Sister Susan Connelly interviewed on ABC
West Papua: another East Timor?
Sister Susan Connelly interviewed on ABC
West Papua: another East Timor?
West Papuan activist Filep Karma , who was recently released from over 10 years gaol in West Papua visits Ambonese political prisoners at Nusa Kambangan 3,000 kilometers from Ambon.
Nusa Kambangan is the island prison where 2 Australians were recently executed .
Johan Teterisa went from school teacher to political prisoner on June 29, 2007. On that day, he led a group of 27 Moluccan independence activists to join in the annual Family Day festivities at Merdeka Stadium in Ambon, the capital of Maluku province. The activists scandalized then-President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who was in the audience with a group of foreign diplomats, by performing the Moluccan cakalele traditional war dance and unfurling the officially banned Republic of South Maluku (RMS) flag.
Johan and his fellow dancers were part of a long-simmering independence movement that has existed in the southern Moluccas since 1950, the year after Indonesia gained its independence internationally. That year, a group of Moluccan nationalists proclaimed the creation of the RMS in defiance of the Indonesian government’s claim to the region. Ever since, Moluccan activists who advocate pro-independence views have risked arrest, prolonged detention and torture by Indonesian security forces.
Today, Johan and other Moluccan political prisoners are locked up far from their families and largely forgotten. I had a rare visit with them recently and found them in ailing health. The government needs to act to set them free.
Within days of the stadium stunt, police arrested Johan and 75 other activists. Police tortured many of them and within months an Ambon court had convicted 66 including Johan, for “treason,” and sentenced them to prison terms of seven to 20 years. The convictions were under articles 106 and 110 of the Indonesian Criminal Code, which effectively criminalize freedom of expression. In July 2007, Yudhoyono issued a presidential decree that criminalized the public display of pro-independence symbols. In Indonesia today, displaying flags or logos with the same features as “separatist movements” can still reap multi-decade prison terms.
Johan is one of 28 Moluccan political prisoners arrested in connection with the June 2007 protest and other Moluccan flag-raising events still behind bars. He says they are Indonesia’s “forgotten political prisoners” because their plight has been overshadowed by a government focus on the political prisoners in Papua and West Papua. President Joko Widodo, better known as Jokowi, granted clemency last May to five Papuan political prisoners and released the high-profile Papuan political prisoner Filep Karma in November by a sentence remission. The government has not explored any such release strategy for the Moluccans.
On Jan. 21, I visited Johan and six other Moluccan political prisoners on Indonesia’s forbidding prison island of Nusa Kambangan. That visit was the result of a special one-day permit that I Wayan Dusak, the director general for prisons at the Ministry of Law and Human Rights, issued to Filep. With the assistance of the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH Jakarta), Filep had lobbied the ministry to grant him a rare permit to visit the island’s prisons. Filep received the permit on Jan. 20 and invited me to accompany him.
The visit was sobering. Johan and the six other Moluccan political prisoners, who are detained in two prisons on the island, suffer not only from official neglect, but from isolation. Nusa Kambangan is 3,000 kilometers from Ambon, which severely handicaps the Moluccan prisoners’ ability to stay in close touch with their friends and family members. Since their 2009 transfer to Nusa Kambangan, none of the Moluccan prisoners have had any visits from friends and family. The others are Ruben Saija, Yohanis Saija, Jordan Saija, Abner Litamahuputty, Romanus Batseran and John Marcus.
Their families cannot afford to fly to Java from Ambon, and reaching Nusa Kambangan over land and by boat poses near-insurmountable challenges. Isolation has taken a profound emotional and psychological toll on the men there. Ruben Saija, serving a 20-year sentence for his June 2007 protest dance, told me that that he tried to commit suicide by drinking pesticide on the day of his 9-year-old daughter’s baptism back on Haruku Island, near Ambon, in December 2015.
“That day I felt helpless,” he said. “It was my darkest day.”
The political prisoners on Nusa Kambangan have refused to apply for a presidential pardon, claiming that it would imply an admission of guilt. They would accept amnesties or an abolition of their prison sentences. However, the Indonesian House of Representatives, which has the power to approve such measures, has yet to respond to Jokowi’s proposal last May to release all political prisoners in Indonesia.
