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Jakarta. Papuans and human rights advocates are concerned that President Joko Widodo’s visits and campaign promises to the province are merely ceremonial rather than indicative of real change for Papua.
Joko’s inaction so far toward fulfilling his campaign promises to Papua has raised doubts among Papuans and activists over whether Papuan issues will be addressed or redressed at all under his leadership.
His populist ideals were originally heralded as a new hope for Papuans, who for nearly 50 years have lived under Indonesian governance and are often exposed to arbitrarily administered rule of law by armed forces and government officials.
The government frequently arrests and jails Papuan protesters for peacefully advocating independence or other political change, with currently more than 60 Papuan activists in prison on charges of “treason,” says Human Rights Watch.
Benny Wenda, the exiled leader of the United Liberation Movement of West Papua (ULMWP), told the Jakarta Globe that West Papuans “do not trust Jokowi, nor his false promises.”
“We have seen many presidents come and go, all promising much for our people but only delivering more killings, oppression and Indonesian migrants. Under Jokowi, we have seen the massacre of West Papuan children and further burning of villages,” Benny said, referring to the president by his nickname.
Joko’s lack of movement signals an administration that is continuing the legacy of former governments, following in their failure to address Papua’s multitude of grievances including brutality and impunity of the armed forces, freedom of expression restrictions, and the diminishing of land, civil and human rights.
Numerous promises were made to the Papuans during the lead-up to, and immediately after, Joko’s inauguration.
Some of his pre-election proposals included opening the province to foreign media and providing health care and education funding cards to residents to address lagging development.
The latter has been implemented but there is little evidence to suggest policy measures or directives are being implemented to fulfill media access and transparency, said Andreas Harsono, HRW’s Indonesia researcher.
Joko needs to end the isolation through releasing the stranglehold on foreign media access to Papua, he added.
It is difficult to see how the government could be monitored in Papua without transparency, openness to foreign media and the formation of a safe working environment for local journalists, Andreas said.
He added that the government should immediately release Papuans such as Areki Wanimbo, who is currently in custody for assisting two French foreign journalists at his home.
Two French journalists, Valentine Bourrat and Thomas Dandois, were sentenced to two-and-a-half months’ imprisonment for using a tourist visa rather than a journalist visa to go to Papua.
Wanimbo, alongside two local journalists, was initially charged with attempting to procure ammunition from the journalists. However, the police found no evidence, Andreas said.
He added: “Wanimbo is now facing trial for treason in Wamena with the only evidence being a letter that Wanimbo co-signed, asking for donations to help Papuan delegates to attend a conference in Vanuatu.”
Latifah Anum Siregar, Wanimbo’s lawyer and the head of the Alliance for Democracy in Papua, cited the Paniai shooting, in which security forces shot dead five unarmed protesters and injured 17, including school-aged children, as another example of Joko’s inaction.
“During Christmas celebrations in Jayapura [on Dec. 27], Joko said the Paniai shootings should be immediately solved, but to date there has [been] no further investigation into the case … as if the case has disappeared,” she said.
Latifah questioned what the outcome would be for previous cases of injustice, when current cases were responded to in this manner.
“Especially knowing that Jokowi is supported by military leaders such as [Defense Minister] Ryamizard Ryacudu or [former intelligence chief] Hendropriyono, who were involved in wrongdoings in Papua in the past,” she said.
Ryamizard has also been linked to past human rights abuses in East Timor.
The people of Papua are counting on Joko to do the right thing, Latifah said.
“After winning the presidential election, Joko has been visited by and visited the representatives of Papuan communities,” she said.
“At the beginning of his rule, there was an idea of transmigration, of forming a new regional military command, of constructing a headquarters for the police’s Mobile Brigade in Papua, and of starting dialogues with Free Papua Organization [OPM] leaders.”
But the military policy was slammed by Papua, with the seemingly Java-centric proposals surrounding transmigration and subdivision of the provinces also met with alarm.
Transmigration is not new to Papua. Indonesian migrants are shuffled from heavily populated islands such as Java and Sumatra into Papua to fill primarily trade-related roles.
But it has proved economically, culturally and politically destabilizing for indigenous Papuan people.
Latifah has raised concern about the motives of Joko’s administration over his campaign comments that he only wanted to show support for Papuans.
“What is the most interesting thing in Papua for the government? It’s Papua’s natural resources, its marine biodiversity, its abundance of wood-producing trees, its mines, Freeport,” she said.
But Latifah added that Joko had stated in past campaign speeches that problems in Papua were not restricted to education, health, economy and infrastructure, but that the government never truly listened to the people of Papua.
“Developing Papua should start with changing the government’s point of view,” she said.
But while some are keen to see change elicited incrementally into Papua, Benny and many pro-independence advocates will not be satisfied until full independence is achieved.
“The reason that we West Papuans are still suffering now is because our country was illegally taken by Indonesia in 1969 without the agreement of the West Papuan people,” Benny said.
“We are still demanding our UN-guaranteed referendum on independence for all Papuans, to fulfill our self-determination.
“Therefore, the only way Jokowi can actually help West Papuans is by giving us this referendum and in doing so, help to fulfill our right to self-determination.
“West Papua cannot be free within Indonesia.”