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Analysis

West Papua – Crushing Freedom for Profit

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Leader of the UK’s Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn – telegraph.co.uk

Leader of the UK’s Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn – telegraph.co.uk

By : Simon Wood

LEADER of the UK’s Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn last month drew attention to the long-suffering and ignored people of West Papua, stating that ‘recognition of human rights and justice should be the “cornerstone” of the UK Labour party’s foreign policy’.  He was addressing a group of international ministers and activists, including West Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda.  The Indonesian embassy in Australia released a statement dismissing the meeting as a publicity stunt organised by a “small group of Papua separatists and sympathisers”.

Declassified documents published in 2004 by the National Security Archive ‘detail United States support for Indonesia’s heavy-handed takeover of West Papua despite overwhelming Papuan opposition and United Nations requirements for genuine self-determination’.

When Indonesia gained its independence from the Netherlands in 1949, the Dutch government retained control over the territory of West New Guinea. From 1949 until 1961 the Indonesian government sought to “recover” West New Guinea (later known as West Irian or West Papua), arguing that the territory, a part of the former Netherlands East Indies, rightfully belonged with Indonesia.
            
In late 1961, after repeated and unsuccessful attempts to secure its goals through the United Nations, Indonesia’s President Sukarno declared a military mobilization and threatened to invade West New Guinea and annex it by force. The Kennedy administration, fearing that U.S. opposition to Indonesian demands might push the country toward Communism, sponsored talks between the Netherlands and Indonesia in the spring of 1962. Negotiations took place under the shadow of ongoing Indonesian military incursions into West New Guinea and the threat of an Indonesian invasion.

The U.S.-sponsored talks led to the August 1962 New York Agreement, which awarded Indonesia control of West New Guinea (which it promptly renamed West Irian) after a brief transitional period overseen by the UN. The agreement obligated Jakarta to conduct an election on self-determination with UN assistance no later than 1969. Once in control, however, Indonesia quickly moved to repress political dissent by groups demanding outright independence for the territory.

U.S. officials understood at the outset that Indonesia would never allow West Irian to become independent and that it was unlikely to ever allow a meaningful act of self-determination to take place. The Johnson and Nixon administrations were equally reluctant to challenge Indonesian control over West Irian, especially after the conservative anti-Communist regime of General Suharto took over in 1966 following an abortive coup attempt which led to the slaughter of an estimated 500,000 alleged Communists. Suharto quickly moved to liberalize the Indonesian economy and open it to the West, passing a new foreign investment law in late 1967. The first company to take advantage of the law was the American mining company Freeport Sulphur, which gained concessions to vast tracts of land in West Irian containing gold and copper reserves.

Over six weeks from July to August 1969, U.N. officials conducted the so-called “Act of Free Choice.” Under the articles of the New York Agreement (Article 18) all adult Papuans had the right to participate in an act of self-determination to be carried out in accordance with international practice. Instead, Indonesian authorities selected [1025] West Papuans to vote publicly and unanimously in favor of integration with Indonesia.

The ‘Act of Free Choice’, now habitually referred to as the ‘Act of No Choice’ by Papuan independence advocates, was a farce from beginning to end.   The suggestion that almost a million people who had already prepared a flag and an anthem for their imminent independence would unanimously vote for foreign control is derisory.

From New Internationalist:

One of the few journalists there at the time (the world’s media was focused on Indochina), Hugh Lunn, has written an account which records Papuans’ heartfelt and ignored pleas to the outside world. On arriving at his hotel he found a letter soaked in blood which said Indonesia was killing dissenting Papuans. Then a Papuan who came into his room supposedly to repair a light mimed himself being shot in the back of the head while another pretended to be handcuffed. UN staff who spoke to Lunn off-the-record had all experienced but not publicized similar creative requests for international support.

Australia also ignored such pleas. At the request of Indonesia, it arrested two pro-independence activists when they entered Australian-administered Papua New Guinea. They carried testimonies from Papuans calling for independence and for the UN to abandon the Act of Free Choice. These were never delivered – instead the activists were put in jail.

A statement prepared by the US Embassy in Jakarta and presented to Australia before the UN-supervised vote says: ‘Personal political views of the UN team are… 95 per cent of Irianese (West Papuans) support the independence movement and that the Act of Free Choice is a mockery.’

