Before gaining independence in 1999, East Timor endured 24 years of brutal suffering under Indonesian occupation. Are we aware, do we care that this is today being repeated in West Papua?
Just 200km from Australia, the western half of New Guinea island, formerly Irian Jaya, West Papua also wants freedom from Indonesia, but is being violently oppressed.
My son Saul Dalton was detained for six months in this remote province, inadvertently caught up in both independence struggles.
A a young graduate, Saul went as a UN-sponsored witness to the referendum in East Timor. Proud of him for his social conscience, unusual among his materialistic Gen X cohort, I was also concerned. Massacre was predicted if the vote went against Indonesia retaining East Timor.
A violent bloodbath did ensue. Saul hopped onto an inter-island ferry to escape trouble. Or so he thought. Ten days later he landed up in Irian Jaya. Out of the frying pan into the fire. John Howard had just sent Australian-led troops into Timor to quell the slaughter.
Indonesia hated Australia for this intervention, for their loss of face. Saul was arrested on boarding a short flight back to Darwin. At midnight, driven into dark remote jungle, he was sure this was where his life would end.
Indonesian foreign minister Ali Alatas gloated next day to his Australian counterpart Alexander Downer at a New York UN meeting: ‘We are holding one of your countrymen’.
I went to try to get him out. From Byron paradise plunged into Papua hell. I was told, ‘We do not like your country, we will not help your son. We have photographed him in Darwin wearing a Falintil [the ET resistance movement] t-shirt demonstrating against the Republic of Indonesia.’
My naive plea, ‘But we were all supporting East Timor,’ did not help.
Alone, defended only by a police-appointed non-English-speaking lawyer, Saul was put through a drawn-out trial on charges of misusing his visa (endorsed by the Indonesian Consulate in Darwin with ‘Pro-UNAMET’, to assist in the UN mission to East Timor) for espionage, for trying to wrest this province from the Republic of Indonesia – sent moreover by the Australian government!
The Papuan prosecutor told me, ‘I know your son has done nothing. I am being asked to bring these false charges against him as a payback to Australia’. Young Melky Huka, who had helped Saul, died suddenly, mysteriously.
Eventually my son was released. A case of straying into the wrong place at the wrong time. They had not caught a big spymaster, just small fry. Face had been saved.
We were asked to write a statement to General Siagian, head of armed forces of Irian Jaya, to never speak out against the Republic of Indonesia.
Through our long ordeal, the legacy of which is PTSD, we learned about this most remote, secret, sinister place, of its exploited natural beauty and rich resources, its brave, gentle freedom-loving people. I have met human rights lawyers and advocates, tribal and church leaders, musicians, artists – all have lost loved ones, land, and livelihood. But not their spirit.
Saul was held near giant US-owned Freeport, the world’s largest gold and third largest copper mine (200,000 tons of copper ore per day). Freeport’s four per cent royalty is the single largest contribution to Indonesia’s GNP.
It pays millions of dollars to Kopassus, the ‘elite’ Indonesian military unit, to provide security to the mine.
That is also why Saul was arrested: no-one is meant to go there, to reveal what is happening in this last innocent Shangri-la being brutally raped behind closed doors.
I witnessed a kilometres-wide swathe of mining waste descending from the glacier-topped mountain of gold to the sea, decimating rainforest, rivers and villages along its path. Papua’s rainforest, home of exotic birds of paradise, is being destroyed.
In 2004 Yale Law School concluded that genocide is occurring, half a million of West Papua’s people massacred since Indonesia appropriated it in 1969. Australia is complicit in turning a blind eye, and our taxes are paying for Kopassus training.
• Free West Papua activism
An Australian site for human rights in West Papua is at freewestpapua.com.au.