Pacific Media Watch

17 September 2013

WEST PAPUA: Political situation 'on the map' after flotilla mission, says organiser

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People in the town of Manokwari welcomed the sacred water and ashes the Freedom Flotilla awarded West Papuan leaders. Image: West Papua Freedom Flotilla

AUCKLAND (Pacific Media Watch / ABC Radio Australia / West Papua Freedom Flotilla): The West Papua Freedom Flotilla has arrived back in Gove in the Northern Territory of Australia, describing its attempt to get the attention of the region’s Indonesian masters and the world's media, a success.

“We really hope and really feel that this campaign has helped to put West Papua on the map and in people's consciousness and hopefully in the consciousness of Australian politicians and Australian people as well,” spokesperson of the Freedom Flotilla, Izzy Brown, told Radio Australia’s Campbell Cooney.

The flotilla’s flagship The Pog decided on Friday to not attempt entering the West Papuan port city of Merauke as they had received threats the Indonesian military would “take measures” against them.

The flotilla tried on several occasions to get in contact with the Indonesian authorities so that they could enter Merauke, but was unsuccessful.

However, the Freedom Flotilla hailed its mission as a success after two tiny boats managed to evade the military and get to shore in West Papua to hold a cultural ceremony where sacred water and ashes were presented to West Papuan leaders.

The flotilla was led by a group of senior indigenous Australians, and began its trip by road from Lake Eyre in Central Australia to Cairns, then by boat to West Papua.

Its purpose was to raise awareness of ongoing human rights abuses in the Indonesian-ruled region of West Papua.

That purpose put the flotilla members at odds with the Australian government, which told the group personally if they were arrested they would not be given any consular assistance.

‘Nerve racking’
Because of mechanical problems, only one of the flotilla’s three boats, The Pog, attempted the crossing from Thursday Island in northern Queensland to Merauke in West Papua.

Izzy Brown was on board The Pog as it crossed into Indonesian waters at around midnight on Thursday.

“There was just me and Amos on watch. There was quite a few lights. We weren't sure if they were fishing boats or if they were military, so it was a little nerve racking. By the light of day, it was definitely a lot less stressful. We couldn't see any military presence,” she said.

Brown told the flotilla made several attempts to contact Indonesian military representatives located both in Merauke and Jakarta, but when they got through, the Indonesians hung up the phone.

"The Indonesian government and military refused not only our calls to dialogue, but also refuses to sit down for dialogue with West Papuans and find resolution for the issue of West Papua's right to self-determination," Izzy Brown, who was also the co-founder of the flotilla, said, according to the flotilla website.

"We didn't want to sail into a violent confrontation with warships, our mission was to bring the sacred water and ashes as an offering of solidarity with the indigenous people of West Papua, and to bring attention to their struggle, which against all odds we managed to achieve," she added.

Nevertheless, the flotilla may have managed to deliver its message to both Indonesian authorities and the people of West Papua.

“Once we were across the border, we launched a small dinghy with a sail and a tracker and messages for the Indonesian government as well messages for people in Merauke and sent that in their direction,” Brown told Radio Australia.

Secret mission
While both the media and the Indonesian military were focusing on the progress of The Pog, Brown and the other flotilla members devised a plan to reach land by evading the military using two other boats that no one were following.

“A few of us went on a secret mission to another area near the PNG and West Papuan border and met with leaders from the West Papuan movement.”

There, the flotilla members performed the cultural ceremony, and awarded the West Papuan leaders with sacred water and ashes.

Brown said she was pleased to see the media coverage the flotilla received.

“We're really happy to know we did receive global media coverage.

“We also received attention on our website from around the world and we're being followed by hundreds of thousands of people,” she said.

West Papuan celebrations
Meanwhile, there have been celebrations several places in West Papua in support of the Freedom Flotilla.

In Merauke, a planned community event which was to be attended by 17 tribes from around the region was stymied by authorities, according to the flotilla website.

The head of police and five intelligence officers delivered a letter to one of the organisers prohibiting any ceremonies for the reception of the Freedom Flotilla.

Police and intelligence officers stationed themselves around the house of the organiser, preventing it from taking place.

In the town of Fak Fak, an estimated 400-600 people undertook a long march to highlight ongoing human rights abuses against the people of West Papua.

The arrival of the sacred water and ashes, was also celebrated in the town of Manokwari with traditional dances and prayer.

Continued efforts
Brown said the campaign to highlight the political situation in West Papua was not over.

“We're going to continue to try and find support for political prisoners in West Papua.

“We'll be running a campaign to support those who were arrested at the prayer and welcoming ceremony in Sorong and we're going to do more fundraising and campaigning to yeah get the word out about the situation there and keep a close eye on what's happening inside West Papua,” she said.

On August 28, four West Papuan community leaders in Sorong were arrested for treason after they attended a church meeting with prayer and support for the West Papua Freedom Flotilla.

Brown said there are many demonstrations in West Papua “in terms of people rising up and fighting for independence”.

“So we're going to keep a close eye on that and use the attention that we now have to the flotilla to focus that back on what's happening inside West Papua.”

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Extra box

Daniel Drageset

PMW contributing editor 2013

Daniel Drageset is a Norwegian radio journalist who graduated with a Master in Communication Studies degree at AUT University.