This new evidence confirms that the UN, Australia and the US all knew that the Act of Free Choice was actually what Papuans call the ‘Act of No Choice’. The duplicity is incomprehensible to most Papuans – the UN had embraced many new nations; the US, in its anti-Communist crusade, avowed support for freedom and Australia followed suit. But all these promises and pronouncements were void when it came to their own oppression.

After West Papua was officially proclaimed Indonesian, the small rebel group, Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM or Free Papua Movement) although armed only with bows, arrows and spears, provided the Indonesian military with a rationale to clamp down on the province. An estimated 60,000 troops were deployed. From 1967 to 1972 the military violence is estimated to have caused between 30,000 and 100,000 Papuan deaths. Then, in the late 1970s, a series of ceremonies raising the West Papuan flag in the Highlands resulted in the military bombing and strafing of whole villages, killing at least 1,000 people and causing at least 5,000 to flee and hide out in the forest.

General Amir Machmud addressing a meeting prior to the the ‘Act of Free Choice’, now habitually referred to as the ‘Act of No Choice’ by Papuan independence advocates - Supplied

General Amir Machmud addressing a meeting prior to the the ‘Act of Free Choice’, now habitually referred to as the ‘Act of No Choice’ by Papuan independence advocates – Supplied

To the lasting shame of the United Nations, not only did it knowingly permit this travesty, but its official stance on the Act of Free Choice remains unchanged, making a mockery of its own charter and the idea that it is independent of the influence of powerful nations.

What could explain this turning of a blind eye by the UN?  In an astounding coincidence, the largest gold mine and third largest copper mine in the world is located in this region.  The Grasberg mine is 90.64% owned by the US mining company, Freeport McMoRan (formerly the Texas Freeport Sulphur Company).  By the mid-1980s, with the original mine largely depleted, Freeport explored for other deposits in the area, identifying in 1988 reserves valued at $40 billion at Grasberg just 3 kilometres from the Ertsberg mine.  A 2003–2006 boom caused by extra consumption of copper for Asian electrical infrastructure caused prices to increase from around $1500/ton to $8100/ton, greatly increasing the profitability of the mine.

[As a noteworthy aside, in his book The Trial of Henry Kissinger, Christopher Hitchens wrote:

In 1989 Freeport-McMoRan paid Kissinger Associates a retainer of $200,000 and fees of $600,000, not to mention a promise of a 2% commission on future earnings.  Freeport-McMoRan also made [Henry] Kissinger a member of its board of directors, at an annual salary of at least $30,000.]

Environmental groups are concerned with the potential for copper contamination and acid mine drainage from the mine tailings into surrounding river systems and groundwater.   Concerns are such that both Freeport and its partner Rio Tinto were excluded from the investment portfolio of The Government Pension Fund of Norway, the world’s second-largest pension fund, due to criticism over the environmental damage caused by the Grasberg mine. Stocks at a value of US$870 million were divested from the fund as a result of the decisions.

According to the Free West Papua campaign, ‘Freeport is Indonesia’s biggest taxpayer, making billions of dollars for the Indonesian government every year.  The company reportedly pays the Indonesian military around $3 million every year in “protection money”, ensuring that local West Papuans are kept out of the area.  The mine reportedly pumps over 238,000 tonnes of toxic waste into the local river system every day, leading to mass fish deaths and swathes of biologically dead lands’.

Unsurprisingly, the human rights situation is horrific, with numerous incidences of torture, rape and murder:

Many towns and villages have witnessed wholesale massacres of their people. One such example was the ‘Biak Massacre’ in 1998, where over 200 people including women and children were rounded up by the Indonesian military, loaded onto vessels, taken to sea and thrown overboard.  In 2010 the UK’s Channel Four News broadcast a [graphic] report on torture in the region.  In a public report to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in 1999, the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women concluded that the Indonesian security forces used rape “as an instrument of torture and intimidation” in West Papua, and “torture of women detained by the Indonesian security forces was widespread”.

