Image: West Papuan Human Rights Center
Her only crime was transporting 1,500 West Papuan flags from Sorong to Manokwari for the protesters who have risen to condemn Indonesian racism and colonialism against Indigenous people.
A story of bravery and patriotism
Her name is Sister Mandabayan from West Papua – a known face in the ‘Nonviolent Movement’ against colonialism in West Papua. She’d been working with many ‘Human Rights’ groups in West Papua such as the West Papuan National Authority – a leading organization in the ‘Free West Papua campaign’, and the ‘Melanesian Women Solidarity for West Papua’. On 3rd Sept Sister Mandabayan’s love and dedication for the West Papuan freedom cause brought her straight into the arms of Indonesian police at Manokwari airport.
Sister Mandabayan is from Yapen Island but grew up in the city of Sorong, West Papua. She’s an active indigenous West Papuan in the ‘Nonviolent’ struggle for self-determination, and she’s not afraid of standing up for what she believes in, even it it puts her at odd with the Indonesian authority.
Arrest at Manokwari
On September 3rd, 2019, a day after four Australians were arrested and deported from West Papua by the paranoid Indonesian government, Sister Mandabayan made her way to Manokwari to team up with protesters demanding self-determination for West Papua. Flying from Sorong to Manokwari, Mrs. Mandabayan carried with her a bunch of banned items – the most feared items in Indonesia today.
After the plane touched down at Rendani Airport in Manokwari, Sister Mandabayan made her way into terminal where her bags were searched by airport authority. Officers at the airport inspected her bag and found she was carrying a bunch of illegal items – 1500 ‘Morning Star‘ flags. The Indonesian police at the airport hauled her to police vehicles and drove her to the Police Headquarters in Manokwari where she’s currently held.
The Morning Star Flag
In 1961, the Dutch administration in West Papua hoisted the ‘Morning Star’ flag as they prepared to grant West Papua full independence with their own government, legislature and constitution, but that celebration short lived as the newly established Republic of Indonesia wanted control of West Papua and began attacking Dutch forces in West Papua. After a number of failed incursions into West Papua, the Indonesian government turned to the United Nations and lobbied democratic powers to back its claim over West Papua. After a number of negotiations, which West Papuans were not allowed to participate, the Netherlands ceded control of West Papua to the United Nations. (West Papua was called Western New Guinea at the time).
After the UN took over Western New Guinea, the Indonesian government agreed to grant West Papuans the right to vote on the question of ‘self-determination’, but it was simply a sham.
In 1969, the UN handed over the security control of West Papua to Indonesia, followed by the sham election of that year known as the ‘Act of Free Choice’. During that election, 1025 West Papuans – 0.1% of the population of indigenous West Papuans, were handpicked, coached, and in some cases coerced to vote in favor of the integration of West Papuan and Indonesia. The indigenous leaders of West Papua immediately rejected the outcome of that election. To this day, majority of West Papuans refused to accept the result of that election.
For five decades, West Papuans see the ‘Morning Star’ flag as a symbol of hope. To them, it is a reminder of a freedom robbed from them by a foreign government in collusion with the UN. Every time they see that flag, it reminds them of the day when the ‘Morning Star’ flag was hoisted and West Papuan national songs were sang as they prepared for their own government. In other words, the ‘Morning Star’ is their symbol of pride – their national identity.
The Indonesian government knew this, and so, in 2007, they passed the so-called “Regulation 77” prohibiting all cultural symbols of West Papua including the West Papuan flag. That law made it illegal to hoist the flag, wear it, put it on shirts, bags, or clothes etc. Every protester carrying the flag is arrested and charged with conspiracy against the Indonesian government. It is Indonesia’s attempt to destroy the significance of that flag.
Free Sister Mandabayan
It is highly likely that sister Mandayaban knew what she was getting into by a carrying a bag full of ‘Morning Star’ flags to Manokwari. But like many of her fellow West Papuan women on the frontline, she is not scared or easily intimidated. And she’s apparently unafraid of the consequences of her actions!
As of now, we don’t know what this brave woman is going through but we know for a fact that she’s being held and subjected to harsh interrogations. And it is likely she will be brought to court to face charges.
