Indonesia: Human Rights and Pro-Independence Actions in Irian Jaya

IV. The Biak Demonstration

Other Sections

Table of Contents
I. Introduction
II. Background to the Demonstration
III. Sorong and Jayapura
IV. The Biak Demonstration
V. Bodies in Biak
VI. Wamena, Jayawijaya VII. Riots in Manokwari
VIII. Arrest of Theys Eluay and the National Dialogue Debate
IX. Appendix: Arrests Since July 1998

From July 2 to July 6, when the military opened fire, the morning star flag flew over the thirty-five-meter-tall water tower near the harbor in Biak town. (Biak is the name of the island, the district, and the district capital.) The demonstration was led by a Jayapura-based provincial government employee named Filip (Philip) "Yopy" Karma. Like others, he had copies of the May 22 letter of the U.S. members of Congress, interpreted it as support for independence, and drafted a declaration of independence accordingly.

The flag appeared on the top of the tower on July 2, at about 5:00 a.m. Some seventy-five people gathered beneath it, shouting freedom slogans, singing songs and dancing traditional dances. Some had painted their faces and arms with the morning star symbol, and as the demonstration continued, many people in the immediate area joined in. The water tower is near both the main taxi terminal and a major market, so the site is one that many people would pass as part of their daily lives. Small boys reportedly guarded the area wearing armbands that said "Satgas [task force] OPM." The demonstration grew to more than 500 people by one account.(6)

Around 9:00 a.m., the district head of Biak, Amandus Mansnembra, together with the district military and police commanders, came, in the words of the military commander, "to give guidance and direction" to the demonstrators, but they "did not want to listen."(7) Instead, they held an open forum as part of their protest. Yopy Karma appeared as one of the speakers to voice the aspirations of the people of Biak and demand independence for the people of West Papua. Among other things, he read out the following oath:

1. We, the people of West Papua, pledge to stay united, no matter what the circumstances, under the flag of West Papua and the eastern morning star and pledge to live and die for the flag of West Papua which has already flown over an independent Papuan land.

2. We, the people of West Papua, pledge to continue our struggle to demand our right to independence and the freedom of all West Papuan prisoners and detainees held by the government of Indonesia.

3. We, the people of West Papua, pledge to struggle to uphold the ideal of the independence of West Papua.

4. We, the people of West Papua, demand the implementation of the fourth point of the letter from the American Congress dated May 22, 1998, that is, that the people of Irian Jaya be given full human rights and a solution of their political status (independence).

5. We, the people of West Papua, declare that the Republic of Indonesia cannot interfere in the affairs of West Papua.

6. We, the people of West Papua, ask that our security be guaranteed by the United Nations and by no one else.

7. We, the people of West Papua, ask that the United Nations give full independence to the state of West Papua in accordance with the urging of the American Congress in its letter of May 22, 1998.

8. We, the people of West Papua, will not consider entering into a dialogue with anyone or any party except for the United Nations, and we ask that Secretary General Kofi Annan come here.

9. We, the people of West Papua, will always be loyal to and will support the flag of West Papua.

10. We, the people of West Papua, hereby state that no one can take away our independence.

God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, is witness to this pledge.

Biak, Thursday, July 2, 1998 19:30(8)

About 4:30 p.m., security forces tried to break up the demonstration. When the crowd recognized one intelligence agent there, Police Sergeant Irwan, who they believed had been infiltrated into the crowd to cause trouble, they attacked him, knocking out a few teeth and breaking his leg. This led to a violent clash between the demonstrators and the security forces surrounding them. The latter consisted of a Brimob platoon, a platoon from Infantry Battalion 753, one from KODIM 1702, and one from the Biak navy post. According to a report prepared by local activists, thirteen troops were wounded, nine of them lightly, while two others with serious injuries were airlifted out of Irian Jaya. Eleven of the thirteen wounded were from the Biak police. A military report said twenty-three of the security forces were wounded, seventeen lightly, three seriously, and three critically. The troops were eventually withdrawn around 8:00 p.m.