There are currently hundreds of West Papuan political prisoners being held in West Papua and across Indonesia. Many are serving long prison terms for peacefully protesting against Indonesian rule or for being members of organisations calling for West Papuan independence.
Filep Karma is a particular case in point, serving a 15 year jail sentence simply for raising the West Papuan national flag. He is an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience. Conditions in the prisons are often very poor and maltreatment of prisoners is common with many being beaten and tortured while detained. Prisoners have often developed severe health problems and been denied access to medical care.

Many Papuans live in a constant state of fear and intimidation. People living in villages across West Papua can at any time be subject to military sweeping operations.  Under the pretence of looking for insurgents, the military have repeatedly swept through entire rural areas killing arbitrarily and burning whole villages to the ground, destroying subsistence food crops and livestock and forcing people to flee into the forests where they are prone to starvation and disease.

West Papua is currently off limits to international journalists. If discovered without permission they are arrested and deported by the Indonesian authorities. Some have even been attacked and imprisoned.

The ongoing tragedy in West Papua is just one more example out of thousands where human welfare is trumped every time by economic, financial and/or geopolitical interests, where the widespread torture, rape and murder of locals are merely PR obstacles.  This is an inevitable consequence of the pursuit of profit, the fundamental principle behind capitalism; a system that is antithetical to preservation of the environment and human rights. (*)

The author is writer with a particular focus on human rights, corporate media criticism and democracy.

 

 

Analysis

Activists fear Indian proposal for coal reserves in Indonesian-ruled Papua

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Forest clearance and plantation development in PT Megakarya Jaya Raya (PT MJR) palm oil concession in Papua. The region is home to the world’s third-largest rainforest, but is facing intense pressure due to the logging, palm oil and mining industries. Image: Ulet Infansasti/Greenpeace

By Febriana Firdaus in Jakarta

As it seeks to diversify its sources of fuel, India is looking to get in on the ground floor of coal mining in previously unexploited deposits in Indonesian-ruled Papua.

In exchange for technical support and financing for geological surveys, officials say India is pushing for special privileges, including no-bid contracts on any resulting concessions a prospect that could run foul of Indonesia’s anti-corruption laws.

The details of an Indian mining project in Papua are still being negotiated, but Indonesia’s energy ministry welcomes the prospect as part of a greater drive to explore energy resources in the country’s easternmost provinces.

In future, the ministry hopes mining for coking coal will support the domestic steel industry, while also bringing economic benefits to locals.

Rights activists, however, fear the launch of a new mining industry could deepen tensions in a region where existing extractive projects have damaged the environment and inflamed a long-running armed conflict.

Indonesia’s new coal frontier

When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Jakarta last month, joint efforts to extract and process Indonesia’s fossil fuels, including coal, were on the agenda.

India’s interest in investing in a new coking coal mining concession in Papua can be traced to 2017, when officials from the Central Mine Planning and Design Institute (CMPDI) and Central Institute of Mining and Fuel Research (CIMFR), both Indian government institutes, met with Indonesia’s Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources in Jakarta.

The bilateral plan was announced by then-ministry spokesman Sujatmiko after the first India Indonesia Energy Forum held in Jakarta in April 2017. “The focus is on new territories in Papua,” he said.

To follow up, the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources sent a team to India in early May. The current energy ministry spokesman, Agung Pribadi, who was part of the delegation, told Mongabay that officials from state-owned energy giant Pertamina, major coal miner PT Adaro Energy, and state-owned electricity firm PLN also joined the meeting.

The Indonesian team presented research outlining the potential for mining high-caloric content coal in West Papua province, and lower-caloric coal in Papua province.

According to the team’s report, only 9.3 million tons of reserves have so far been identified. By contrast, Indonesia as a whole expects to export 371 million tons of coal this year. However, the true extent of coal deposits could be larger, said Rita Susilawati, who prepared the report presented during the meeting and is head of coal at the ministry’s Mineral, Coal and Geothermal Resources Centre. “Some areas in Papua are hard to reach due to the lack of infrastructure. We were unable to continue the research,” she explained.

During the visit, Indian and Indonesian officials discussed conducting a geological survey in Papua, Agung said. India would finance the survey using its national budget. With Indonesian President Joko Widodo prioritising infrastructure investment, the energy ministry has few resources to conduct such surveys.