The charges of participating in a protest against Indonesia varied depending on evidence prosecutors gathered, but ‘subversion’ is the most common charge given to protestors who demand self-determination from Indonesia. Thus, we believe she will be charged with ‘subversion’ – the equivalent of ‘treason’ in Indonesian law.
A ‘subversion’ charge carries a maximum of 20 years imprisonment, but depending her history and whether the courts found her to be a serious threat to Indonesian sovereignty, her charges may be lessened. Other mitigating factors may also come into play. We, however, do not know the facts at this point.
Release Sister Mandabayan
We appeal to Indonesia to release her. Sister Mandabayan is not a threat to anyone, not even Indonesia. She’s a loving, kind woman, who feels passionate about the freedom of here people. She, like any other women, deserved to be treated differently. Carrying 1500 small flags isn’t enough to send her to prison for decades or even a few years! It’s absurd to think that the possession of small flags could cost someone’s freedom that way, but its happening in Indonesia.
We urge the Indonesian authority to release her and respect her ‘Civil Rights’, and we ask all West Papuans and friends to pray for her safety and her release.
It’s been a week since Indonesian police locked her up and separated her from her breastfeeding child.
Today she was briefly reunited with her youngest son but its heartbreaking that they didn’t let her breast her baby in somewhere comfortable.Inhumane Indonesian police watched her breastfeed her starving little boy sitting on the bare floor in a dirty cell.
This shocking brutality against women and children shows the magnitude of civilian repression in West Papua by the Indonesian colonial regime.
Indonesia continues to systematically violate fundamental human rights and freedoms of indigenous people in West Papua.
United Nations allowing Indonesia to continue seating at UN Security council and its election to the Security Council is a threat to international justice and silent mockery to those who believe that all humans are equal.
West Papuan mother of three children Sister Mandabayan was imprisoned by the Indonesian police and charged with treason wish attracts up to 15 years in Prison.
Words from Sister Mandabayan
Her visitors found her sitting on the floor behind reinforced bars of her small cell looking out to them and smile. Sister Mandabayan was thrilled to see them, but her visitors would not go up to her because the Indonesian police would not allow them to go beyond two meters. Her ordeal and days in that lonely dark cell appeared to wear her down, but she was cheerful and high in spirit. Her visitors managed to smuggle her hand written letter out of that cell. The letter is addressed to the Women of West Papua and to her three loving children.
The letter (in English):
September 5th, 2019
To all the women wherever you are in West Papua, and to my three lovely children
It’s early morning here and the sun is rising, but I won’t be able to see it sitting in this lonely cell. I am writing from behind these bars because I really miss you my fellow West Papuan women, and my lovely children.
To my children: Your mom loves you: Genghis Khan, Manduhai, and Victor who are in the city of Sorong, faraway from here. It’s been days since I left you. I am detained and placed in this tiny room, behind reinforced bars, and don’t know how long before I can see you again. I miss you my dear Khan; our time together telling stories and laugh. I miss watching you shouting on the top of your voice – “Papua Merdeka” (Free West Papua). I miss you Manduhai! I miss watching you eat breakfast, and how talk about our lovely home, West Papua, which you know very well is not part of Indonesia. It was stolen from us!
To my fellow West Papuan women. I hope you keep speaking and now backing down. To the mothers, let me ask you these questions: Have you taught your children about “Papua Merdeka?” Our mission on this earth is to our children the truth truth. Have you talked to your children about their true identity – who they really are and where they come from, and what happened to our people?
If you haven’t done it yet, please do so now. Teach your children now so that they will grow up with that knowledge. Let’s educate our children. Talk to them while you are in the kitchen cooking, or around the table during dinner time. Even when you do chores like laundry and gardening. Invite them to join and you and talk to them about our people, and what it means to be West Papuan! Even when you are outside your home: Talk to your children wherever you are, or even when meeting friends and neighbors. Don’t be afraid to speak up. It doesn’t matter whether you travel by car or canoe, talk to your children about “Papua Merdeka!” Tell them about their Melanesian identity – their true identity. Teach them to be proud of their identity – their culture, their race, and their homeland! Tell them how our people became part of Indonesia. Tell them that they are Melanesian and West Papuans to the core, and that they were being forced to become Indonesians.
My revolutionary greetings to you all!
To my children, mom will see you again hopefully soon!
With all my love,
Special thanks to West Papuan Human Rights organization.