Report – by Alex Perrottet of Pacific Media Watch
The Morning Star flag, banned in West Papua, was raised in Aotea Square in Auckland today to mark the 50th anniversary of the declaration of West Papuan independence.
Maire Leadbeater of the Indonesia Human Rights Committee said there was “extremely high tension” in West Papua as Indonesian forces prepared to clamp down on celebrations today.
“I’m very worried, particularly after recent episodes when police have opened fire on peaceful protesters,” she said.
Leadbeater was standing outside the Auckland Town Hall with other protesters to raise the Morning Star flag at 12pm today. Greens MP David Clendon was due to be present to raise the flag, but post-election meetings kept him away and Greens campaigner Lindis Capper-Starr took his place.
Flying the flag
Flag-raising ceremonies were also held in Wellington, as well as locations in Sydney. Leadbeater said councils in Sydney had agreed to fly the flag.
“Both Leichhardt and Marrickville councils are officially flying the flag today,” she said.
“We haven’t quite got that far here, but we are standing next to the town hall in any case.”
Leadbeater said she had written to the Prime Minister this week, and regularly requests the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to take action on West Papua.
“We always get a response, but whether it’s one we’re happy with is another thing.
“I could say their typical response in my sleep – ‘we raise human rights concerns at appropriate moments and support the full implementation of the special autonomy law’ – that’s despite it being 10 years old and rejected by West Papuans.”
Since October, there has been ongoing violence in West Papua, specifically over workers’ strikes at the Freeport McMoRan mine as well as police intervention at the Third Papuan People’s Congress where the Morning Star was raised and independence declared.
“They know when they raise the flag there’s a high risk of violence, arrests and lengthy jail sentences,” said Leadbeater.
“So it’s the least we can do to raise it here on their behalf.”
Mana Party representatives were also in attendance in the place of leader Hone Harawira.
Margaret Taylor from Amnesty International said she was “in awe” of the courage of West Papuans who are likely to demonstrate today.
“I have severe fears that peaceful protesters, and anyone associated with independence will be targeted and hurt,” she said.
“It’s incredible they still come out and protest.”
‘Silence in NZ’
Taylor said there was too much silence in and around the West Papua issue in New Zealand.
“A report in Metro magazine this week said the New Zealand Superannuation Fund is investing in the Freeport mine in West Papua,” she said.
“So there’s reasons very close to home for New Zealand to be engaged and to care about the issue.”
Leadbeater said extra police as well as military and Kopassus Special Forces have been dispatched in West Papua ahead of today’s anniversary, and there are as many as 888 police at the Freeport mine.
Human rights groups in various countries have expressed concern about the growing tension in the province, including the US-based West Papua Advocacy Team, the Institute of Human Rights Studies and Advocacy, or Elsham, as well as the Australia West Papua Association (AWPA).
Anne Noonan from the AWPA said violence had already erupted with shooting on Tuesday night.
The Jakarta Globe reported: “Gunshots were heard on Tuesday evening in a village in Papua’s Paniai district as officers from the police’s Mobile Brigade (Brimob) clashed with members of the Free Papua Organization (OPM).”
The Auckland-based Indonesia Human Rights Committee will hold its AGM in Auckland this evening and is promoting its “Messages of solidarity” campaign to spread awareness.