At least 110 political prisoners are being held in Indonesian-controlled Papua after numerous arrests for raising the outlawed Papuan national flag, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Police have recently charged 20 people with treason, which carries a 20-year jail sentence.
Split into the ethnically Melanesian provinces of Papua and West Papua with some of Asean’s most valuable natural resources, the two provinces remain among the country’s poorest.
In a sign of rising tension, Papuan gunmen fired at a car owned by Freeport Indonesia in Mimika District last week.
“Papua may be a sensitive topic in Indonesia, but that’s no excuse for rounding people up and sending them to prison for peaceful acts of expression,” said Elaine Pearson of HRW. “The authorities should drop charges and immediately free people detained for just possessing flags or organising a protest.”
December 1 is marked as a national day in the provinces of Papua and West Papua with protests and prayers remembering the day in 1961 when Papuan leaders, after promises of independence by departing Dutch colonialists, raised the Morning Star flag.
Indonesia invaded the resource-rich provinces in 1962 and the United Nations General Assembly recognised Jakarta’s rule in 1969.
Displaying the Morning Star flag later became a criminal offence.
In Papua’s provincial capital Jayapura, four students were temporarily arrested for raising the forbidden flag at a church.
In Fakfak, 54 Papuan arrested men were forced to strip and were purportedly bound and forced to crawl before police and soldiers.
In August and September, the authorities arrested at least 22 people on treason charges for protesting after a series of violent demonstrations in the ethnically distinct region.
Veronica Koman, a rights lawyer, said at least 110 people had been arrested on December 1.
The authorities have accused Koman of tweeting videos and photos of riots and “provoking” the Papuan demonstrations. Indonesia asked Australia’s consulate in Surabaya “to track her down” in Australia and suggested an Interpol red notice would be issued against her.
The protests were a response to Indonesian security personnel in Surabaya on Java racially abusing Papuan students, calling them monkeys, pigs and dogs.
HRW said it supported the right of all independence movements to express political views peacefully without the fear of arrest. The Papuan crackdown “constitutes arbitrary arrest and detention in violation of international law”, the rights group said.
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