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New Catholic report tells stories of murder, kidnapping and torture in West Papua

West Papua

Pacific horror: A new Catholic report has shown allegations of recent military and police intimidation, beatings and torture, kidnapping and murder in the country.

ALLEGATIONS of recent military and police intimidation, beatings and torture, kidnapping and murder in West Papua, have been documented in a new Church report.

The report documents Muslims being radicalised in the once predominantly Christian Papuan provinces, and “very active” Muslim militias that burn down Papuan houses.

The report was compiled by the Brisbane Catholic Justice and Peace Commission’s Shadow Human Rights Fact Finding Mission to West Papua, following a visit to West Papua last month. 

It has not yet been publicly released, nor comment sought from Indonesian authorities.

The report documents religious, social and economic discrimination including how the carve up of land for major development has benefited multinationals and excluded Papuans from ownership and jobs.

It refers to a slow motion genocide happening 250km north of Australia and states that “the Indonesians want to replace the Christian religion with Islam”.

The report author Josephite Sister Susan Connelly was accompanied to West Papua by Brisbane archdiocese’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission executive officer Peter Arndt.

During their fact-finding mission they interviewed more than 250 community leaders in Japapura, Merauke, Timika and Sorong.

Sr Connelly, a respected human rights advocate, likened her visit to West Papua to “stepping back twenty years when I first went to East Timor”.

“The same oppressive security presence everywhere, the same suspicion, bewilderment, frustration and sadness,” she said.

“The same fear. The same seemingly groundless hope.

“A man took my hands in his and said, ‘We are in danger’. That simple statement sums up for me the experience of the whole visit. 

“The Papuan people have lost so much, and are facing erasure as a people, merely preserved as oddities of the past or artifacts to be photographed for tourist brochures. 

“They realise that their land is considered more valuable than they are.”

The fact-finding team heard many accounts of alleged military and police brutality and murder. 

“There is clear evidence of ongoing violence, intimidation and harassment by the Indonesian security forces,” Mr Arndt said on his return to Brisbane.

“That is especially the case for Papuans expressing their support for particular political points of view.

“Authorities want to close down any Papuan efforts to promote discussion about self-determination, and they have applied a military response to deal with the irrepressible desire of a large number of Papuans to promote their cause for freedom.”

Based on his interviews across West Papua, Mr Arndt (pictured) identified the instigators of alleged human rights violations as members of the Indonesian army including Kopassus, police including a special counter insurgency unit, Detachment 88, and Indonesia’s intelligence agency, BIN.

“Even demonstrations about social issues such as access to education get broken up by authorities,” he said.

The fact-finding team heard many examples of how the Indonesian Government pushed economic development, but ignored human rights. 

 “The Government has carved up the land and given it for exploitation to some 50 multinational companies,” the report said.

“The procedure is that the local government invites companies to come and gives permits. 

“People are usually shocked when the companies come to sign a MoU (memorandum of understanding) with them, showing them the permit and the map. 

“If the villagers don’t agree to the proposal, the company goes back to the local government and returns with the police.” 

Demonstration in Melbourne

Troubling times: A group holds a Free West Papua protest in Melbourne.

In the 1970s, ethnic Papuans accounted for 96 per cent of the population. 

Today they are a minority 48 per cent, because of the rapid migration of Indonesians from other more populated islands such as Java. 

The report found that Papuans were now marginalised economically at the expense of immigrants, the majority of whom are Muslims.

The report said there was “a movement for Muslims from Indonesia to replace Papuans in every sector”.

“The Indonesians want to replace the Christian religion with Islam. Many mosques are being built everywhere. They want Papua to be a Javanese Malay nation,” the report said.

“Radicalisation is happening in Papua, with some militias very active near the border with PNG. 

“They burn down the Papuan houses. They are recruited as illegal loggers. Their camps and logging are well protected by the military.

 “The military are certainly killing the people, and closed access to opportunity to Papuans in all areas of life constitutes a slow motion genocide.

“The general opinion encountered was that Indonesia is a total failure regarding Papua and is just another coloniser. 

“The Indonesian Government does not give opportunities to Papuan people or protect them. 

“It was said that most Church leaders try to deal with the problems one by one, but the whole picture should be looked at as a series of policies designed to overcome the Papuan people. 

“In every sector of government the system is composed of Indonesian tactics to destroy the Papuans. 

“Beatings and torture are used, but also the economic aspects of lack of opportunity, the sidelining of the indigenous peoples, the taking over of land by companies … are part of the plan.”

Accusations in the report

  • A young, wealthy businessman poisoned in 2015. He had financially supported building an office for the National Committee for West Papua, an independence-oriented group. He also funded Papuans being sent to international conferences.
  • A Papuan woman activist arrested in 2015 by police for holding a prayer service in support of an international conference in London. She and her group were interrogated for five hours.
  • In January this year, 27 Papuan palm oil workers were allegedly tortured by the Indonesian army’s special force Kopassus. The men had previously complained to their company bosses after they had not been paid for two months. 
  • A man aged 35 who used to work for Papua’s Freeport gold mine was kidnapped in 2015, killed, and his body thrown on the street. There was no sign of torture and the police told his family that it was an accident. 
  • Police and military broke up community activities such as prayer meetings. 
  • In September 2015, 18-year-old Daniel Bowgow was killed. His father was a local prayer meeting leader. 
  • People reported they couldn’t move freely at night to search for food for fear of being kidnapped. The military and police use Papuan informers to let them know of people’s movements.

 By Mark Bowling

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