Readers of FRFI will be familiar with the image of the West Papua ‘Morning Star’ flag – which Serogo Tabuni has carried throughout this summer on progressive demonstrations, gatherings and meetings in London and elsewhere. Serogo represents the most radical elements of the struggle in West Papua and speaks for the political prisoners who are fighting against the Indonesian military and their British, US and Australian allies. Successive brutal and racist Indonesian regimes have attempted to repress the West Papuan struggle against occupation, environmental degradation and domination by multinationals for the past 60 years but it continues (see www.freewestpapua.org). At the end of September, hundreds of people again took to the streets to protest against allegations of racism, the latest manifestation of a rage that has been simmering over the last few months; buildings were burned and there are reports of more than 30 deaths in clashes between police and demonstrators.
Serogo told comrades about the origins of the outbreak of protests over the last few months in his homeland. He described how, on 16 August, the Indonesian army and police attacked a West Papuan students’ hostel in Indonesia’s second largest city, Surabaya, charging them with failing to observe the Indonesian flag and calling them ‘pigs, monkeys and dogs’ while beating them up. This was the trigger for the uprising that followed over the next days. The Indonesian army and police were reinforced by another thousand, all internet services were closed down and reporters were forbidden entry into West Papua.
There was then a nationwide uprising of the West Papuan people in which the massive Grasberg gold and copper mine was stormed and the local parliament building attacked; in Sorong City part of the airport was destroyed and in Fakfak a market was set ablaze destroying shops and ATMs in a running battle with the police. At the same time the Morning Star flag of West Papuan independence was raised in front of the state palace in Indonesia’s capital Jakarta by protestors in an act of defiance against the annexation of West Papua as a colony of Indonesia in 1963, which the people had never accepted.
We asked Serogo what had happened to the students and he told us that they are in prison and facing long sentences. He said that we must not forget about them and that all progressive movements must demand their release. Their names should be known. Those arrested include Yulubanus Kogoya, Steven Itlay, Alex Gobay, Sayang Mandabayan, Surya Anta Ginting, Aris Wenda and Buctar Tabuni.
Serogo is in Britain on behalf of West Papua Militant. As an activist he works tirelessly to mobilise grassroots support, disseminate information and gain international solidarity for the uprising against Indonesian occupation and the exploitation of multinational extractive companies.
It is not only the flag that has been criminalised but the indigenous Melanesian population as a whole. They have been subjected to persistent genocidal repression by Indonesia which has encouraged migration and settlement to displace the native people. Between 1971 and 2000, Indonesian settlers grew 10.8% and indigenous Papuans grew 1.8%. This colonisation, said Serogo, is overtly racist with the intention of securing permanent rule from Jakarta.
The comrades discussed Indonesia’s long record of political, as well as national oppression. President Suharto (1967-1998) led the military murders of between 600,000 and two million Indonesians in an anti-communist massacre of 1965-1966, and followed this with decades of brutal military suppression in Aceh and East Timor as well as West Papua. We recalled the British record. The Labour government licensed arms sales of Hawk fighter aircraft and other weapons to the Indonesian military in 1997-1999. This signified the importance of control over the Pacific Ocean as a sphere of influence for the western imperialist powers.
Serogo described how the economic interests of the Anglo – US multinational companies have increased with the exploitation of the extractive wealth of West Papuan mineral and gas deposits. The Grasberg mine, which has the largest gold and second largest copper deposits in the world, is operated as an open pit high in the mountains of West Papua. Owned jointly by the US company Freeport McMoran and the British multinational Rio Tinto, the mine bypasses the usual techniques of waste disposal and simply throws its tailings (fine wastes) into the local river system instead, causing grave environmental damage and destroying local livelihoods. As a consequence of sabotage and opposition from the local people the area around the mine is a militarised zone. Control by the army and mercenaries has led to multiple human rights abuses, many killings and an escalation in environmental devastation. The Indonesian company Asahan Aluminium is currently in discussion with Rio Tinto about buying out its share in the Grasberg mine.
Finally, we asked Serogo what can we do here to support the struggle of the West Papuan people. He told us that the important thing is real activism. It will not be enough to make a case to Amnesty International or United Nations human rights representatives. This has all happened before, he said. We need more than ‘click’ activism on social media. We need to be out on the streets with our demands for justice for West Papua. How can you do this? Solidarity means standing against British interests in West Papua and British support for the Indonesian regime. Rio Tinto has its headquarters in London, British Petroleum is a key investor, Australia trains the Indonesian armed forces. Together we must condemn the human and environmental violence of these companies as the agents of imperialism.
One thing you can be sure of: the struggle for independence will continue. West Papua freedom fighters in the rainforest are the root of the West Papuan struggle, supported by a growing movement in the towns. [Revolutionarycommunist.org/Westpapuanews.Org]