A Tale of Two Protests: Hong Kong and West Papua

(TMU Op-Ed) — Media coverage of the protests rocking Hong Kong have not been found wanting.

In a sense, the depiction of the protests and, in particular the crackdown which has been launched in response, has been almost apocalyptic, with the recent development being a warning from Beijing that the “end is coming.”

The underlying narrative is simple and easy to follow. The people of Hong Kong want democracy and the rule of law. Beijing wants to impose its will. Hong Kong: good; China: bad.

All that being said, the media is most likely well justified in exposing this story. Nothing in this article is intended to undermine the legitimate struggle of the people of Hong Kong particularly in light of the extradition issues which gave rise to the protests in the first place. Hell, even a top New Zealand Court found that China’s criminal justice system falls so damn short of expected international standards, that it prevented a murder suspect from being extradited there.

However, it would pay to remind ourselves that Hong Kong is not the only place in the world currently undergoing protests which are met in turn by the draconian use of force. Sometimes, the people doing the quashing in other parts of the world are longstanding allies of powerful western nations, and their actions are swept under the rug or framed in different terms.

One such place is West Papua. Since 1961, reports alleged that at least 500,000 West Papuans have been killed by the Indonesian military, which has long been backed by the United States and regional powerhouses like Australia. In May 2016, a fact-finding mission carried out by the Brisbane Archdiocese’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission warned that West Papua was experiencing a “slow-motion genocide.”

The reasoning behind the prolonging of this conflict, and the reason why it continues to get buried under the rubble of the mainstream media, is due to a combination of money and natural resources. West Papua holds one of the world’s largest gold mines (and third largest copper mine), but is unable to capitalize on its use. The mine is majority-owned by the American mining firm Freeport McMoRan, with reserves worth an estimated $100 billion, making the American-owned company Indonesia’s largest taxpayer.

According to many reputable outlets, just last week, the Indonesian military fired on peaceful demonstrators, killing at least six protestors. Police-backed armed militias stormed West Papuan student dormitories this week, killing at least one student. Indonesia has blacked out the internet across West Papua and Papua, deployed thousands of police and troops; and dozens of Papuans have been arrested.

“Everyone is forbidden from carrying out demonstrations and conveying opinions in public that could give rise to anarchist acts, damage, and burning of public facilities,” a six-point police order said, according to the Guardian.

West Papuans are fighting for their right to self-determination, decolonization and independence. These are ideals that western powers typically flaunt as justifications for getting one’s military involved in say, Venezuela, Iran or anywhere else in the world which is deemed a nuisance to the White House.

It should be clear therefore that the US and the media are not too interested in advancing the agenda of a grassroots struggle for freedom per se, only if the narrative fits the particular agenda of the powers-that-be. Unfortunately, West Papua just doesn’t quite tick the right boxes.

As the Free West Papua Campaign told me last year, “[i]t’s difficult to understand sometimes why West Papua is not in the international news.”

“Many other places in the world are on the international news, but not West Papua,” the campaign told me via email.

“In the history of the world over the last 50 years, West Papua is one of the big injustices with so many people killed, but still today many people have never heard about West Papua. The Indonesian government has always been able to hide what it has done in West Papua, but now, in the internet age, they can no longer hide. Gradually the world is finding out the truth about West Papua. We hope that international media can get to West Papua and help expose the truth.”

By Darius Shahtahmasebi | Creative Commons | TheMindUnleashed.com