Economic activity in the area came to a halt because of the demonstrations. Shops and kiosks in the area closed down, and trading in the old market ceased around 5:00 p.m. After about 5:30, the main road in the town of Biak was virtually empty. According to the military report on the incident, the demonstrators had set up blockades around the area, preventing anyone from reaching the harbor. A ship that was supposed to dock at 5:00 p.m., the Dobonsolo, was unable to do so and had to anchor offshore.

Meanwhile, on the same day, on July 2, in the subdistrict of West Biak, eleven village heads were ordered by the subdistrict authorities to call a counterdemonstration at the Numfor district council against the separatist activities of Yopy Karma. The villages represented were Mandenderi, Adadikam, Mamoribo, Sopen, Opuri, Dedifu, Yomdori, Kababur, Warberik, Wasyai, and Andey. The village heads were all told that to ensure that the people of West Biak were not branded as OPM, they had to take part in this action.

Early on July 3, those gathered beneath the water tower began to hear rumors that there was going to be a move to break up the demonstration. The subdistrict authorities, through their meeting with village heads, reportedly secured an agreement that there would be two prongs to the attack. A crowd from West Biak would gather in a housing complex north of the airport and would go by truck to the demonstration site. When they got near the gas pumps in the harbor, they would be let off to attack the demonstrators. Another group would gather in front of the guardpost of the air force in front of the Hotel Sinar Kayu, then would attack from the south. About 5:30 a.m. on July 3, the village heads were taken home to gather up residents to be trucked into Biak, and about 1:00 p.m., seven trucks belonging to the Karya Kencana Harpindo company brought counterdemonstrators into the city. They were given a kind of armband so that if a clash took place with the flag-raisers, the army would know whom to protect. But no attack took place; the counterdemonstrators reportedly chose to act peacefully.

According to the local activists' report, the villagers were given pro-government banners to hold, and some expressed reluctance to take part in the counterdemonstration. According to the military report, 250 people from thirteen villages sought out local military and civilian leaders of their own accord to tell them that they rejected the idea of an independent West Papua, that they did not want a repetition of the bitter experience of years past, and that they wanted nothing more than to work hard and help development the district of Biak.(9) Human rights organizations in Jayapura dismissed the military's account as self-serving.

The pro-independence demonstrators, in the meantime, hearing that they were going to be attacked, had prepared themselves with bamboo spears and molotov cocktails, and cut down trees to block the way into the demonstration area, according to the report from local activists. The head of the district council for Biak, Ayub Sumerta, came and asked Yopy Karma to take down the flag, but before doing so, he reportedly took off his hat to honor it. He then invited the people to come to the district council to discuss their demands, but they wanted to stay to guard the flag.

At 1:00 a.m. on July 4, the local military brought nine village heads together to discuss a strategy for attack, and both the subdistrict head (camat) and the subdistrict military commander told the village heads that each man was responsible for bringing thirty men into the city. He also told them that the district commander's instructions were that each man should bring a weapon of some sort, whether a spear, a knife, or some other sharp object.

At 8:00 a.m., negotiations began between the army and church leaders to try to resolve the situation. As a result, troops were pulled back from around the district health clinic, near the water tower, but the demonstrators refused to leave, saying they would stay until a representative of Kofi Annan came or a representative of the U.S. embassy in Jakarta.

At 2:00 p.m., a Hercules transport plane landed in Biak with troops from the Trikora regional command, the regional command based in Ujung Pandang, Sulawesi, and anti-riot forces from the police mobile brigade. Shortly thereafter, a group of pastors from the Irian Jaya Tabernacle Church (GKII) began further negotiations with the demonstrators, who turned over the molotov cocktails, spears, and other weapons they had amassed for self-defense. They pledged on the Bible, however, to defend the morning star flag to the death.

On July 5, after Sunday services, villagers from West Biak were brought to Yomdori, the subdistrict center, where they stayed overnight before proceeding on to the city to prepare for the attack. The pastors, meanwhile, tried unsuccessfully to convince Yopy Karma to take down the flag.