Time may be running out for these men. A combination of the effects of torture, poor living conditions, and inadequate medical care has seriously harmed their health. Johan, who is 55, suffers from painful and debilitating arteriosclerosis. Ruben is now a gaunt 32-year-old whose chronic kidney problems frequently make him urinate blood. He told me that he lacked the money to purchase medication to treat his illness.Batseran is similarly gaunt, the result of a bout of tuberculosis after he arrived on Nusa Kambangan.
Government action is needed now.
Jokowi’s law and human rights minister, Yasonna Laoly, and Dusak, his prison director general, should take the initiative to accelerate the release of these forgotten political prisoners through amnesty, clemency or sentence reductions. In the meantime, the government should immediately approve a transfer of Moluccan prisoners from Nusa Kambangan back to Ambon, closer to their families.
Most importantly, the Jokowi government should abolish the 2007 presidential decree that criminalizes the display of pro-independence symbols. As long as that decree remains on the books, Indonesians are at risk of lengthy imprisonment for doing nothing more than peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression.
Andreas Harsono is Indonesia researcher at Human Rights Watch. He has researched and written about political prisoners in eastern Indonesia since 2003. Follow @andreasharsono
Solomons concerned about abuses in West Papua
Solomon Islands has raised concern about human rights violations in the Indonesian Province of West Papua at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Its diplomat in Geneva, Barrett Salato, has told the Council that human rights violations need urgent attention by the world community.
Mr Salato said Solomon Islands remains concerned by arbitrary arrests, summary executions, tortures, ill treatments and limitations of freedom of expression committed by Indonesian security forces.
He encouraged Indonesia to establish a dialogue with West Papuan representatives and to cooperate with the Council by allowing UN special procedures planning to visit Indonesia.
Mr Salato highlighted the request made by the Pacific Island Forum to allow for a human rights fact-finding mission to be sent to West Papua.
He said access to education and health services for the Papuans has deteriorated, adding to a decline of the indigenous West Papuan population.
Doubts linger over Jokowi’s call for Papuan development –
Ina Parlina, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Headlines | Sun, March 13 2016, 7:36 AM
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has stepped up efforts to develop Papua and is asking the military and the police to adopt a soft approach there. However, doubts still linger over whether the President can ensure central and local bureaucrats will implement his commitments to the easternmost region, which remains one of the poorest despite its abundant natural resources and is often marred by violent incidents.
Father John Jonga from Wamena, who once received a Yap Thiam Hien human rights award, said that although Jokowi had three times visited Papua, he did not really listen to Papuan voices as his administration and local authorities were still unable to follow up on the President’s calls.
“It needs extra serious efforts; the state has been absent too long from Papua,” John said on Saturday. “The government must also address social injustice there.”
Last month, Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Panjaitan admitted that about 60 percent of Papuan leaders failed to implement the development agenda in Papua since they were often busy running their own errands elsewhere outside the region.
Jokowi has pledged to bring more inclusive development to Papua and has even considered a railway construction project to be started in Sorong, West Papua, sometime this year.
Indonesia rights body urges Obama to open secret US files –
Matthew Pennington, Associated Press, Washington | National | Fri, March 11 2016, 4:29 PM –
The Indonesia that Barack Obama lived in as a child bore fresh scars from the darkest period in country’s modern history. Shortly before Obama’s arrival in 1967, hundreds of thousands of people had been killed in a bloody anti-communist purge.
Now Indonesian human rights officials want Obama’s help in addressing unanswered questions about the bloodshed 50 years ago. They are requesting the declassification of secret US files that could shed light on how the killings were planned and the extent that the United States collaborated with Indonesia’s military.
Despite nearly two decades of civilian rule, the prevailing account in Indonesia of those events remains the one planted by the military regime that swept to power after the killings, led by the dictator Suharto who ruled for 30 years. Indonesian text books portray it as a national uprising against a communist threat, and gloss over the deaths.
Joko Widodo, the first directly elected Indonesian president without links to Suharto, ran as a reformer who would look into episodes of military impunity, but since taking office in 2014, he has not pressed the issue due to opposition within his own government and the still-powerful military.
Indonesia’s National Human Rights Commission in 2012 reported there was evidence that crimes against humanity were committed during the 1965-1966 crackdown, but the attorney general took no action.
