Life of a well-known Stranger
Christianity seems to have failed us badly

Indonesia is turning Papuans into terrorists

West Papua armed group
West Papua armed group -Indonesia now labelling freedom fighters as 'terrorists'


CANBERRA - The Indonesian government has officially labelled the OPM (Free Papua Movement) and the TPNPB (West Papua National Liberation Army) as terrorist groups.

This came at the height of a string of shootings and murders  in Papua's highlands in recent months that last week led to the killing of senior Indonesian intelligence officer, General I Gusti Putu Danny Karya Nugraha.

In response, Indonesia’s president Jokowi has ordered a crackdown on OPM TPNPB and a few days later, Mohammad Mahfud MD, coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, declared that those in Papua who commit crimes will be classified as ‘terrorists’.

The People's Consultative Assembly speaker in Jakarta, Bambang Soesatyo, stressed this, saying, "I demand that the government deploy their security forces at full force to exterminate the armed criminal groups in Papua which have taken lives. Just eradicate them. Let's talk about human rights later."

Commentator Irjen Pol Purn Sisno Adiwinoto warned that labelling Papuan separatist groups as ‘terrorists’ will not solve problems in West Papua. "If anything, this might just be the opportunity for resistance groups to get the United States involved," he said.

Philip Situmorang of the Indonesian Fellowship of Churches said churches think that labelling Papuan groups as terrorists might instil even greater fear, distrust and hatred among Papuan communities.

West Papua remains under a long-standing blackout to international media. It is difficult also for independent media or human rights agencies to investigate the killings. Indonesia’s justice system often fails to provide fairness and transparency for alleged perpetrators.

A statement by the governor of Papua Province, Lukas Enembe, said all Papuans in West Papua and abroad will be stigmatised through use of the word terrorist. He asked the central government to review its decision, including checking with the United Nations.

Benny Wenda, the leader of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, also condemned president Jokowi's announcement and asked him a series of hard-hitting questions.

"Who invaded our country in the first place? Who has killed over 500,000 men, women, and children? Who has displaced over 50,000 civilians since December 2018, leading to the deaths of hundreds of more people?” Wenda asked.

“An illegal invasion and occupation is a criminal act. Genocide is a terrorist act. Resistance to these are legitimate and necessary."

After 60 years, Jakarta is still introducing policies that will harm the Papuan people. In May 1963, Indonesian troops landed in the province when the Western power gave them the green light during the controversial New York Agreement – an agreement Papuans weren't invited to participate in. The real terror in Papua began then.

Elites in Jakarta have convinced themselves that there is a monster in the land of Papua and that the beast needs to be eliminated.

The ‘terrorist’ label will not just harm OPM TPNPB but is a direct assault on Papuan history, language, livelihood, and aspirations for a better world. 

One of the main concerns raised within the Papuan resistance movements is that the Indonesian government is criminalising the West Papua national liberation movement to depict it as extreme in the eyes of the international community.

This is an old colonial game: blaming victims and allowing the perpetrators to avoid being held accountable for their actions.

The central government in Jakarta will use the word ‘terrorist’ to convince the international community not to support activist groups in West Papua.

It intends to damage the integrity and reputation of the West Papua liberation movement, which has gained a lot of sympathy from international communities and institutions such as the Africa Caribbean-Pacific group of states, the Melanesian Spearhead Group, the Pacific Islands Forum and the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

President Jokowi's welfare approach and his 12 visits to Papua have turned out to be a Trojan horse. He and his government are not delivering welfare to Papuan people at all – they are creating fictitious terrorists in West Papua to justify war against the Papuan people.

In the 1980s, when I was growing up in my highland village of Papua from ages 8-12, I often heard the name OPM. At the time, the name sounded like it had magical power.

I was told that OPM had secret power to control weather patterns. My family said that if you see heavy rain or thick clouds covering the mountains, it is a sign that OPM is near and created the bad weather to confuse their enemies. This kind of story made me very curious about the name OPM.

OPM was also said to have the power of nature to blind Indonesian soldiers and send them crazy. I was astonished by these stories.

I asked my elders whether OPM were human or forest spirits? They told me that OPM were not forest spirits. They were human beings just like us. But the elders wouldn't divulge their identities so as to keep their families safe from Indonesian soldiers.

I continued to ask if the OPM was something I should fear. The elders told me, “Child, you should not be afraid of the OPM, because the OPM will protect you. They will expel the Indonesian soldiers roaming around here, killing and raping women."

I grew up with these stories and I’m sure many Papuans have similar stories to tell about what OPM means to them.

To me now, as an adult, OPM carries the spirit that keeps the hope of a better world alive.

That's how I understand it. And the hope in Papuans' imagination is political independence from Indonesia.

To be OPM is to be a proud Papuan, and to be Papuan is to be proud to be OPM, which represents hope, freedom, salvation, healing and reconciliation.

Legend has it that on the island of Biak in the early 1940s, even before Indonesia got its independence from the Dutch, Papuan people were already dreaming of a new world – a world free from terror and living with the spirit of the Morning Star.

Today, if Papuans were asked without intimidation or bribery, which spirit do they trust and believe in, they would choose the spirit of OPM because that spirit stands for freedom and salvation.

The word ‘terrorist’ is the deadliest weapon that Indonesia has invented to kill Papuan people. This reckless labelling is dangerous.

Indonesia seems unable to uphold its own religious morals and ethical teachings as inscribed in its constitutional pillars.

If the Jakarta elites believe the slogan ‘Wonderful Indonesia’, then the way they approach Papua needs to change.

Papua will always be like a pebble in Indonesia's shoe – its political future must be resolved in a humane manner if the wonderful Indonesia dream is to be fully realised.

Turning West Papua into a terrorist and justifying this to wage war against its people is not the pathway to achievement of peace and progress for Indonesia or the land of Papua.


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Burnie Gough

Greetings, Yamin Kogoya. I am from PNG and sympathise with the OPM. During the Indonesian confirmation in 1962, in Port Moresby we were told that US president John F Kennedy allowed Indonesia to invade Dutch West New Guinea on the condition the US was allowed to occupy Freeport mine indefinitely.

Yamin, fighting Indonesians is not a fight OPM can possibly win. May I suggest OPM seek independence at the United Nations in New York instead of with American approval.

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