Expected privileges

Indonesia also anticipates benefiting and learning from India’s experience in processing coking coal.

In exchange, India expected privileges from the Indonesian government, including the right to secure the project without a bidding process, Agung said.

Indonesia denied the request, and the talks were put on hold. Approving it would have been too risky, Agung said, since the bidding process is regulated in Indonesia. “We recommend they follow the bidding process or cooperate with a state-owned enterprise,” Agung said.

India’s ministry of coal did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

Energy and mining law expert Bisman Bakhtiar said there was still a chance India could get the rights to develop any resulting coal concessions without having to go through an open bidding process. “It can proceed under the G-to-G (government-to-government) scheme by signing a bilateral agreement,” he said.

This form of agreement would supersede the ministerial regulations requiring competitive bidding, Bisman explained, although he said any such agreements should emphasise that any projects must be carried out according to local laws.

There is precedent in Indonesia for G-to-G schemes bypassing the open bidding process, Bisman said. For example, multiple projects have been carried out on the basis of cooperation agreements with the World Bank and Australia. In another instance, Indonesian media mogul Surya Paloh imported crude oil from Angola via a bilateral cooperation agreement with Angola’s state-owned oil company Sonangol.

Draft law

A draft law currently being discussed in the House of Representatives could also smooth the path for India. It says that if there is agreement between Indonesia and a foreign government to conduct geological studies, the country involved will get priority for the contract.

However, this would still require the country to meet market prices. “We called it ‘right to match.’ If there are other parties who offer lower prices, then they should follow that price,” Bisman said.

Another option would be for India to appoint one of its local companies to work with Indonesian private sector giant Adaro or state-owned coal miner PT Bukit Asam. Such a deal could be conducted as a business-to-business (B-to-B) agreement, and would be legal according to Indonesia’s Energy Law.

Or, Indonesia could assign a state-owned firm like Bukit Asam to work with India based on a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed by both countries.

“But all these options have a potential risk,” Agung said. “They can be categorised as collusion by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).” He said a conventional bidding process should be prioritised.

Bisman said India needed to consider other risks, such as the social and political situation in Papua. The region is home to an armed pro-independence movement and has faced decades of conflict around the world’s largest and most profitable gold and copper mine, Grasberg, owned by US-based Freeport McMoRan.

‘Land grab’

Despite the presence of the mine, Papua remains Indonesia’s poorest province, with some of the worst literacy and infant mortality rates in Asia. Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), a state-funded body, has characterised Freeport’s concession as a “land grab,” for which the original stewards of the land, the Amungme and Kamoro indigenous people, were never properly consulted or compensated.

The Indonesian energy ministry’s own research says that any project must take into account the impact on Papua’s indigenous peoples, and must factor in specific local concepts of land ownership, leadership and livelihood.

Franky Samperante, executive director of rights advocacy group Yayasan Pusaka, said he was worried about the plan. “It is way too risky,” he said, pointing to the social and environmental fallout of the Grasberg mine.

“There should be communication between the mining company and indigenous Papuans,” he said, warning Jakarta to carefully calculate the social, environmental and national security impacts.

Local indigenous people need to be meaningfully involved in the decision-making process, he said, especially since the mining would occur in and near forests where indigenous people live and gather and hunt their food. (*)

 

Source: asiapacificreport.nz

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Analysis

Grasberg’s waste management, has “always been controversial” : Freeport’s CEO

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Freeport-McMoRan Inc. dumps tens of millions of tons of mining waste into the Ajkwa River system – PUSAKA

Jayapura, Jubi – Every year, Freeport-McMoRan Inc. dumps tens of millions of tons of mining waste into the Ajkwa River system in Indonesia. The company has been doing it for decades, and is demanding the right to keep at it for decades to come.

The discharge of what are called tailings, the leftovers of mineral extraction, is perfectly legal under Freeport’s current contract with the government. But recently, after more than a year of tense negotiations over the terms of a new deal, Indonesia suddenly changed the rules: The Grasberg mine in the highlands of Papua province would have to operate by heightened standards. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, really, considering most every other miner in the world has been forced or has elected to stop discarding tailings in rivers.