Commissioner Muhammad Nurkhoiron met this week with State Department officials and has made a formal request to Obama that says the release of files from the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency and other agencies will help in “encouraging the Indonesian government to redouble its own efforts to establish the truth” and promote reconciliation.
“We need the US to immediately release those documents to help our efforts,” Nurkhoiron said in an interview. He said when Obama leaves office early next year, momentum for US action could be lost.
Myles Caggins, a National Security Council spokesman, said it will review the commission’s request. He said the administration supports the declassification of any relevant documents from the period which do not pose a national security risk. The US has already released many documents related to the period, but has withheld others.
The killings began in October 1965 shortly after an apparent abortive coup in which six right-wing generals were murdered. Suharto, an unknown major general at the time, filled the power vacuum and blamed the assassinations on Indonesia’s Communist Party, which was then the largest outside the Soviet Union and China, with some 3 million members. No conclusive proof of communist involvement in the coup has been produced.
In his 1995 best-selling memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” Obama recounted how his mother, who had moved them to Jakarta after marrying an Indonesian, learned about the recent killings through “innuendo, half-whispered asides.” In words that still ring true, Obama wrote: “The death toll was anybody’s guess: a few hundred thousand, maybe; half a million.”
At that time, the Vietnam War was intensifying, and Washington’s fears of communist takeovers in Southeast Asia were running high. Previously declassified State Department documents indicate that the US Embassy in Jakarta passed the names of dozens of Communist Party leaders to the Indonesian army. Redacted meeting notes from a National Security Council covert action committee that were declassified last month — the result of a 2004 freedom of information request from a U.S. historian — show that the US endorsed “obstructive action” against the Communist Party.
The historian, Brad Simpson from the University of Connecticut, said the US organized covert operations aiming to provoke a violent clash so the Indonesian army would crush the communists. Once the killings had started, the US sent technical assistance and clear signals that it supported the killings, he said.
But Simpson said releasing more detailed information would likely make clearer that the primary responsibility for killings lay with the Indonesian military and state, and not the United States. It could shed light on the command and control structure of the Indonesian armed forces, who was actually carrying out the killings in particular places, and the degree of coordination that was involved between the Indonesian army and its civilian supporters and affiliates.
“The more we release, the less tenable will be the conspiracy theories about the US role,” Simpson said.
Thomas Blanton, director of the nongovernment National Security Archive, said the Obama administration has quite a good track record on declassifying documents for human rights accountability, as it did last October for Chile, revealing that former dictator Augusto Pinochet ordered the 1976 assassination of a Chilean diplomat.
But he said the US was unlikely to act without a strong push from the Indonesian government, particularly as some of the documents being sought are closely guarded CIA operational files.
That appears unlikely, as the bloodshed of 50 years ago, which is believed to have caught up many with only tenuous communist links, remains a deeply sensitive topic in Indonesia.
Authorities have in some cases blocked public viewings of two recent Oscar-nominated documentaries by the filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer, who tracked down former death squad members and found them unashamed, unrepentant and even willing to re-enact their brutal murders. (+) –
Indonesian Father John Djonga leads a prayer service Papua province on Feb. 19 that led to an investigation
of the priest on possible treason charges. Grass-roots church leaders have actively helped seek solutions to
Papua’s decadeslong conflict, while the institutional churches remain largely silent. (Photo courtesy Flori G.)
Indonesian Father John Djonga has continually found himself in trouble with security forces in West Papua.
In the latest incident, Father Djonga, a priest of Jayapura Diocese and a renowned human rights defender, was questioned by the police for his role in leading an ecumenical prayer service for the inauguration of the Papuan Indigenous Council Center in Wamena, which is also an office for the United Liberation Movement for West Papua.
Around 5,000 Papuans from various denominations attended the ceremony.
The allegation against Father Djonga is treason, an accusation that has put many Papuans behind bars as political prisoners and a few others executed through extrajudicial killings. Progressive Protestant leaders such as the Rev. Benny Giay and the Rev. Yoman Socrates also faced such accusations and now are under strict military surveillance, as confirmed by leaked military documents in 2011.
