27 Aug 2013

Freedom Flotilla determined despite threats from Indonesian authorities

5:10 pm on 27 August 2013

A group of Australian activists says threats of force by Indonesia have not hindered their determination to make it to Papua's shores.

Their 3-boat convoy with about 20 activists is planning to reach Merauke in southern Papua in the coming weeks.

Its spokesperson, Ruben Blake, says the threats of arrest, force and naval interception are heavy-handed, but is not surprising as Indonesia has gone to great lengths in the past to keep people out of Papua.

He says he is concerned about the safety of those on board.

He told Mary Baines that won't stop them making the journey.

RUBEN BLAKE: The threats from Indonesia of arrest and of naval and airforce inceptions are quite heavy-handed, but at the same time we're not really surprised. Indonesia has gone to great lengths to avoid foreign journalists, NGOs and human rights observers free access to the province, while they've let people in under closely monitored missions. We've seen that Indonesia will go to great lengths to stop international observers entering and that's why the Freedom Flotilla is so committed to actually going there and seeing first-hand the problems that the West Papuans are facing and to bring attention to the fact that there is a blockade of West Papua.

MARY BAINES: Are you concerned at all about those on board's safety when they get there or if they're intercepted?

RB: Yes, we are concerned, and we believe that the foreign minister, Bob Carr, should be more concerned in terms of his statement saying that he won't be offering consular support. These threats that haven't been ruling out the threat of guns or force are really a big concern. People around the world should be concerned about the safety of the people on-board the boats.

MB: Do you actually think they will make it to West Papua shores or will they be intercepted before they can do that?

RB: At the moment the statements we're receiving from the Indonesian military is that they are very keen to be intercepting the boats. They're still determined to make every possible effort to land in West Papua, and we're still very much open to talking to Indonesian officials about how we can arrange a landing in West Papua and a meeting with West Papuan elders and political leaders. This mission doesn't have to be a shame on the Indonesian government for allowing access to a peaceful convoy.

MB: What does the law say in terms of how close the flotilla will get before being intercepted?

RB: The flotilla will be sailing through the Torres Strait, which is Australian water, for most of its journey. And we believe that there should be no interference from the Indonesian navy before they reach the line where we're crossing into Indonesian waters. In terms of the legality of this, we applied for sailing permits to enter Indonesian waters. They were initially granted and then withdrawn. We are saying that the authority to travel and enter into West Papua has also been granted by West Papuan representatives who have issued visas under the authority of their transitional government, and people are travelling on original nations passports issued by Aboriginal elders in Australia. We're calling on Australia and Indonesia and PNG to recognise the sovereign rights of the indigenous peoples of their lands - to grant access to travel and to grant access for a cultural mission.