Freeport, though, has said that won’t happen at Grasberg. Chief Executive Officer Richard Adkerson has been blunt about it. “You can’t put the genie back in the bottle,” he said in April. “You simply can’t say 20 years later ‘we’re going to change the whole structure’.” Grasberg’s waste management, he added, has “always been controversial.”

The tailings tussle is the latest twist in the complicated relationship between the mining giant and the Southeast Asian republic. How it plays out will have far-reaching consequences in Indonesia. Freeport is a major taxpayer and job provider and has built homes, schools and hospitals in one of the poorest provinces. But Grasberg has also long been a target for environmentalists, indigenous and separatist groups and human-rights watchdogs.

At stake for Freeport are reserves that Bloomberg Intelligence estimates to be worth $14 billion at the world’s biggest gold deposit and second-largest copper mine. Grasberg accounted for 47 percent of Freeport’s operating income in 2017, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“What happens at Grasberg has global significance,” said Payal Sampat, the mining program director at the mining watchdog-group Earthworks. “It involves some of the largest global players in the mining industry and one of the leading mining economies.”

Most countries have banned tailings deposits in waterways over concerns they can be toxic, destroying habitats, suffocating vegetation and changing the topography of rivers, causing floods. Most miners have said they’re against the practice regardless of local rules. The industry’s biggest, BHP Billiton Ltd., won’t “dispose of mined waste rock or tailings into a river or marine environment,” as the company put it in a statement.

READ ALSO Story Map : Enam pelanggaran lingkungan yang dilakukan Freeport

‘Environmental Burden’

Only two other industrial-scale mines — and a third, small operation — are known to get rid of tailings as Grasberg does, and they’re in Papua New Guinea, which occupies half of the island of New Guinea; Indonesia owns the rest, which is home to the Freeport-run mine. In recognition of risks that could leave “a massive environmental burden for future generations,” the practice has been phased out everywhere else, according to the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization.

Jubi/Albertus Vembrianto

Freeport sees things differently. “As we have stated before, the tailings are benign,” said Eric E. Kinneberg, a spokesman, referring to the corporate website for a detailed explanation.

The Phoenix-based company maintains that much of the sediment in the Ajkwa River system downstream from Grasberg is caused by natural erosion, and that tailings pose no significant — or at least unexpected — threats. “There have been no human health issues or impact on the environment that wasn’t anticipated,” Adkerson said on a quarterly earnings call in April.

The company’s partner in the Grasberg complex, Rio Tinto Group, recently addressed concerns about waste removal. “Riverine tailings disposal is very, very far from best practice,” Chairman Simon Thompson told a meeting in London in April, perhaps highlighting one of the reasons Rio may be willing to sell its 40 percent interest to a state-owned company for $3.5 billion. A spokesman for the company declined to comment for this story.

Rio declined 1.4 percent in Sydney trading, as an index of the country’s largest energy and mining companies fell 1.2 percent.

‘No Realistic Alternative’

“If you think about it from Rio Tinto’s perspective, one of the biggest problems with this mine is the environmental issues. I think that’s an incentive for Rio to get out,” said Christopher LaFemina, an analyst at Jefferies LLC. “This is a critically important part of Freeport’s overall value. For Rio Tinto, it’s not.”

The problem for Freeport and Indonesia is that there’s no easy solution. “There has been no realistic alternative identified,” Thompson said. Freeport’s local unit studied 14 alternatives for tailings disposal — including dams and pipelines — and concluded all were too risky in a mountainous terrain prone to earthquakes and heavy rainfall.

As it is, the heavy ooze wends its way through glacier-capped valleys, descending almost 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) to tropical lowlands and a 230 square kilometer deposition zone, where roughly half the tailings are parked. The rest flows on to a river estuary and the Arafura Sea.

“The company has sacrificed not just the river, but also the coastal area,” said Pius Ginting, coordinator of Action for Ecology and People’s Emancipation, an Indonesian environmental group.

50 Million Tons

According to Earthworks, Freeport sends more than 76 million metric tons of tailings and waste rock into Indonesian rivers every year. The company puts the 2017 figure at 50 million tons. Without spelling out precisely how the requirement should be met, Indonesia told Freeport that it would boost to 95 percent from half the amount of tailings that must be recovered from the river system, according to Adkerson.

