Thursday, August 21, 2014

1) Intimidating Fijian support for West Papua

2) Transfer of French journalists  to police delayed

On the 4th of March, 2014 as part of a Public Lecture Series, the Government of Indonesia in conjunction with Fiji’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs & International Cooperation sponsored a public lecture that was to be held at the University Of The South Pacific, Japan – Pacific ICT center.  It was to be composed of former West Papua activists Franz Albert Joku and 

Nicholas Simion Messet. There is emphasis on the word “former” because there was a time when these two “former freedom fighters”, were actually activists for West Papua freedom. However, now they had come sponsored, otherwise “courted” by the Indonesian government. In the year 2000, Joku and Messet were actually members of the Papuan Presidium Council, who were representatives, as part of the Nauru Delegation to the 31stPacific Islands Forum meeting in Kiribati. Back then they were begging and seeking support from the Pacific governments for West Papuan independence from Indonesia. Now, they came with Indonesia, well away from the message of West Papuan Independence. In spite of the blatantly fickle representation that was to be expected at the panel, students were showing interest and were keen to attend in numbers.

The Interrogation and Intimidation

 Like all other panel discussions on campus, students have and are always encouraged to participate and attend these lectures. In fact an ad that was distributed indicated that the lecture was to be a public event, which was to be open to all members of the public. Student interest groups gathered to discuss the atrocious plight of our very own Melanesian brothers and sisters of West Papua. It was in organising one of these student meetings, that I was contacted by Fiji Police, through the Criminal Investigation Department (CID).

It was on the morning of the Panel through a student representative, I was told “You might not be allowed to attend the public lecture tonight, according to CID, they would like to meet with you after lunch”The student representative was bewildered as I was, as to why CID became overly concerned with student meetings. For one, CID’s access to and within University Campus is unprecedented and unnecessary because student meetings are not illegal. In addition to this, the student meetings were addressed by CID in a manner that seems to depict criminal intent. USP security deliberated on behalf of CID, and I was given five points on a piece of paper that wasn’t signed or officially designated.

The demands basically instructed interested students to refrain from expressing their opposition to the atrocities that continue in West Papua. The approach of these officers was nothing short of disappointing and demeaning. If there was a concern, it would have been best to approach students well before the event and not have people interrogated and given such ludicrous demands. The demands resemble the assumption that students did not deserve to express and inquire for themselves the truth, through the process of academic freedom and expression. The second demand was extremely unnecessary in basically dictating what people are to wear and not to wear. Out of all the demands, the fourth demand brought out the most intensity of questions during the interrogation. 

Once again, I highlighted the fact that students were being painted in a bad light, as if students of the Pacific region were nefarious characters that were hell bent on nothing, but violence. The systematic exaggeration in which student meetings were being blown out of proportion or assessed by the authorities, leads one to question the credibility of the intelligence gathering and briefing capabilities, made evident in this case. Clearly, concise and accurate information was fundamentally lacking, because the only weapons critical thinking students of the South Pacific have, are their pen, paper and free thought. If at any point such authorities, coupled by a paranoid state labels such attributes, as dangerous and warrant interrogation and intimidation, then any citizen’s free thought and liberty is in grave danger. 

It was even more shocking when I was instructed that questions, which were to be asked during the question and answer session, were not to be too “critical or protesting”. Instantly, I asked what that meant, the room was silent. From the silence, I assumed that those delivering the demands, lacked understanding in what they demanded or they had come to the realisation of how absurd and redundant the whole incident was. To this day, I still wonder how questions that are to not have critical curiosity and investigation, supposed to sound like. Clearly, being given guidelines of how questions are to be posed, is dangerously bordering on state that is over reaching its mandate, in so far as a citizen’s free thought and liberty is concerned.

The University of the South Pacific has always been a central location for student movements, groups and most definitely discussions of all kinds. These discussions are crucial in shaping and harnessing critical thinkers, well-reasoned actors and ultimately independent Pacific leaders. As a benefit, these discussions are a form of investment not only for one Pacific country but for the region as a whole. Where else should discussions of matters of regional concern that have a direct link to the so called “Pacific Way”[1] or even more so, the “Melanesian Way”[2], take place? When such interventions consistently inhibit and deter the space for Pacific students to investigate and freely debate issues of not only national and regional concern but for Universal Freedom and Justice.

