At least seven people are feared dead after Indonesian police opened fire on hundreds of West Papuans at an independence rally close to the province’s capital, says Survival Internatioal, the NGO which works for the rights of tribal people.
Representatives from tribes all over West Papua were meeting to choose a new leadership and to discuss the political future of the region. West Papua has been ruled by Indonesia since 1963.
Police have confirmed the bodies of five Papuans have been found, two dumped behind an army barracks and three in the mountains. Survival reports that it has spoken to reliable sources from Papua who say at least another two have been killed; their bodies have not yet been found.
Tension mounted as Papuans held their Third National Congress in the town of Abepura. On Wednesday, 19 October, armed soldiers and police surrounded the venue and, following a declaration of independence from Indonesia, the security forces stormed the stage, firing shots and using tear gas to disperse the crowd.
Survival has been told by sources inside Papua that approximately 300 participants, including women and children, were arrested – many were savagely beaten as they were taken away.
Most have since been released, but the leaders, newly elected at the meeting, remain in custody. Five have so far been charged with treason – a charge that has seen many Papuans sentenced for up to 20 years.
The Rev Benny Giay has been a target of the US-backed Indonesian elite special forces, and has received numerous death threats for his role in exposing human rights violations in the region.
He told Survival, "We want the Indonesian government to stop using terror, we need our rights. The Papuans demand a dialogue, mediated by a third party, to settle the conflict. The Indonesians are killing us, it’s time for dialogue."
Survival’s Director, Stephen Corry said, "This violence comes exactly a year after a shocking video of Papuan men being brutally tortured by Indonesian soldiers was released on the internet. It’s clear that the international outrage generated by that event has taught the Indonesian government nothing about respecting the rights of the Papuan people. Given the history of barbaric treatment at the hands of the army and police in West Papua, we are extremely concerned for the safety of those still in custody."