That was a shock that sent Freeport’s stock tumbling after Adkerson revealed it on April 24. Shares have largely recovered as investors bet the government will fail to follow through.

The negotiations to secure the right to keep mining Grasberg until 2041 had already been complicated by an edict that foreign miners sell majority stakes in their assets to local interests. Rio’s apparent interest in divesting would ease that problem for Freeport, reducing how much it would need to unload.

Stunning Asset

POTAGER.ORG

Even if its share dropped below 50 percent, Freeport as an operator could still win big — Grasberg is a stunning asset, expected to produce more than 520,000 tons of copper in 2018 and more gold than any other mine. Of course, Indonesia’s tailings mandate may be a negotiating tactic, as some Freeport investors said they suspect. Ilyas Asaad, inspector general at Indonesia’s Environment & Forestry Ministry, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The company is holding its position: The discharge of tailings into the river system is an inescapable consequence of keeping the mine in operation. If the government backs down, it will be “a political decision,” said David Chambers, a geophysicist who runs the U.S. nonprofit Center for Science in Public Participation. “There aren’t many governments that are willing to sacrifice those kinds of environmental resources for the financial resources.”

Few investors have publicly seized on the tailings mess as a reason to shun Freeport. One was Norway’s $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund, which in 2006 excluded Freeport from its investment universe and in 2008 sold its holding of about $850 million of Rio shares, citing Grasberg’s use of the river system to dispose of tailings.

“The spotlight has shone on these issues a lot more brightly in the last couple of years,” said Andrew Preston, head of corporate governance in Australia for Aberdeen Standard Investments, which owns shares in Rio and BHP. The “wake-up call,” Preston said, was the 2015 failure of a tailings dam at BHP’s Samarco iron-ore joint venture with Vale SA in Brazil. Billions of gallons of sludge escaped to travel hundreds of kilometers down the Doce river, killing at least 19 people and leaving hundreds homeless.

Jefferies’ LaFemina said investors are betting on the status quo in Indonesia. “In negotiations, different sides are trying to get leverage.” In the end, “I am not expecting there to be a significant change to how this asset operates.”

By Danielle Bochove and David Stringer

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Analysis

Indonesia cracks down on peaceful independence movement in Papua

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By Joe Cochrane

Jakarta, Indonesia – Yanto Awerkion knew quite well that he would infuriate the local Indonesian authorities for organizing a meeting to discuss a petition for an independence referendum in the strife-torn Papua region — but he did it anyway.

“I was exercising my right to free speech,” said Mr. Awerkion, a senior official of the West Papua National Committee, a pro-independence organization, who said his ensuing arrest on accusations of treason was the third time he had faced charges for his political beliefs.

Yanto Awerkion when jailed last year – Supplied

The local police, however, did not see the case as a free-speech issue. He was arrested after the gathering in his hometown Timika, where he is vice chairman of the local branch of the independence committee, in May last year on charges of trying to overthrow the state. He was jailed for 10 months.

At his trial this March, Mr. Awerkion, 28, was convicted of treason under an archaic Dutch colonial law, but released on Easter Sunday for time served.

“During the trial, there was no proof I was involved in treason,” he said in a telephone interview after his release. “And I wasn’t. As a member of the young generation, I have to fight against injustices.”

Comparatively speaking, Mr. Awerkion got off lightly. At least three Papuans considered as political prisoners by human rights groups are serving lengthy prison sentences for promoting independence from Indonesia or raising the separatist flag of the armed Free Papua Movement in public. Dozens of others supporting the cause have been incarcerated in recent years.

Indonesia, despite its largely successful transition to democracy in 1999 after decades of authoritarian rule, continues to be criticized for the plight of its easternmost region of Papua — split into the provinces of Papua and West Papua. Despite being some of Southeast Asia’s richest regions in terms of natural resources, the two provinces remain among the country’s poorest.

Human rights groups have reported a long list of official abuses there, in the name of fighting a small, armed separatist movement. They include arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings, official corruption, rigged local elections, and police and military personnel who use abusive tactics.

