August 15, 2015 – Protest outside Indonesian Embassy, Washington, D.C
August 15, 2015 – Protest outside Indonesian Embassy, Washington, D.C
From a participant – Jaytee. Merdeka West Papua
Post protest lunch at the park
On August 15, 2015, friends of West Papua gathered in front of the Indonesian embassy in Washington, D.C, to show their support for ‘West Papua.’ Though only a protesters arrived, they were happy to wave signs calling for the release of ‘political prisoners’ and the immediate end to Indonesian occupation of West Papua and killing of innocent people. For more than five decades, innocent West Papuans were imprisoned, tortured, and someone murdered by the Indonesian military. Their crimes ranged from ‘raising the West Papuan flag’ and for speaking out against police brutality and colonization of West Papua. To date, half a million people died in the hands of Indonesian military. Today, supporters around the world gathered in front of Indonesian embassies to show their support for the people of West Papua and to raise awareness of Indonesian ‘human rights abuse’ and ‘crimes against humanity’ and against West Papuans. My name is Johnny (known to many as Jaytee) and I was one of the protesters at the scene in front of the Indonesian embassy in Washington, D.C and this is my account of the event.
From Suffolk, Hampton Roads
I left my house around 4:30 am (Saturday) and drove up to Washington, D.C to join the protest in front of the Indonesian embassy. It is a 3 hr 30 minutes drive. At 7:30 a.m I stopped at a gas-station somewhere in Fairfax, to gas up and to clean my car then proceeded to the capital. I was extremely anxious to get to Washington, D.C where friends of West Papua would gather to protest; waving signs in front of the Indonesian embassy. I drove like a mad man to the city :).
I arrived at the Indonesian embassy around 10 am then drove to the other side and parked. I could feel the heat building up as I exited the car. The temp was expected to reach at least 91 degree Fahrenheit. It took me about five minutes to arrive at the embassy on foot. There were signs of uneasiness from the embassy. As I stood there taking pictures and videos, a car pulled out of the embassy and left, a few minutes later a SUV filled with Indonesians drove in, they waved at me. They probably thought I was a Filipino or an Indonesian tourist marveling at the beauty of the embassy. Wrong! I walked around and familiarized myself with the neighborhood – places to rest, restrooms, and restaurants. As I made my way back to the car, tourists already filled every inch of the street. Homeless people were all over the place asking for coins – they asked for “unwanted changes,” whatever that was! I gave the only two Quarters I had in my pocket to a disabled guy and then made my way to CVS pharmacy to cool off. I bought a bottle of water and cold Starbucks coffee. I was all pumped up for the protest!
At 11:15 am, I made my way back to the embassy. I didn’t see any sign of protesters so I stood at the opposite side of the road, facing the entrance to the Indonesian embassy; taking pictures and texting. A few minutes later, I noticed two United States Secret Service vehicles passed me and made a U-Turn and parked near the Indonesian embassy. They appeared to be in a hurry. Two officers exited and were greeted by embassy staff members. They escorted the two gentlemen – a tall blank man and a huge white officer – into the Indonesian compound. As I was about to sit on the sidewalk, I spotted the leader and former ‘political prisoner’ from West Papua, Mr. Herman Wainggai, with a friend a few feet away from the Indonesian embassy’s main gate. This was the first time I met Mr. Wainggai. We embraced and he introduced me to his friend. She heard about the issues of West Papua from Mr. Wainggai and decided to support the ‘Free West Papua’ cause.
We spoke for a few minutes then walked toward the entrance of the embassy. There, we met the two Secret Service officers. Obviously, the embassy notified them about the event and wanted to collect information about our planned protest. They first asked about the event: name of the group, how many people planned to attend, how long we’d planned to protest etc. The officers were kind enough to say that they didn’t want to hinder our protest and that we had the right to protest as long as we stayed off Indonesian embassy’s properties and not impeding public peace. When I asked the taller officer if he heard of West Papua, he said that the name West Papua was brought to his attention for the first time about 10 minutes earlier, which suggested that he and Indonesian ambassador or staff may have discussed the planned protest before they met us.
We started waving out signs in front of the embassy and to passing tourists and vehicles when some Indonesian staff members showed up pretending to be tourists who were interested in what we were doing. They began asking questions that ordinary tourists don’t usually ask. One of them asked about certain “abbreviations” and examined, as intelligent officers would, our fliers – signs etc. One of them placed a sign over West Papuan flag and the other wanted to take selfies with protesters. A few minutes later, those tourists were seen on the opposite street behind cars taking photos of us. One of the officers who had a cap and pair of sunglasses obviously ran into protesters a year earlier, but he told us that he’s from Malaysia. This time, he tried to conceal his face and hair but failed. We know these men were Indonesian officers trying to blend in to collect information about the participants.
The arrival of Mr. Wainggai’s friend, mentor and a professor of nonviolent studies at the George Mason University (GMU), Professor Lester Kurtz, and Mary Harding, PhD – founder of TASSC International, boosted our confidence. They chatted up passing guests and also showed Americans we weren’t alone that we had people of tremendous credentials standing with us. Some of us waved signs; others spoke to curious onlookers and tourists, while I documented the event with my Canon camera.
