00 pm.

Members of the local customary council held an RDP meeting for the Lapago customary area in Kama Village, Wesaput District of the Jayawijaya Regency on 17 November 2020 (see photo on top). According to information received from the Foundation for Justice and the Integrity of the Papuan People (YKKMP), religious figures, customary leaders as well as representatives of women and student groups declared that special autonomy had failed to bring upon prosperity and a dignified life for indigenous Papuans in the Lapago area. The representatives rejected a prolongation of the special autonomy status and instead demanded the implementation of a referendum on political independence. Joint security force members strictly guarded the meeting.

MRP delegation arbitrarily arrested in Merauke
The MRP delegation for the Anim Ha customary area decided to cancel the meeting last minute after about 100 LMA members launched a protest against the implementation of RDPs on 16 November 2020. The protesters also demanded the prolongation of special autonomy funds and argued that many indigenous Papuans would benefit from the special autonomy funds.

On 17 November 2020, local police officers arbitrarily arrested 55 persons, including MRP members, resource persons and civil society representatives who had come to the town of Merauke to participate in the RDP meeting. The officers searched hotels and seized documents, banners and other materials. The arrests were conducted in multiple locations in Merauke after the organising committee had informed the local police, the military and local Government authorities about the event.

Handcuffed MRP member YonesAll arrestees were brought and detained at the Merauke district police headquarters. At least four arrestees, among them MRP member Amatus Ndapits and catholic human rights defender, Wensislaus Fatubun, were handcuffed after the arrest (see photo on the left). According to the arrestees, the police officers failed to provide food and water during the detention. Moreover, the detainees were forced to sleep next to each other in the hallway of the police station without following health precautions following the applicable Covid-19 health protocol.

The arrestees were released on 18 November around 7.30 pm, but the police members kept all seized personal belongings for further examination as possible evidence. The group was summoned for a further interrogation on 19 November 2020.

The chief of the Merauke District Police, AKBP Untung Sangaji, explained in an interview with the media outlet Jubi that the arrests were conducted because the police had received information that the RDP meeting was taking place also to discuss an independence referendum.

RDP consultation in Meepago cancelled
The MRP had initially planned to hold an RDP hearing for the Meepago customary area on 17 November 2020. Although the meeting was cancelled due to the Polda Papua Police edict and a letter by the Association of Regents in Meepago rejecting the implementation of the RDP, thousands of indigenous Papuans from Meepago gathered in the town of Moanemani, Dogiyai Regency. They expressed their views regarding the success and failure of Papuan special autonomy.

Various civil society representatives unanimously declared that Special Autonomy had failed. The inconsistent implementation of most articles of Law No 21/2001, such as the formation of Truth and Reconciliation Commissions (KKR) and the establishment of a human rights court in West Papua, were an indication for the failure of special autonomy throughout the past twenty years. Other evidence was the ongoing exploitation of natural resources under exclusion of indigenous land rights holders and local government agencies, widespread illegal logging, human rights violations and the deteriorating armed conflicts in the regencies of Intan Jaya and Nduga. The civil society representatives in Meepago also demanded the Indonesian Government to allow the implementation of a referendum over the political status of West Papua.

Police edict on RDP
The Polda Papua immediately reacted upon the MRP’s plan to hold RDP hearings on 17 and 18 November 2020. On 14 November 2020, the Papuan Police Chief, Paulus Waterpauw, issued the police edict No. Mak/I/2020 on the planned implementation of RDPs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The edict consists of four main points. While point one and two mainly focus on the prevention of horizontal conflicts and the compliance with the applicable health protocol, point three and four urges all police officers to immediately enforce the law if participants engage or incite on “treasonous acts” or any other criminal offences.

Multiple Papuan provincial parliament members criticised the edict in interviews with the Papuan media outlet Jubi. Papuan lawmaker Laurenzus Kadepa considered the edict as discriminative towards indigenous Papuans under the guise of Covid-19 prevention measures. Kadepa declared that for example, the municipal police in Jakarta did not issue any edict when the radical Islamic leader, Muhammad Rizieq Shihab, arrived at the Jakarta airport after three years of exile in Saudi Arabia. He was then received by hundreds of supporters of the Islamic Defenders Front on 10 November 2020. Amos Edowai, another Papuan parliament member, explained that no party has the right to prevent or prohibit the RDP hearings because the MRP is carrying out its duty as stipulated under Article 77 of the Special Autonomy Law.