Polish globe-trotter blunders into Indonesia-Papua conflict
JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — To the Indonesian government, the 39-year-old factory worker and globe-trotting Polish traveler is a danger to the state, a man who plotted with shadowy gunmen to foment revolt in isolated eastern jungles.
But to his supporters, Jakub Skrzypski is just an idealistic tourist with no money to his name, a man with an oddball combination of sympathies for right-wing and liberation causes. Even Indonesian police say it’s unlikely Skrzypski could have arranged the arms deal they say he promised to make with rebels.
But Skrzypski, who is charged with treason, still faces up to 20 years in prison if he’s found guilty. His detention was extended by 40 days on Sept. 17 as police prepare their case against him.
He was arrested in Wamena in Papua province in late August along with four Papuans who police said had ammunition and described as linked to “armed criminal groups” — the authorities’ usual description of Papuan independence fighters.
“The true jungle is in Papua, and I’ve been there, among lizards, mosquitoes, leeches” and other stuff, Skrzypski wrote on Facebook while on the second of back-to-back trips to the region in July and August.
The case highlights Indonesia’s extreme sensitivity about the low-level but long-running insurgency in the Papua region, which occupies the western half of the island of New Guinea. Though most nations recognize Indonesia’s sovereignty over the territory, the Papuan independence movement has vocal sympathizers in numerous Pacific island and Western countries.
Indonesia annexed the Dutch-controlled half of the island in 1963 when the Netherlands was preparing indigenous Papuans for self-rule. Decades later, though, large areas of the mountainous jungle territory still remain outside of Jakarta’s control. Police and military personnel are frequently attacked and killed by rebels, while Indonesian security forces have been accused of dozens of unlawful killings in the past decade, including targeted slayings of political activists.
Police say Skrzypski had been in contact for a “long time” with Papuan independence supporters and separatist fighters. They say he planned to publicize their cause on social media and promised to help supply them with weapons.
“We have strong evidence that he was guilty in helping the armed criminal group in Papua,” said the province’s police chief, Martuani Sormin. “No one should disturb the integrity of the Unitary Republic of Indonesia, whether he is a foreigner or local. Anyone who violates the law in this country must be dealt with.”
But evidence of an actual plot against the Indonesian state appears flimsy.
Photos police cited of Skrzypski with guns were taken at a recreational shooting range in Switzerland, where he has lived since 2008, said his Indonesian lawyer, Latifah Anum Siregar, and a Polish friend, Artur Sobiela.
Siregar said Skrzypski denies any wrongdoing. The case against him is “very weak,” she said.
Civil society organizations have also protested his arrest and the arrest several days later of a 29-year-old Papuan student, Simon Magal, who met Skrzypski and communicated with him on Facebook.
“While Mr. Skrzypski’s choices may have been irresponsible and regrettable, his circumstances appear those of an idealistic and naive traveler and not one of a criminal,” the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network and London-based rights group Tapol said in a joint statement.
They said Magal’s arrest was excessive and he’d “simply been dragged in by the actions of Mr. Skrzypski.”
National police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo said Skrzypski had unfettered access to an “armed criminal group” in Papua that had designated a liaison to meet and escort him on his trips to the region.
Skrzypski encouraged the group to fight against the Indonesian government and also promised weapons, but even Prasetyo acknowledged it was “very unlikely” he could do that.
“We consider this case to be quite serious because it involves a foreign national,” he said.
Two friends said Skrzypski, a long-term resident of Switzerland, where he moved for economic opportunities, is an avid traveler who’s fascinated by other cultures. In one online profile, he lists about 50 countries he’s visited.
Skrzypski’s Facebook page indicates he supports right-wing European nationalist movements and is also interested in ethnic groups that have faced state persecution or genocide, including Armenians and Kurds.
In 2017, he traveled to both Armenia and the Kurdish-controlled area of Iraq. On Facebook, he follows some high-profile figures in the Papuan independence movement. Rafal Szymborski, who describes himself as the coordinator of the Free West Papua Campaign in Poland, has protested his arrest online. Szymborski didn’t respond to emailed questions.
Some of Skrzypski’s postings indicate a sympathetic interest in Julius Evola, an Italian fascist philosopher who decades after his death remains an influence on neo-fascists. He supported a “sovereign money” movement to dismantle the Swiss banking system that was defeated in a referendum this year, and also posted photos of himself wearing an ultra-nationalistic “Defend Helvetia” T-shirt that superimposes an automatic rifle over a map of Switzerland.
Artur Sobiela, a friend from Skrzypski’s hometown of Olsztyn in Poland’s northeast, said Skrzypski had traveled to Indonesia numerous times and has many friends there but “isn’t on any side of Indonesian-Papua conflict.”
He said it was “nonsense” that Skrzypski was plotting to undermine the Indonesian state.
“He hasn’t any money for supporting any political groups in any region in the world,” said Sobiela, who has known Skrzypski for nearly two decades.
“He’s working all year in Switzerland as a regular worker in a factory near Lausanne and saved part of his salary for traveling,” Sobiela said. “In Switzerland, he hasn’t house, car and other property. His only property are books, music records.”
Associated Press writers Niniek Karmini in Jakarta and Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland, contributed to this report.