 At the Panel PropagandaUSP security conducted bag and attire checks at the door of the Japan – Pacific ICT center entry points. Bag checks were for what we were all led to assume, for possible weapons and attire checks were in line with the CID demands. Once again the absurdity of these checks, speaks volumes of the intended intimidation to curtail free and open expression on the matter of discussion. Students trickled in but it was obvious that student interest in the event had waned, even before it had begun. The panel was monotonous, with each speaker painting a markedly different and somewhat pseudo reality of West Papua. The former activists while amplifying their praises for Indonesia would continue to look warily from time to time over to the Indonesian officials seated in the front row, as if to gauge, if they had said too much or too little. Certainly, Judas Iscariot or even Brutus himself would have been hypocritically outraged at this façade and a mere puppet show of elaborate treachery.

During the panel, we were exposed to superficial proclamations of change and a “new” and “better” West Papua, under Indonesia. The long presentations by each of the panelists were followed by one of the most lackluster question and answer sessions, ever seen. Students were so disconnected that it took a while for students to ask questions. Security personnel were located at the entry and exit points, which made the atmosphere in the room all the more tense and intimidating. Responses by the panelists were either incoherent or circumnavigated answers, which conveniently avoided “the elephant in the room”. As their intention would have it, the extensive violations and abuse of countless West Papuans, was averted time and time again. This was evidenced as Joku proclaimed that the number one issue worth addressing in Indonesia, was corruption and that was a priority above all else.

With an almost deeply mistaken self-assumed Indonesian identity, Mr Joku proclaimed,“…the human rights issue is no longer the main priority for the Indonesian government. Corruption is Indonesia’s number one evil…”Joku’s announcement was made with an almost timed set of choreographed hand gestures, emphasised with a fictitious tone of conviction. When the question of why foreign journalists, were being denied entry into West Papua was asked, Messet cunningly retorted that “these journalists” had a tendency to exaggerate the realities on the ground. However, the irony remains that if conditions in West Papua had improved as they claimed, then why aren’t foreign journalists allowed to document their own stories for themselves. The acting skill of these two former activists was nothing short of mesmerizing, yet dishonorable. A Hollywood Academy award could have been given for the astounding and almost convincing stories and personal accounts, which were twisted in favour of what they now claimed to be a new and benevolent Indonesia.

Scolding the Youth

Apart from the blatantly obvious propaganda exercise, the younger people in the audience were being targeted with a specific criticism. The younger generations in the audience were being scolded for being well endowed with certain attributes attained as an inadvertent, albeit effective consequence of globalization.

“The problem with your generation is that all you do is you text each other, instantly and see things on computers, while we had to write letters to each other and wait three months for a response and only to receive it, to find out that the person had died”, hissed Messet.

Such a statement implied that these former freedom fighters disliked the wave of globalization and the information and technological access it had brought with it.  It seemed they abhorred the younger generation for being technologically savvy with mobile phones and the instant access to information via social media. This access to information, has allowed the West Papuan cause for freedom to be shared across many people within a matter of seconds. In plain sight, injustice anywhere is now seen everywhere and the abuses in West Papua are not immune to this access and sharing of information.

Calling for West Papuan exiles to return?

In adding to the charade of Indonesia’s new found “change” and it being a safer colonizing power, Messet then openly addressed Vanuatu’s Ambassador to Fiji Nikenike Vurobaravu who was seated in the audience, to encourage certain exiled West Papuans in Vanuatu to return home. Messet expressed with an enthused and self-serving sense of Indonesian validation,

“… Mr. High Commissioner, can you tell them please come home…”

Of course being a seasoned and experienced diplomat, Ambassador Nikenike didn’t openly respond during the panel but maintained a cool and calm stature in the audience. However, his response came with his immediate departure at the end of the panel, which saw him not even joining the other officials present at the refreshments table. The Ambassador’s apparent opposition to certain sentiments expressed was validated, when seconds later we were engaged in a conversation in the car park.

He simply said “There is a reason why people are in exile…when you have people holding their guts, what are you going to do?”His message, as is the government of Vanuatu, was seen and felt loud and clear, unlike Indonesia’s message, which was sent through these chameleon activists, Franz Albert Joku and Nicholas Simion Messet.

