Guest post by Eben Kirksey, author of Freedom in Entangled Worlds: West Papua and the Architecture of Global Power.
One West Papuan leader, Forkorus Yaboisembut, remains hopeful against all odds. He was detained last October, moments after being elected President during the Papuan People’s Congress, and is among the men who were convicted today for “treason.” Thousands rallied behind him, demanding independence from Indonesia, at this event that was peaceful by all accounts. As the Congress was concluding, the delegates were surrounded by some 500 Indonesian police and military personnel with a cordon of armored cars. Scores of my friends, people who I know from working as a cultural anthropologist in West Papua, were in the crowd. I had a sleepless night as I monitored Facebook and text messages from the other side of the world, following the developments in real time. Markus Haluk, the leader of a Papuan youth group, sent a text message saying “in these next few moments we might see a massacre and a bloodbath.”
Videos circulating on YouTube show Indonesian troops firing assault rifles into a crowd from armored personnel carriers, while others pistol whip and kick delegates. Unarmed civilians desperately tried to clamber into their cars while uniformed police officers and plain clothes thugs beat them. In 1998 I witnessed a massacre in West Papua that killed upwards of 150 civilians, so I feared the worst.