“They are using colonial laws to arrest people in modern, democratic Indonesia,” said Calum Hyslop, an Australian who is a longtime political observer of the Papua region. “They fail to understand the difference between freedom of speech and real acts of armed separatism.”

Indonesia’s Papua region lies on the western side of New Guinea Island, the eastern side being the nation of Papua New Guinea.

United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) leaders (L to R), Octovianus Mote, Benny Wenda and Rex Rex Rumakiek – Jubi

Indonesia annexed the former Dutch-controlled region in 1963, and took sovereignty after the 1969 Act of Free Choice, a vote on whether to remain part of Indonesia. Opponents say the voting was rigged, as only handpicked representatives were allowed to vote, rather than the entire population. There has been a small-scale armed rebellion ever since, most notably by the Free Papua Movement.

Mr. Awerkion’s organization, the West Papua National Committee, is not armed and is a nongovernmental organization supporting a referendum on Papua’s future.

Over the decades, the Indonesian government’s human rights record in the Papua region, formally known as Irian Jaya, has drawn widespread criticism. Pro-independence activists have been tortured, murdered or have gone missing, with no arrests or prosecutions. The recently released United States State Department report on Indonesia said of Papua: “The lack of transparent investigations continued to hamper accountability in a number of past cases involving security forces.”

Development in the region is further cause for concern. Papua Province is home to one of the world’s largest gold and copper mining operations, run by the Indonesian unit of the American mining giant Freeport-McMoRan, and a large natural gas plant in West Papua Province, run by a local unit of BP.

But some of the region’s demographics are comparable to sub-Saharan Africa, according to analysts, with an alarming gap between Papuans who live in coastal areas and those who live in the remote highlands, mostly only accessible by airplane.

Most Papuans live in rural areas, and poverty rates there are the highest in Indonesia, at around 41 percent, compared with only 5 percent in urban areas. Papuans have the highest rates of illiteracy in Indonesia, with around 25 percent of children not in school, and the region has the highest infant, child, and maternal mortality rates in Indonesia, while having the lowest basic child vaccination rates.

“When it comes to broader questions of human rights in Papua, the real violation relates to the complete lack of services in the countryside,” said Bobby Anderson, a researcher with the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. “Things like lack of health care, lack of education, with teachers no-showing at schools.”

Fishermen in West Papua in January. Despite being among Southeast Asia’s richest regions in terms of natural resources, the Papuan provinces are among Indonesia’s poorest.CreditBay Ismoyo/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“Indonesia has a detailed policy for mineral extraction, but they have no real policy for the people of Papua,” he said. “It’s like they’re not even citizens.”

After taking office in 2014, President Joko Widodo of Indonesia promised a new deal for the Papua and West Papua provinces, releasing some so-called political prisoners and promising an ambitious economic program. However, his own government has continued to enforce restrictions on foreign journalists visiting there.

The Papua region continues to be troubled. The Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, a Jakarta-based research organization, while noting that Mr. Joko had given more attention to the region than his predecessors, said in an October report, “Conflict there — among clans, between indigenous Papuans and migrants, between pro-independence groups and the state — remains high.”

Amnesty International has labeled three Papuans serving prison sentences as “prisoners of conscience,” but notes that hundreds of other human rights and pro-independence activists are routinely arrested and briefly detained, including more than 40 members of Mr. Awerkion’s organization just last month.

Papuans Behind Bars, a separate nongovernmental organization, has documented more than 40 people sentenced to various terms in prison under the treason law.

Usman Hamid, director of Amnesty International Indonesia, said that the Indonesian government’s “focus on development and putting aside human rights in Papua is a wrong approach to deal with the complexity of problems.”

Earlier this month, just after Mr. Awerkion was released, the website of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, the main international partner of Mr. Awerkion’s group, was hacked, as were the websites of other pro-referendum Papuan organizations. They say a state-sponsored actor was likely behind the hacking attacks.

For his part, Mr. Awerkion is not letting his jail time affect his independence cause, saying a fourth arrest would mean nothing to him.

“Please tell all the people out there to keep a watch on the Papua issue,” he said. (*)

This article appears in nytimes.com on June 3, 2018, with the headline: Indonesia Clamps Down on Simmering Independence Effort in Papua

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