It was crystal clear that this panel discussion was a skillfully planned attempt, at conveying a sense of historical amnesia, seeking to dissuade the Pacific from supporting West Papuan freedom.

Continued Intimidation

On Friday, 13th of June a little after 7pm I received a phone call from an uncle who was frantically explaining, how a CID officer had visited my home earlier that afternoon looking for me. The reasons for the visit remained vague; however I knew that they were going to make an effort to establish contact within the next forty-eight hours. It wasn’t until Saturday evening the next day that I was finally able to make contact with CID, on the phone. I was asked if I knew of a petition for West Papuan Freedom, which was to be presented to the Indonesian Embassy earlier on Friday. He explained that they had been briefed and a picture was circulated of a person that they had concluded to be the leader of the Fiji, Free West Papua movement and that the person on the picture was expected to deliver a petition to the Indonesian embassy, at the Fijian Holdings building. 

Upon delivering of the petition, an officer was posted on location to arrest the person. Almost instantly, the officer asked, “why didn’t you turn up and where is the petition?” In having to deal with the authorities it is fairly evident that, responding openly and honestly is the best approach, because like all other regional issues, the West Papuan cause for freedom is not hidden and is not something that can be hidden through lies. In essence the whole cause, is the truth and its pursuit, would allow for justice and the freedom, of marginalized, oppressed Melanesians, to hopefully prevail. Within this motivation, I responded by saying that I wasn’t aware of a specific petition meant for the embassy, however there are many petitions available online and with varying other groups, who stand for the same cause for freedom. In addition to this, petitions are a representation of the freedom of expression of people on a specific matter. 

This is a fundamental right of all Fijians, which like all other rights, according to the current self-appointed Bainimarama government, is protected within their newly scripted, 2013 Constitution of the Republic Of Fiji. Therefore, it would appear embarrassing and contradictory if state authorities were to arrest Fijians for expressing their Melanesian concern for the killings and abuse of West Papuans. The questions continued, with me having to reveal my traveling plans for the following week. My response was simple, “I will be working, I will be busy in Suva, Fiji”. As the conversation ensued, I asked why my location was so important to them, he paused and then stated,

“the President Of Indonesia, will be in Nadi next week, it would be wise for you not to make any trips to Nadi”.

It was obvious that they were anticipating protests and were hoping to intimidate and clamp down on any possible expression of concern for West Papua. The long conversation eventually became cordial as I explained to him, that there was nothing hidden about the cause for Freedom of West Papuans, for it was publicly available online. After an hour or so after that conversation, he called again and asked about the West Papuan song release in which Fiji Republika Magazine posted a video, on Youtube of the release of the Free West Papua song which featured one of Fiji’s most prominent singer and song writer, Seru Serevi. I explained that I was at the song release and yes, the event was made public and had even been documented in one of the local dallies. 

At this point I reemphasized that there was nothing hidden, sinister or nefarious about the cause for West Papua and requested that the alarmist response that was resulting in arrest threats and deliberate intimidation be reconsidered. The officer became quiet; I insisted that an open discussion on the matter was better than issuing arrest threats based on very poor and lacking intelligence information. Arrests would have been embarrassing, since the briefing information gathered was highly inaccurate. Firstly, there isn’t an outright leader of the Fiji Free West Papua movement in Fiji, because for as far as I understand it, there isn’t one, beyond the facebook group forum discussions. Secondly, expression of opposition isn’t illegal and neither is the presenting or sharing of petitions. 

The expressions of concern and calls for freedom for West Papua, are not initiated by a collective because individuals from all sectors of society, can easily see and access information on the atrocities that continue in West Papua. Gone are the days of having to wait on collective informal gatherings to rally and mobilise people, as in this day and age, individuals are able to mobilise opinions, even without having to meet or know one another. Such is the enabling power of information technology, which is harnessed and honed by social media and active users alike. I began to wonder as to how or from whom, was the information given and misleadingly utilized for the briefing. The stench of exaggeration and misleading insights permeating through both these instances warrants concern for the credibility and integrity of the authorities involved.

