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January 7, 2013

A Brave Few Fight for Justice in Papua Despite Deadly Dangers

January 6, 2013
The Jakarta Globe

Brooke Nolan

Arriving at Maranatha Convent in Waena, a town near Jayapura, Papua, a
nun greets me and shows me a room where I am hoping to stay. Her first
question to me still looms in my mind. “Are you from an NGO?” she

Her suspicion is strange, given that the work of NGOs often parallels
that of nuns.

But her reason reveals a fear of authorities many Papuans justifiably
hold. She explains that a group of six Australians from an NGO had
been staying at the convent until a few days ago.

“Then the military turned up, demanding to see their documents and
searched their bags. The Australians were intimidated and they
left,” she said.

A bit later, my friend Alice and her boyfriend Henry arrive (not their
real names). Alice is a journalist at a Papuan news portal and the
author of a book telling the story of political challenges faced by
Papuan families. Henry is on staff at the Commission for Disappeared
People and Victims of Violence (Kontras) in Jayapura.

A run-down shack tucked off the main street is home to the Kontras
office, which has no identifying features, and yet it’s well known
to those in uniform. Soldiers walk back and forth outside the office,
monitoring who enters and exits. This type of surveillance of
activists, journalists and NGO workers is normal in Jayapura, Alice
and Henry tell me.

Deadly infiltration

“At [the publication I work for], we’ve been infiltrated by
Kopassus,” Alice says, referring to the Indonesian army’s special
forces. “Most recently, a man called Ayub started working with our
editing team. He never finished the work he was supposed to do and he
spread false rumors, causing problems for me and my colleagues. Then
one day we noticed that the official number of his regiment was
stitched on the inside of his military bag. So we knew it wasn’t an
ordinary military-style bag bought at a market. We confronted him and
he admitted he was working for Kopassus. He was fired immediately.”

Alice talks fervently about the ongoing military repression of civil
society in Papua. She first became involved in activism when she
returned to Papua after completing her undergraduate degree in
economics and management at Duta Wacana Christian University in

“When I returned to Papua, my father told me not to get involved in
politics. He was afraid that the military would do to me what they did
to him,” she says. “During military raids in the 1970s, he was
humiliated by soldiers, stripped naked in front of the whole village
and searched against his will. Despite what my father said, I don’t
mind if I die fighting against military repression in Papua.”

One of Alice’s former colleagues has already done so. On July 30,
2010, after months of receiving death threats via SMS, the body of
29-year-old journalist Ardiansyah Qomar Wibisono Matrais was found
tied to a block of wood at the bottom of the river in Merauke. His
ribs were smashed, most likely as a result of repeated physical
assaults, and the markings on his neck indicated that he had been
strangled with something such as a belt or a rope.

Instead of an investigation, the body was flown to Makassar for
further examination. Merauke police, who refused to release the
forensic report or the result of the autopsy, stated that Matrais had
committed suicide.

Before his death, Matrais had been reporting on human rights abuses
and rampant illegal logging in the Keerom and Sarmi districts of
Papua. Following the arrests of powerful figures involved in illegal
logging at the beginning of 2010, the anonymous death threats to
Matrais and other journalists increased.

Independent evaluations verify that threats to journalists are a true
danger in Indonesia, where year after year the country’s performance
on freedom of speech reports has become increasingly abysmal.

In 2009, Indonesia ranked 100 out of around 180 countries listed in
the International Press Freedom Index, slipping to 117 in 2010 and
dropping to 146 in the 2011-2012 period.

Actions and consequences

Like Matrais, Henry receives death threats via SMS from anonymous
numbers every week. Henry has been working at Kontras for the past two

“My family is from Maluku but I was born in Jayapura and have lived
here all my life,” he says.

This month, Henry has been busy finishing the Kontras 2012 Report on
Torture. According to this report, the number of torture victims in
Papua from June 2011 to July 2012 far outweighed those in any other
part of Indonesia. Kontras reports 98 torture victims in Papua,
followed by 26 victims in Jakarta.

Opposite Henry sits Barry (not his real name), a young man born in the
Jayawijaya highlands, who now works at the Institute of Human Rights
Studies and Advocacy (Elsham) and for an NGO called Unite For Truth

Twelve years ago, Barry was in his final year of high school when his
brothers, father and friends were tortured and imprisoned by police in

At 1 a.m. on Dec.7, 2000, police broke down the doors of student
dormitories in Abepura, forcing 105 students into trucks which took
them to police headquarters at Kota Raja. Students were then stripped
and tortured for five hours, according to testimony provided by
students and the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM),
which was later presented at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Three students, Ori Ndoronggi, 17; Elkius Suhuniap, 20; and Johny
Karunggu, 20; died while in custody as a result of police brutality.

Many others, including eight of Barry’s friends, died from the
wounds inflicted upon them at the Kotaraja police headquarters in the
weeks and months that followed the incident.

“The police bashed my brother and father on the back of their heads
with the butts of rifles until blood poured out of their mouths and
they became unconscious,” Barry says.

Despite the deaths of three young men while in police custody, there
were no convictions in the trial that followed. Instead, the police
responsible for the torture and killings have received promotions,
while the memories of violence are still fresh in the minds of local

Taking action

“This year [2012] on Dec. 7, we held a remembrance ceremony for the
victims of police and military violence. This is something we do every
year to honor them. We have to continue to fight for justice for our
brothers and sisters killed and tortured by the police and
military,” Barry says.

As a university student, Barry founded the Community of Abepura
Victims (KKA), and in 2007, he started BUK to fight for the rights of
victims of police and military torture from Abepura, Wamena, Waisor,
Kimaam, Assue and Maryedi.

Every week, Barry and BUK members visit prisons in Jayapura to bring
coffee and food to political prisoners.

People with convictions mirroring those of Alice, Henry and Barry can
be found all over Papua. Considering their experiences, it is no
surprise that local people describe the law as hiburan (entertainment)
and Papua’s special autonomy status as hiasan (decoration).

Justice, not separatism, is the first thing on these peoples’ minds.
The longer justice in Papua is trampled on, the stronger the urge
toward separatism becomes.

The military, the police and the Indonesian government must
acknowledge the unhinged brutality used to crush civil society in
Papua if there is ever to be peace. An acknowledgement is the first
step. Reparations must be made and the perpetrators of crimes punished
for their acts.

Brooke Nolan is a PhD student from the University of Western Australia
with a focus on Indonesian studies. The opinions expressed are her

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