AUCKLAND (Asia Pacific Report/Pacific Media Watch): Academics, journalists and students today raised the West Papuan flag – an act banned in Indonesia and punishable by up to 15 years in jail – at a Pacific Media Centre-hosted symposium in Auckland today.
The protest marked the 59th anniversary of the day West Papuans first raised their flag of independence, known as the Morning Star, on 1 December 1961.
Organisers said the symbolic flag-raising was done during the centre’s “highlights and new horizons” symposium at Auckland University of Technology in solidarity with Papuan students studying in New Zealand and in protest against human rights violations by Indonesian security forces.
A human rights advocate at the event, Del Abcede, spoke on behalf of the students at their request, declaring: “I will say the things they cannot say because it puts them at risk”.
She appealed for more support from New Zealand and Pacific countries for the West Papuan self-determination cause.
“I will say the two things that the students cannot say directly themselves without being put at risk over their safety,” she said.
One was about raising the flag or speaking about the jailings. The other was about a petition for independence.
15 year jail sentence
“Filep Karma is a Papuan independence activist. On 1 December 2004 he helped raise the Morning Star flag at a caremony in Jayapura together with other activists. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison,” she said.
“Yusak Pakage, one of the activists was sentenced to 10 years. Pakage was released in 2010 by presidential pardon.
“But Filipe Karma refused a pardon. He was released on 19 November 2015 after [serving] more than 10 years due to pressure from the international community,” Abcede said.
“In January 2019, West Papuan activists delivered a petition to the United Nations demanding a referendum on West Papuan independence.
“The position of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) is clear – it advocates the right to self-determination through an independence referendum, not Indonesian-controlled ‘autonomy’.”
In solidarity with the Papuan students, about 50 academics and media people held the flag aloft and sang two traditional songs.
The symposium delivered presentations on a wide range of topics from the future of journalism research methodologies to documentary and journalism collaboration, project journalism in the Asia-Pacific Region, and media diversity and publication.
Speakers praised the Stuff news portal that this week published an apology for 163 years of biased reporting on Māori issues, with centre director Professor David Robie describing the “courageous” move as a “game-changer’ on media and race relations.
The centre publishes Asia Pacific Report, Pacific Media Watch and PMC Online online news platforms, and also the 26-year-old Pacific Journalism Review.
Protest outside NZ Parliament
In Wellington, dozens of people demonstrated in support of West Papuan independence outside New Zealand’s parliament, reports RNZ Pacific’s Johnny Blades.
New Zealand Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson and several other MPs attended the demostration in Wellington.
They spoke to a crowd of more than 50, saying the denial of Papuans’ right to self-determination was a Pacific regional problem.
Papua’s 1 December anniversary is marked by similar demonstrations around the world, including in Melbourne, Oxford, Honiara and The Hague.