Monday, August 22, 2011

The week in review: Independence dreams

Not all Indonesians shared in the joy and gratitude for 66 years of living as an independent and sovereign nation, which was proclaimed by their founding fathers on Aug. 17, 1945.

In his letter, a reader of The Jakarta Post says he refuses to hoist the Red and White flag to commemorate the 66th anniversary of Indonesia’s independence, as he feels he has nothing to celebrate.

Indonesia, he says, has betrayed the dreams of the nation’s founding fathers as evident in the court system that surrenders to those who have money or terrorize judges in the name of religion, massive exploitation of natural resources that benefits corporations and growing public resistance to diversity.

Such discontent has turned into a secessionist movement on the outlying territory of Papua. Amid the festive commemoration of Independence Day across the province, suspected members of the Free Papua Organization (OPM) separatist group intensified attacks this week to either spoil the party or to gain international recognition of their existence.

On Monday evening, a group of gunmen sprayed bullets at and attacked two public minivans outside St. Peter Catholic church in Abe Pantai in the provincial capital of Jayapura. Nobody was injured in the incident, but it was reminiscent of a fatal ambush of a car in Nafri village, also in Jayapura, on Aug. 1, which killed three civilians and a soldier.

Hours before the flag raising ceremony to mark Independence Day on Wednesday, locals discovered an outlawed Morning Star flag hoisted in Tanah Hitam in Abepura district of Jayapura.

Local media reported that gunfights between security troops and suspected rebels erupted in Madi district in Paniai regency later in the evening, but no fatalities were reported. Tension had gripped Paniai since Tuesday, when around 30 people believed to be followers of rebel leader John Yogi held a police officer’s wife hostage in Kamofa district. The woman was released after the police granted the group’s demand for two rifles as a ransom.

The violence occurred despite President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s pledge in his annual State of the Nation Speech that preceded Independence Day on Tuesday to allocate an extra Rp 1 trillion (US$117 million) for infrastructure development in Papua next year.

Human rights groups have repeatedly warned the government of prolonged security threats in Papua unless the root causes of the conflict are thoroughly settled through dialog with all parties in the province rather than pouring in more and more money.

Despite the huge special autonomy fund from exploitation of its rich natural resources, Papua remains one of the most underdeveloped provinces in the country.

The paradox has been exacerbated by rampant corruption, marginalization of local people as a side effect of migration and continuing violence against Papuans, which sadly is not addressed accordingly. In the latest defiance of justice, three soldiers escaped murder charges and were handed light jail sentences last week for disobeying their superior’s order involving torture that killed Papuan Rev. Kinderman Gire in March last year.

Independence from Indonesia has remained a living aspiration in Papua — at least among those who are critical of the government’s approach in dealing with the province’s chronic problems of socio-economic injustice. After a series of rallies calling for a referendum for Papuan independence, Papua Customary Council (DAP) chairman Forkorus Yaboisembut launched on Monday his book that justifies the referendum demand.

The book calls the Act of Free Choice in Papua in 1969 as a move by Indonesia to annex the natural resource-rich territory. Yaboisembut insists that Papuan people declared their independence on Oct. 19, 1961 through a political manifesto signed by the Papua National Committee and the hoisting of a Morning Star flag with approval of the Dutch colonial administration.

It will require a Herculean effort to straighten the history of Papua’s integration into Indonesia, mostly because many of the actors and witnesses of the 1969 event are no longer alive. But even if history is revised, a referendum for Papua is unlikely to happen, as it goes against the Constitution and the international recognition of Indonesia’s sovereignty over Papua.

However, security threats will continue to plague the easternmost province if the government continues to look down on Papua.

A conference facilitated by the Papua Peace Network last month recommended that the government show more respect for the customary rights of Papuans, including the access to natural resources they need to improve their welfare, and bring to court all perpetrators of state violence, either reported or not, in accordance with the people’s sense of justice.

While thousands of criminals, including corruption convicts, received sentence remissions or even automatic releases on Independence Day, graft suspect Muhammad Nazaruddin began his interrogation process for his suspected involvement in graft. The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) estimates Nazaruddin’s cases involve a whopping Rp 6 trillion.

Nazaruddin was wanted not only by the KPK, but also by the public at large, who are now waiting for fulfillment of his promise to prove the involvement of key figures in the ruling Democratic Party in the corruption case.

Contrary to public’s expectations, Nazaruddin, a former Democratic Party treasurer, said after his questioning on Thursday that he would not let the party down and would bear all the responsibility if President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the party’s chief patron, protected his family.

— Dwi Atmanta