'New chapter of persecution': Indonesia cracks down on West Papua separatists
Helen Davidson @heldavidson
Email Tue 8 Jan 2019 16.03 AEDT
Headquarters trashed and three people charged with treason for holding a prayer meeting marking group’s fifth anniversary
Indonesian forces have raided and allegedly destroyed the offices of the West Papuan liberation group, taking over one site in what lawyers for the group claim is an “illegal occupation”.
The raids, which have prompted threats of legal action, as well as several arrests and three treason charges, come amid an increased crackdown on the separatist movement and continuing violence in the decades-long insurgency against Indonesia.
Three headquarters of the West Papuan National Committee (KNPB) – the domestic arm of the liberation campaign – were raided by Indonesia police and military (TNI) in recent weeks, with two destroyed and the Timika office taken over for use as a joint military-police outpost on New Year’s Eve.
A letter sent to Mimika police by KNPB lawyers demanded authorities withdraw from its ongoing “illegal occupation” by Tuesday or face legal action.
“We are seeing a new chapter of persecution against KNPB by unlawfully arresting them and now arbitrarily destroying their properties,” KNPB lawyer Veronica Koman said.
The letter accused officers of trespassing and of coercion in the arrests and detaining eight activists who allegedly signed letters that they were “forever Indonesian” and promising not to take part in any further campaigns.
Among those arrested was Yanto Awerkion, who was released in April last year after spending 10 months in prison for his involvement in an independence petition.
The KNPB legal letter said the organisation had given authorities notice on 29 December, as an act of good faith, that it intended to hold a prayer event marking their fifth anniversary.
On 31 December 2018, the prayer and traditional cooking pit feast ‘bakar batu’ event which was planned to be held at 9am was forcibly cancelled by the arrival of more than a hundred police and military personnels,” the letter alleged.
“They failed to present letter of assignment, arrest warrant, and search warrant [and] ... police conducted destruction including vandalism.”
Mimika police chief Agung Marlianto confirmed to the Jakarta Post that about 80 security personnel took over the KNPB headquarters in Timika on New Year’s Eve, removing all insignia and posters, and destroying walls.
“The headquarters is not allowed to operate any more and was taken over as a TNI and police post from now on,” he said.
Eight KNPB members were also questioned on Saturday as part of treason investigations, the lawyers alleged.
On Tuesday afternoon they said three had been flown to Jayapura and charged with treason offences over the prayer event.
KNPB lawyer Veronica Koman said campaigners’ freedom of assembly was guaranteed by the constitution, and claims that the organisation was illegal were incorrect in law.
“Even if KNPB was illegal, police still does not have the right or authority to destroy or vandalize their property, let alone trespassing and illegally occupying land and building owned by KNPB.”
The takeover of the Timika office followed the alleged destruction of headquarters in Asmat and Jayapura in December.
In a video purported to show the Asmat site, a man films the smoking ruins of a building. “Today, Free Papua office was burnt down by police and military,” he says, according to a translation obtained by Guardian Australia.
“We are full of tears, we are full of misery, but we will continue the fight. Wherever you are, please support us and be in solidarity with us, because we will continue the fight for now and forever.”
Indonesian authorities launched a crackdown on West Papuan separatists last month following the killing of at least 17 construction workers in the Ndagu province of West Papua by the liberation army, which claimed the workers were all members of the Indonesian military.
The attack came just days after Indonesia arrested more than 500 people, reportedly including Indonesians, at West Papuan independence rallies across the country.
Indonesia was later accused of using white phosphorus on civilians – against international law – in a report by the Saturday Paper, a report Indonesia said was
“totally baseless, non-factual, and gravely misleading”.
Following the attack on the construction workers, the exiled leader of the West Papuan independence movement, Benny Wenda called for calm on all sides. In an interview with the Guardian, Wenda said Indonesia had a history of “creating violence” and using it to justify increases to its military presence and harsh crackdowns on West Papuans.