Reflection of both Incidents

1.   Indonesia’s Cheque book Diplomacy

Indonesia’s deep pockets, coupled with Fiji’s troubled political vulnerability, has allowed Indonesia to buy out Fiji’s Melanesian empathy. The close relationship between the two countries is seen from assistance provided towards, the upcoming 2014 elections, Fiji Police and cultural exchange shows that seem to persist on an almost regular basis, with overzealous media coverage. As a consequence of this “Un – Melanesian” relationship, Indonesia has successfully strangled the Fijian conscience and ultimately continues to weaken the collective Melanesian voice of reason.

2.   Freedom of Expression and Speech

Internally, the movement and free speech of Fijians, which has already been curtailed since the establishment of a military backed regime, is compounded by Indonesian interests. It seems paradoxical when the interim administration continues to tout, the “protection” of the rights of Fijians, in the heavily exalted constitution and yet it’s relationship with Indonesia, effectively weakens that protection, thereby undermining the course and transition to a parliamentary democracy and free, fair and open elections.

3.   Poor Information and Intelligence gathering

It is clear that the briefs utilized by the relevant authorities were deliberately exaggerated, to necessitate intimidation and arrest threats. It reached a point where I realized that the officers involved, knew the truth behind the matter, however it was a “bread and butter”issue for them. They needed to answer to the demands coming from the upper echelons; therefore pressure was on them to “do something”. Those within the upper echelons, knew of the close assistance and relationship that Indonesia had already forged, with the illegitimate powers that be, hence the domino effect of having to “do something” eventually propagated itself, at the expense of their own integrity and professionalism.

West Papuan Freedom

In spite of these two unnecessary incidents, the cause for West Papuan freedom, in my view is gaining momentum by the second. With the proliferation of information via technological advancement, many more people around the world are being exposed to vivid images and videos of the gruesome abuses that continue in West Papua. These two incidents are a reminder of Indonesia’s nervousness and fear of Melanesian solidarity. It is also an indicator of the strength that the Melanesian Spear Head Group (MSG) holds and the possibilities it can bring about as a sub-regional group.

As a Fijian, I realize that my country has its fair share of struggles and that our own issues have effectively weakened the greater regional push for justice and freedom of our own brothers and sisters, in West Papua. As a Melanesian, my conscience never lets me forget the timeless words of my favourite Melanesian Philosopher, Bernard Narokobi, when he said the

“…Melanesian Voice is meant to be a force for truth. It is meant to give witness to the truth. It is aimed at the good, the beautiful and the just. It is conceived deliberately as a positive, creative and a constructive force”…“The truth shall always prevail” and it is within this cry, one hopes that Fiji, Melanesia and the Pacific as a great region, will finally stand for what is just, right and the truth for West Papua.

[1] Coined by Ratu Mara, as symbolizing continuing dialogue and discussion as a means of resolving differences through mutual understanding

[2] A term developed by Melanesian Philosopher Bernard Narokobi, explaining and stimulating thought around the Melanesian way of life.


2) Transfer of French journalists  to police delayed
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Archipelago | Thu, August 21 2014, 10:55 PM
The transfer of two French journalists, currently being detained in Papua’s provincial capital of Jayapura, from the immigration office to the Papua Police was delayed on Thursday as the police had not prepared a proper detention cell.
Roberth Charles Dandois and Valentina Burrot of French television station Arte TV have been named suspects by the Jayapura Immigration Office for carrying out journalistic work while on tourist visas.
Aside from the immigration-violation charges, the pair is also suspected of developing a relationship with members of the separatist Free Papua Movement (OPM) in Wamena during their stay.
Jayapura Immigration Office chief Gardu Tampubulon said the two journalists would be transferred to Papua Police detention center as soon as the police had prepared separate holding rooms for the pair.
“The transfer will still take place once the police have prepared two separate rooms for each of the pair,” Gardu said on Thursday as quoted by Antara.
The French nationals were arrested in Wamena on Aug. 6 after police received information on the pair’s activities in meeting separatist groups and videotaping the encounters. They were handed to the immigration authorities on Aug. 9. The police have since confiscated their footage and equipment.
The pair is facing charges of violating Article 122 of the 2011 Immigration Law
The Jayapura Immigration Office is still completing administrative procedures for the pair’s transfer, which was originally scheduled for Thursday.
When a lawyer representing the French Embassy in Jakarta requested that both journalists be put on city arrest, the immigration authorities declined the request citing safety concerns. (dyl)


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