By Olivia McCoy
Ryan Phillippe isn’t only a 90’s teen heartthrob, actor, director, and Reese Witherspoon’s ex-husband, he’s also a humanitarian. Recently he’s been active in promoting a new campaigm called Free West Papua. Back in 2014, Phillippe released a video calling out to individuals across the globe, bringing awareness to the tragedies occurring in West Papua.
For nearly 45 years, the West Papuans have been secretly oppressed by the Indonesian military. International reporters and journalists have no access to West Papua, so the native civilian voice has been suppressed by an overbearing military regime.
In 1962, the Indonesian military occupied Papua and then in 1969, West Papua was supposed to get a vote for independence, but the military strong-armed all of the civilians into choosing Indonesian rule by threatening to kill them if they voted otherwise. While Papua New Guinea was able to gain some independence, West Papua has remained oppressed. In present day, arrest, torture, and murder are everyday offenses committed by the Indonesian military.
The human rights abuses against the Papuans are unimaginable. Over 500,000 civilians have been killed. Those who are left live in a constant fear of torture, rape, and intimidation. Freedom of speech is not a basic right that West Papuans are afforded. The West Papuan Flag is used as a symbol for their fight for freedom. As a result, even raising the flag can lead to up to 15 years in jail for West Papuans. Entire villages have been burnt to the ground by the Indonesian army.
There are currently around 10,000 West Papuan refugees living in Papua New Guinea. However, the government refuses to accept them, so they are forced to live hidden in the forests near the border.
Foreign corporations have take advantage of the rich natural resources in West Papua, despite none of the profit going back the West Papuans. Instead, the corporations pay the Indonesian Military fees in order to provide them with protection and allow them to log and mine. As a result of the operations, thousands of West Papuans are forced to leave their homes, with nowhere to go.
Nearly all of the native population of Papuans is Christian, whereas the majority of the Indonesian population is Muslim. While often pegged as a moderate Muslim-majority country, even being called the most tolerant Muslim country by vice president Jusuf Kalla, its behavior against the Christian West Papuans would suggest otherwise.
Charles E. Farhadian, author of Christianity, Islam, and Nationalism in Indonesia, discusses how in the later half of the 20th century, under Indonesian rule, the government initially declared that neither of the major religions, Islam or Christianity, would be allowed to recruit or make an attempt to convert other individual ensuring that the culture did not become dominated by a single religion. However, by 1980, the government began to support many specifically Islamic projects.
This trend only increased as time went on, with the government passing laws that virtually eliminated the possibility of cross-religion marriages. Institutions that were opposed by the Muslim community were shut down, such as a tabloid television station and a national sports lottery.
According to Farhadian, in the 1990’s, the government brought in Muslim teachers, Indonesian military, and began the government-sponsored construction of mosques. These mosques would make announcements of obligatory prayer 5 times a day over loudspeakers. These speakers were also used to make government and military announcements. Television programming only showed Indonesian movies, news, and religious programs. A shift was occurring as the government and Islam began to converge.
In present day, the conversion to Islam is not simply endorsed by the government, but forced upon civilians. In March of 2014, an interview was released of two boys who were tricked into conversion by being offered free education in Jakarta. When the boys arrived at the school however, it was clear what had happened. Upon arrival they were forced to change their names to sound more Muslim and were forbidden from communicating with their families.
While at the school they were forced to convert to Islam, and resistance was met with brutal punishments. The boys related how they were beaten with sticks until they could no longer walk and burned with cigarettes for the smallest infractions. While at the school, the boys were urged to eventually return to West Papua to convert the Christian’s there.
The Free West Papua Campaign began in 2004 by leader Benny Wanda. After hiding in the jungle for many years as a child, Wanda and his family decided to surrender to the Indonesians. He began going to school where the only thing taught was about Indonesia. After graduating and attending university, Wanda got involved in his communities politics, in an effort to make a difference and help protect the West Papuan people. His efforts eventually got him thrown in jail for a crime he never committed where, had he not escaped, he would have likely faced a death sentence. After escaping prison and fleeing to Papua New Guinea, a European NGO group assisted him in traveling to the UK where he now resides with his family.
The Free West Papua Movement seeks to shed light on the genocide being committed against the West Papuans and ultimately give the people of West Papua the freedom to choose their own government and escape the atrocities they are currently forced to live with. Beyond that, evidence from both the laws enacted by the government, and interviews with individuals makes it clear that the Indonesian government doesn’t simply want power over West Papua, but is using military power to try and create a nation of Islam as well. (*)
This article was published by centerforsecuritypolicy.org