We were civil. We didn’t yell, scream, nor did we agitate embassy staff, but we were firm in waving our signs and the ‘West Papuan’ flag in front of the Indonesian embassy, a country that is responsible for the death of so many innocent West Papuans, and imprisoned innocent leaders for decades.
Protesting alongside Mr. Wainggai
The biggest motivation for me was meeting Mr. Wainggai himself and people who have no connection with West Papua yet they showed up to stand with him. Mr. Wainggai is a man with a tremendous story. He may not be as big and powerful as a superhero, but he is a man of tremendous, unparalleled courage and vision; a man with a profound mission – to tell the world what is going on in West Papua. He was a ‘political prisoner’ himself who had spent a couple of years in jail for simply flying the West Papuan flag. I asked him why he served only two years, he replied that his lawyers argued vehemently on his behalf and he was only sentenced to two years. Indonesian police tortured him physically and mentally for two years but they were unable to break him. After spending two years in jail, he was released and went back to his “nonviolent” activities, but then he knew that he had crossed a line. Fearing for his life, he escaped to Australia on a canoe with his wife, two children and fellow West Papuan activists. Just when the Indonesian government thought they got rid of him, Mr. Wainggai showed up outside the Indonesian embassy in Washington, D.C. on August 15, waving the West Papuan flag. This time, however, he is protected by the wonderful US Constitution, which empowers “free speech”. It must have been a painful experience for the Indonesian embassy stuff to realize that the man they incarcerated for raising West Papuan flag and protest peacefully in West Papua was now leading a protest outside their embassy in Washington, D.C!
Speaking to him toward the end of the protest, Mr. Wainggai praised the US constitution for giving him the freedom to protest, which is something he couldn’t do in West Papua without being treated as a violent criminal or terrorist. He talked about his “nonviolent” approach toward Indonesia and his hope that one day his people will be freed to live a normal life. He also said that West Papua is a Melanesian nation devoid of any social and cultural connection to the people of Indonesia, but before they declared their independence in after the Dutch government left, Indonesian military rolled in and annexed West Papua using military force.
I also asked Harding, a professional nonviolent advocator and ‘Truth Speakers Coordinator’ why she was there and what her message was to the viewers of our videos, she replied that there shouldn’t be any violence against anybody, anywhere, and for any reason. And for West Papua, she said that they deserved to be free; they deserved the same freedom we have. She expressed her desire for the people of the world to live freely and denounced all forms of violence.
Professor Kurtz also expressed similar sentiments and when asked what his wants our viewers to learn, he stressed that things should not be resolved with “violence” and that the Indonesian’s suppressing of human rights and free speech in West Papua should end. This is a man who embraced Mr. Wainggai’s struggle because they both hold the same philosophy on ‘nonviolent’ approaches to world’s major conflicts. He explained that ‘awareness’ is extremely important that is why he supported his daughter’s desire to join the protest that day. When asked – between violence and nonviolent approaches to conflict, what produced better results, he shot back that violence produced massive awareness but terrible results. He said history is filled with leaders who produced tremendous results through the application of peaceful means of protest. He referred to the man he obviously studied thoroughly, Mahatma Gandhi, as an example of how effective nonviolent methods are when applied properly and effectively. Other protesters expressed similar views; they all agreed that Indonesian military activities in West Papua must end and ‘political prisoners’ should be released immediately!
As we wrapped up our protest, I joined the group and waved the “West Papuan” flag. It was my first time to wave the “Morning Star” flag. It was something always wanted to do, and I had my chance on August 15 to not only wave it on a special day, but to wave it alongside Mr. Wainggai who had given half of his life fighting against Indonesia using peaceful methods.
My message to Americans
There are more than three hundred million Americans living on this planet and they need to know what their government is doing. The US government holds the power to free people either through force or influence and the American people need know what their government is doing with that huge power. In fact, US military invaded country in the name of “Freedom,” yet, when it comes to West Papua, the US government refuses to acknowledge the truth. And for the most part, the government is the wrong side. Americans must know that there is a group of people being subjected to torture and murder everyday by a US ally, Indonesia. For more than five decades, about half a million people died in the hands of the Indonesian military and their main crimes are often ‘peaceful protest’ and ‘raising of the West Papuan flag.’ Even singing their “freedom song” is punishable by arrest and jail. Freedom and free speech are things that are dear to the hearts of the American people, and they need to know what and who their government supports in Asia. They need to know that their government just recently armed the brutal and repressive Indonesian military with military hardware and billions of dollars in military aid, all have been used against innocent West Papuans. I know if Americans knew this, they would be outraged. This is why we gathered in front of the Indonesian embassy on August 15 to wave the ‘West Papuan flag’ and thank God we are in America where we are free to so.
Our hope for West Papua
We hope one day West Papuans will raise their own flag, speak their own language without being harassed, pray to their own God without being intimidated, walk their own streets without fear of being arrested or kidnapped. We hope that one day, West Papua will gain its independence.
The Indonesian government can put a spin on everything related to West Papua, but the fact is, Indonesia has no business in West Papua! They don’t share the same culture, language, and ethnicity. West Papuan people were forced to learn and live as Indonesians for decades! Not its time to put this to an end!
The sad thing is, colonialism is a thing of the past. It should reside in history books and in libraries, but in West Papua, it is a reality! It is time for Indonesia to give up West Papua!
MERDEKA WEST PAPUA!