The banned West Papuan flag. Source: Flickr
The Indonesian authorities have been accused of arresting more than 1,000 people at West Papuan demonstrations that were demanding an internationally monitored referendum on independence.
The archipelago’s easternmost province on the island of New Guinea, West Papua is ethnically distinct from the rest of the republic and was officially annexed by Jakarta in 1969. Many Papuans regard the occupation as an illegal invasion.
President Joko Widodo has visited Papua, previously known as Irian Jaya, and has released political prisoners in a gesture of reconciliation. He has pledged to visit the restive province three times a year.
West Papuan protests this week included faces painted with the banned blue and red of the Morning Star flag of the West Papua independence movement.
The Indonesian authorities have not confirmed the arrests. Papua police spokesman Patridge Renwarin said officers contained the demonstrators to limit their movements although no one was arrested, he claimed. But the Jakarta Post reported that Jayapura police source confirmed the arrests.
The march comes ahead of a visit to Papua by a Jakarta security chief to look into claims of human-rights violations in the latest in a series of pro-independence demonstrations since April.
Last month, 1,500 protesters were arrested in reportedly the largest arrests since the advent of democracy in 1998. The arrests were justified because the protest was unregistered, marking the anniversary of Dutch New Guinea’s 1963 integration into Indonesia.
The Dutch retained Papua after Indonesia’s independence in 1945, but Indonesia moved into the region in 1962 and formally took control seven years later after a contentious referendum that was condemned by activists as fixed.
The West Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda, who has lived in exile in Britain since 2003, said: “While our demonstrations were entirely peaceful, the Indonesian police were determined to use brute force to crush them. Such mass arrests and brutality are becoming increasingly common in West Papua and it is estimated that in the last two months, nearly 3,000 West Papuan people have been arrested by the Indonesian authorities.
“My people cannot be silent while our fundamental human rights continue to be crushed, violated and denied to us by this brutal occupying colonial power.”