In 2008, Father Djonga had similar trouble as a parish priest in the remote area of Keerom in Papua as he was defending indigenous Papuans fighting against land grabbing, deforestation, and military violence on the border with Papua New Guinea.
The priest also criticized the involvement of security forces in illegal logging, which caused him trouble when the military’s special forces troops, known as Kopassus, allegedly urged him to keep quiet or he would be buried alive. The civil society networks then rescued him, but when he returned to Keerom, instead of remaining silent as he was warned, he continued his work and established a human rights foundation.
In 2012 Father Djonga faced scrutiny from Indonesia’s intelligence agency and military. He was charged with colluding and supporting pro-independence leaders in hiding in the forests and abroad. His phone, which contained phone numbers of pro-independence leaders, became evidence.
In his defense, Father Djonga asked authorities also to reveal a phone list of his containing the numbers of Indonesian police and military officials, and announce the names of all Jakarta officials, including ministers, who had contacted and communicated with him.
He told investigators at that time that as a pastor, it was his duty to bridge communication and dialogue with all parties, without resorting to the use of violence.
Churches often proclaim their concerns for human rights and their mission of liberating the oppressed. However, in complicated situations like in West Papua, where the state and corporate powers conspire against the well-being of the people, concerns for human rights and solidarity with the oppressed are not as simple as preaching from a podium or publishing a pastoral letter.
In everyday reality, defending the rights of Papuans means a confrontation with dominant groups, such as the state apparatus and corporate oligarchies. The dilemma in defending the indigenous’ rights to their land and forests means fighting against investors and politicians, many of whom are also Christians and donors to the development of churches.
Does the church choose solidarity with the people at the expense of development donations? This is an option with a cost that not all church leaders are willing to absorb.
Voice of the Voiceless
Churches are often idealized as the voice of the voiceless. But in Papua, the people are not voiceless. They have been speaking up, crying out, asking for help and seeking solidarity, while their struggle has withered on for decades. It is the churches that are often voiceless. The leaders of institutional churches — whether in Papua, on the national level and global — have remained silent to the struggles of Papuans seeking self-determination.
The Indonesian bishops’ conference and the Communion of Churches seem to have aligned themselves with the government’s developmental and security approach in Papua. The Papuans’ experiences of systemic violence, discrimination, resource appropriation, marginalization, neglect of rights to self-determination are ignored.
Church leaders do not see Papuans as the oppressed, the ones that they are preaching about, the ones that are severely in need of solidarity and liberation. Instead, they maintain harmony with the government, believing that listening to the cries of Papuans might jeopardize their relationship with the government.
Despite the silence of the institutional churches, the grass-roots church groups in Papua managed to grow and consolidate. The basis for those movements is similar to the independence declarations in Indonesia’s 1945 Constitutions: “independence/freedom is the inalienable right of all nations, therefore, all colonialism must be abolished in this world as it is not in conformity with humanity and justice”.
This struggle for self-determination has strong Christian foundations, as eloquently summarized by the theologian and anthropologist, the Rev. Giay: “The Christian faith proclaimed by the church has provided a great power of faith to the people who live under the oppressions.”
The church and the Bible are felt as the power of emancipation. Christian salvation and liberation is not understood as a matter of heaven, but liberation from human rights violence, discrimination, and marginalization.
These communities and grass-root churches delink themselves from the authority assumed by the state and corporations, and followed by mainstream churches. They established other visions of a good life in which survival, well-being and dignity of the people, their nature, and culture is the priority.
As another Papuan human rights advocate, a Catholic woman Yosepha Alomang puts it: “The church is a mother, who should be here in the everyday life of her children, giving them life, protecting them when they are threatened, defending them when they are discriminated, and walk with them toward a decent life.”
It is this political faith and theology of liberation in which the religious gathering at the inauguration of indigenous council’s office in Wamena was held.
Papuans are wondering how church leaders — in Papua and Jakarta — will react to this fact. The question the institutional churches need to answer is do they stand with those who exploit the rich land and resources that rightfully belong to the Papuan people or do they stand with the Papuan people themselves.
This is the test of history for the churches in Papua and Indonesia in general.
Cypri Jehan Paju Dale is an author and researcher at the Institute of Social Anthropology, Bern University, Switzeland.