‘Treatment Like Beasts’ Not Uncommon in Papua, Local Priest Says

The Jakarta Globe

Agus Triyono, Banjir Ambarita & Elisabeth Oktofani

The violent crackdown on a pro-independence rally earlier this week that left six people dead is indicative of the government’s continued treatment of indigenous Papuans as no more than animals, an activist said on Friday.

Socratez Sofyan Yoman, a prominent priest from the restive province, said the security forces’ brutal actions came as no surprise because it was “something that we experience on a daily basis.”

“This republic truly treats us like beasts,” he said at the Jakarta headquarters of the National Commission for Human Rights (Komnas HAM).

Socratez called on the government to end its policy of repression against the Papuan people and instead engage in serious dialogue.

“If the government is serious about resolving the conflict, it must hold a dialogue with Papuans, both those in Papua and abroad, and invite international third-party observers because this problem has an international dimension,” he said.

“We have long asked the government to stop using violence in Papua, but it has never responded. To this day, many of our people continue to be hunted down and killed. I support the president, but I’m disappointed in him.”

Socratez spoke in response to the discovery on Wednesday of six dead bodies of participants from Tuesday’s Papuan People’s Congress, a rally held in a field in Padang Bulan, Abepura district, that was violently broken up by security forces. Ifdhal Kasim, the Komnas HAM chairman, said the rights body would immediately dispatch an investigation team to Abepura to probe the violence and the deaths of the participants, whose bodies were found behind the district military headquarters.

“We’ll try our best to have the team there by next week to look into everything, including the events leading up to the congress,” he said.

In the provincial capital, Jayapura, Acting Governor Syamsul Rivai said what made the congress the target of a crackdown was that it was “questioning the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia,” known as NKRI.

“If people want to gather and express their views, that’s fine, just don’t undermine the NKRI, infringe on the prevailing laws or attempt to set up a state within a state,” he said.

“If that happens, there will be severe consequences.”

He attributed the deaths of the activists to “excesses in the handling of the case” by security forces. “It’s something that we didn’t want but happened anyway because of the situation on the ground,” Syamsul said.

Papua Police Chief Insp. Gen. Bigman Lumban Tobing also blamed the demonstrators for getting out of hand.

“We were tolerant with them. We allowed them to hold their congress without a permit, but the next thing you know they’re hoisting the Morning Star flag and trying to establish their own country,” he said.

The flag, a symbol of the long-running separatist struggle in Papua, is banned. Raising it is considered treason and thus brings with it a lengthy prison sentence.

Bigman brushed off allegations that the six people killed had been shot by police, saying there was no evidence so far to prove the claims.

“If they really were shot, prove to us that it was the police who did it. We will process them accordingly,” he said.

In Jakarta on Thursday, a discussion of the issue by a group of prominent pro-Jakarta Papuans also laid the blame for the violence on the demonstrators.

Heemskercke Bonay, a Papuan women’s rights advocate, said previous iterations of the Papuan People’s Congress had also “sacrificed many of our people.”

“That’s why I call on the Papuan people not to be provoked by the issue of an independence referendum for Papua,” she said.

Ramses Ohee, the head of the Papuan chapter of the nationalist militia group Barisan Merah Putih, said: “We reject outright the results of the congress that call for secession from the NKRI and the declaration of a Papuan state.”

However, he conceded that the government in Jakarta was guilty of blaming the local populace over signs of unrest when it should be addressing the issue through dialogue.

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