Australian consulate in Bali faces questions over asylum claims of Papuan activists

Australian consulate in Bali faces questions over asylum claims of Papuan activists

Activists Rofinus Yanggam, Markus Jerewon, and Yuvensius Goo climbed the wall of the Australian consulate in Bali and took refuge on Sunday morning.Federal politics: full coveragePM avoids Papua ‘visit’ at consulate
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New claims that three Papuan activists who briefly occupied the Australian consulate in Bali had sought refuge or asylum have been denied by the department of Foreign Affairs.

The three men, Rofinus Yanggam, Markus Jerewon, and Yuvensius Goo, climbed a back wall at the consulate in the early hours of Sunday morning and delivered a letter to Australian Consul-General Brett Farmer asking for world leaders attending the APEC meeting to press Indonesia to treat West Papuans better and allow greater freedoms in the troubled province.

The letter also included the line: “We need your help. We seek refuge and plead for our safety.”

The men left the consulate before 7am, but the government is facing calls in Australia for a full explanation about the circumstances after claims they were threatened with arrest.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has said the men left “voluntarily”, but the men themselves claim that Mr Farmer threatened to call in the Indonesian police or military — who would have needed his permission to enter the consulate.

“They told us: ‘We don’t accept you to stay here. If you stay here for five minutes, I will call the Indonesian army to come and take you out’,” Mr Yanggam was reported saying.

“I know that if I am arrested then my life will be over. I will have no control over my life any more. So better to get out now.”

Greens Senator Richard di Natale has pressed for a “clear and detailed” account of events, saying the men had effectively left with “a gun to their heads”.

Fairfax Media has established that several hours after they entered the building, a taxi was called for the men from inside the consulate. Taxi company records show the men were picked up at the consulate at 6.46am and taken to a location in Denpasar, where they were dropped off in the company of two other people.

The taxi driver said their conversation was in a different language and he could not understand it.

Fairfax Media has been unable since to contact the men. Papua activists in Jakarta have told Fairfax the men have switched off their phones because they fear for their safety and the Papuan student organisation in Bali says they do not live locally and it has no knowledge of them or their whereabouts.

In the week leading up to the APEC summit, Papuan students in Bali had complained about a number of visits to their dormitory accommodation by Indonesian intelligence operatives. An article in a student publication, Aliansi Mahasiswa Papua quoted students saying they had been visited by plain-clothes officers asking if they were intending to protest against the APEC meeting.

Melki, the head of the Papuan student dormitory, is quoted saying multiple visits by between two and six intelligence officers at a time had begun on September 15 and that students had found them intimidating.

Indonesia is particularly sensitive about separatist activities and protests in its easternmost provinces. Flying the separatist “Morning Star” flag is banned, about 55 activists are currently imprisoned for political activities. Research has recently emerged suggesting that Indonesia uses torture as a matter of statecraft in West Papua.

However, Australia strongly supports Indonesia’s sovereignty over the province, and Prime Minister Tony Abbott has recently stepped up the rhetoric on this issue, saying he would clamp down hard on any “grandstanding” by protesters against Indonesian control of West Papua. Seven West Papuans recently sought asylum in Australia after arriving by boat to a Torres Strait island but were quickly sent to Papua New Guinea in a move that activists claim may be illegal.

Asked early on Monday about claims that the three men in Bali had sought Australia’s protection or asylum in the consulate, a spokesman for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs said the men “did not ask to be taken to Australia” and reiterated that they had left voluntarily and without threats.

“The Australian government’s position on the Papuan provinces is absolutely clear – we recognise and support Indonesia’s sovereignty,” the statement continued.

“We consistently register with the Indonesia the importance of human rights and the need for access to the Papuan provinces for credible observers, including non-government organisations and the media.

“The human rights situation in the Papuan provinces has improved during President Yudhoyono’s administration but the Indonesian government acknowledges there are still problems that need to be addressed. We don’t intend to allow grandstanding to undermine the relationship.

“In our assessment, the situation in the Papuan Provinces is getting better, not worse.”

With Amilia Rosa

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.