In Malang, Indonesia, on April 7, police forces cracked down heavily on demonstrators protesting against the mining company PT Freeport, in support of the right to self-determination of West Papuans, and campaigning for boycott of the upcoming national elections.
Eyewitness reports and videos captured on mobiles show that police in plainclothes used force against peacefully demonstrating students, and even beat them up. The demonstrators consisted of members of the Papuan Student Alliance, as well as Indonesian students. They were forcibly dispersed, and later transported using a police truck to almost outside the city limits. The students were demanding a free and fair referendum to be held in West Papua in line with the United Nations’ guarantee to all nations of a right to self-determination.
The students were also demanding closing of operations of PT Freeport. April 7th, the day the demonstrations were being carried out, marks the 57th year of the signing of the Freeport-McRoRan deal in 1967. This deal was signed two years before the 1969 fraudulent referendum in West Papua, and led to the Indonesian government giving away mining rights of Papuan resources to the US giant Freeport-McRoRan.
The referendum held in 1969, known as the Act of Free Choice, was rejected by the people of West Papua. The Indonesian military was in charge of carrying out the vote and handpicked 1,026 representatives out a population of 1 million in West Papua. These few were forced to vote against the West Papua’s independence from Indonesia.
People of West Papua have since then been resisting and fighting the Indonesian occupation of their lands, demanding a free and fair vote to decide their fate. With the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections, the movement for the freedom of West Papua is campaigning more vigorously, and is also calling for a boycott of the elections.
Freeport operations and displacement of indigenous peoples
The closing of the Freeport company’s operations was also a central demand of the mobilization. The company has taken over huge tracts of land, leading to the displacement of indigenous peoples. It has also caused widespread destruction of the environment as it refuses to adhere to established environmental regulations, and has not been penalised for its actions due to the company’s political and financial clout. The pervasive pollution of the lands and rivers has had a severe impact on the livelihoods of the Papuan tribal people.
The colour of the Aikwa river has turned silver due to the tailings from a PT Freeport mine. (Photo: Susan Schulman/The Guardian)
One of the mines owned by Freeport-McRoRan is the Grasberg mine, which has the world’s largest gold reserves. This generates a significant share of the company’s revenues, and also made it the largest taxpayer to the Indonesian government until the recent divestment deal. Despite that, however, the mining giant has been guilty of paying its workers poor wages and mass layoffs.
The protesting students also reported that the police made use of racist slurs against them.
Resisting the repression, the West Papuans and their allies vowed to continue their struggle for rights and freedom. International solidarity protests were organised in in UK, Netherlands, and Australia calling for free and fair referendum in West Papua, and boycott of the coming elections.