Thursday, October 20, 2011

Indonesian crackdown on Papuan Congress sparks outrage

A joint statement by TAPOL (UK), the West Papua Advocacy Team (WPAT, US) and East Timor Action Network (ETAN, US)

On Wednesday, a meeting of thousands of indigenous Papuans in Jayapura, West Papua, became the scene of a brutal crackdown by Indonesian security forces. Indonesian troops and police Mobile Brigades reportedly fired hundreds of shots to disperse the crowd, pistol-whipped participants and beat them with batons and rattan canes. They arrested around 300 participants. According to the Indonesian press, security forces turned violent when Papuan indigenous leaders, who had gathered to discuss their basic rights, issued a declaration of independence.

“This appalling display of excessive force has no place in a modern democracy,” said Lord Avebury, Vice Chair of the UK Parliamentary Human Rights Group. Avebury called on the Indonesian government to immediately release detainees and conduct and publish a full investigation into the incident.

Two people are confirmed dead, with many more injured and five charged with treason. Among those arrested were Congress organiser Mr Selphius Bobii, and prominent indigenous leader Mr Forkorus Yaboisembut, head of the Papuan Customary Council (Dewan Adat Papua). The arrests are a provocative response to a peaceful gathering, targeting one of West Papua’s most respected tribal leaders, said the US-based West Papua Advocacy Team.

The meeting is the third of its kind to take place in West Papuan history, and was reportedly attended by around 4,000–5,000 people. While the Congress attracted thousands more to the surrounding area, many were prevented from gaining entry to the event by security forces, or were too afraid to enter.

“It is bitterly ironic that when Papuans meet to discuss their basic rights, Indonesia responds by violating those rights,” said Carmel Budiardjo, senior campaigner for the UK-based NGO TAPOL. “The daily discrimination and violations experienced by Papuans are bad enough, but an attack of this nature on a democratic congress is an absolute outrage,” she continued.

The use of the infamous ‘makar’ or treason laws to deny the right to freedom of expression and assembly is an increasing problem in Papua, suppressing activists and fuelling simmering resentments among the indigenous population. On Wednesday, US Congressman Mr Eni Faleomavaega expressed concerns about the arrests, calling for the immediate release of Mr Forkorus Yaboisembut. The US-based East Timor Action Network has also condemned the arrests. “The right to gather and speak out is a fundamental freedom, it doesn’t just disappear because the government doesn't like what is being said,” said John M. Miller, the network’s National Coordinator.

The situation in Jayapura last night was tense amidst fears of reprisals and further actions by security forces against local residents and those involved in the Congress. TAPOL, WPAT and ETAN call on the international community to urge Indonesia to show restraint, release the detainees, and commit to a peaceful resolution of the West Papua conflict.

/ Ends


UK: Paul Barber, Coordinator, TAPOL, +44-20-8771-2904

US: Ed McWilliams, West Papua Advocacy Team, +1-575-648-2078

John M. Miller, East Timor Action Network, +1-917-690-4391

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