Another good news story broke yesterday – this time from West Papua (see my previous piece for more background about the region). Long-time political prisoners Filep Karma and Yusak Pakage, who were handed 15 year jail terms in 2004 for peacefully raising West Papua’s flag (a crime in the eyes of the Indonesian occupiers) were released early and handed presidential pardons. This is not only a great development in the struggle for freedom and human rights in West Papua, but a testimony to the power of activists around world. The role of international pressure, generated by groups such as the Free West Papua Campaign and Amnesty International, undeniably played a key role in the decision to right this wrong. It is proof that pressure works.
Still, there is much to be done. One hundred and seventy peaceful activists remain imprisoned in appalling conditions, facing inhumane torture on a daily basis, for protesting against Indonesia’s occupation of their land and genocide against their people.
Yet as the oppression goes on, so does the resistance. In the wake of the releases hundreds of protestors camped outside the provincial parliament in Jayapura demanding human rights and a free referendum on independence as promised to them under the 1962 New York Agreement (which was signed by Indonesia). Today Imam Setiawan, Jayapura's police chief, stated that the police are ready to use force- including live ammunition - to disperse the crowd.
This cannot be allowed to happen.
If the world turns away now a crackdown will almost inevitably ensue, leading to more deaths and heightened persecution of the West Papuan people. But if the international community stands tall and calls on the Indonesian forces to show restraint, it will make armed dispersal of the protest almost impossible. This will bolster the non-violent resistance and could be a pivotal moment in beginning the end of the occupation. That is why- wherever you are – it is imperative you write to your representative and ask them to request that your foreign secretary immediately contacts the Indonesian government and urges them not to deploy troops against the demonstrators.
Freedom is calling. It’s up to us to answer.