The long-awaited attack took place at 5:00 a.m. on July 6. Troops from Battalion 733 Pattimura, stationed at the air force base at Manuhua aided local forces, and were reinforced by troops from two warships, a logistics ship called Waigeo and another with a registration number of 108. The troops opened fire from four sides. Witnesses reported that five civilians who were already on the ground prone were deliberately shot. By 9:00 a.m., twenty-one people had been brought to the hospital, one of whom, Ruben Orboi, died about an hour later in the hospital's emergency room; he had been shot in the head. (A month later, his body had still not been turned over to his family.) Soldiers were all over the hospital, and a nurse on duty said her superior was ordered not to say anything about anyone having died. She also told Human Rights Watch that when an army truck drew up to the hospital entrance with some of the wounded, the latter were just pushed off the truck.(10) She said Yopy Karma's brother, Costan, was told to jump off the truck even though his feet and hands were tied. He of course fell to the ground. Although he was barely conscious, soldiers forbade the nurses to untie him, but they did anyway, after pleading with him not to run.(11)

One young man who was in the crowd when the shooting started told Human Rights Watch that the army loaded people on trucks, dead, wounded, and unhurt, and headed for the outskirts of the town. When they reached the jungle, he and ten others were let off the truck, while the remaining wounded and dead were driven on, to where he had no idea. He was then picked up with the other survivors and taken to the navy headquarters, where he was held from July 6 to July 11 and repeatedly kicked and beaten. He was not allowed to contact his family, who assumed he had died, and it was not until he returned home on July 11 that they knew he was alive.(12)

Additional violence followed the shooting, when youths from Sorido, armed with molotov cocktails, set fire to shops owned by immigrants from South Sulawesi in the area of Kampung Baru, about a mile from Kampung Baru. The youths were apparently intending to join the demonstration, but when they saw trucks taking wounded demonstrators to the hospital, they turned on the shops instead.

People living near the water tower were taken to the port area on the day of the attack and were forced to remain there all day. Anyone who complained was beaten, according to one written eyewitness account made available to Human Rights Watch. Of 150 people arrested after the crackdown, nineteen eventually were charged and tried and as of November 30, 1998, were detained at the Biak district prison. Their trials began on October 5 and were continuing at the time this report went to press. All were charged with rebellion, spreading hatred toward the government, and assault, under Articles 106, 154, and 170 respectively of the Indonesian criminal code. (See Appendix I for list.)

In addition, two young men, Paulus Mamoribo and Nico Smas, died shortly after being released from detention, about three weeks after the shootings. The causes of death are not clear, but in neither case was an autopsy conducted. Mamoribo, who had been shot in the hand during the demonstration, died at his home; Nico Smas collapsed and died while walking in the street. At least ten others believed to have taken part in the demonstration never returned home, but a full accounting of the missing has not been possible because of the climate of fear that prevails in Biak as of this writing.

Indonesia: Human Rights and Pro-Independence Actions in Irian Jaya - Table of Contents

6. Tim Advokasi Hak Azasi Manusia untuk Rakyat Irian Jaya, "Laporan Pelanggaran HAM di Biak" (undated report)

7. "Chronology of the Incidents involving Demands of the Security Disturbers Who Call Themselves the Free Papua Movement" (Kronologis KejadianTunutan Gerombolan Pengacau Keamanan Yang Menamakan Dirinya Organisasi Papua Merdeka), memo, date missing, from Fx. Agus Edyono, commander of regional military command 173.

8. The letter was signed "in the name of all the people of West Papua in the name of God our Lord Jesus Christ" by: Filep Yacob Semual Karma, Ayub Bransik, Markus Rumsowek, Inseren Sampari Karma, Djoumunda Costan Karma, Neles Stroyer,Nolbert Rumpaidus,Yoram Madacan, Semuel Sauyas, Simson Karma, Dorus Kararbo,Thitus Komboi, Sonny Mnubefor, Theo Sado, Pius Wakum,Yusuf Miage,Edu Song, Melky Ap, Edith Ap, Beny Y Faknik, Nelson Simbiak, Wellem Manggaprouw, Petrus Wabdaron, Samuel Prawar, Hendrik Wakum, Melkias Arwam, Isak Momoribo, Percilla Mandowen, Frederik Rumbiak, Andreas Marsyom, Niko Smas, Lukas Orboi,Tobias Orboi, Tinike Rumkabu, and Nelinee Bonsapia.

9. Kronologis, p.4

10. Interview in Jayapura, August 15, 1998.

11. Interview in Jayapura, August 15, 1998.

12. Interview in Jayapura, August 16, 1998.