West Papuan protesters arrested 


Jakarta is trying to keep the Papuan separatists quiet. Source: Flickr 

Indonesian police have detained an estimated 528 protesters across the archipelago who were demanding independence for West Papua.

Demonstrations were held in the Papuan cities of Jayapura, Merauke, Nabire, Manokwari, Timika, Yahukimo and Sorong and also in Jakarta, Manado, Ambon, Bandung and Yogjakarta.

Some police departments refused protest permission, but the activists proceeded regardless.

Arrests were made in cities on Sulawesi, Java and Papua with protests in at least 15 places, said Veronica Koman, a lawyer representing independence campaigner Filep Karma.

Jakarta’s police warned organisers against protesting but eventually allowed about 50 people to march.

Monday saw the 55th anniversary of the official declaration of an Indonesian military campaign to seize West Papua from the Dutch colonialists.

The Netherlands held onto West Papua when Indonesia became independent after 1945. But the resource-rich province fell under Jakarta’s control after a UN-supervised referendum in 1969, dismissed as a sham for involving only a fraction of the population and Indonesia’s heavy-handed tactics.

Supporters of West Papuan independence want another referendum, which is bitterly opposed by the central government in Java which benefits from mineral extraction. Independence for Papua would also boost other separatist movements in the disparate island nation.

“Melanesian people are our brothers and sisters, not you, you are Asians,” activist Anthony Gobai told the Jakarta rally.

West Papuans see themselves as ethnically and culturally associated with the Melanesian nations of the South Pacific.

Indonesia restricts media and NGO access to the Indonesian half of the island. However, the independence movement is increasingly well organised, with different groups uniting under an umbrella group that is hoping to join an association of Melanesian islands.

There were allegations of ill-treatment of protesters who were arrested in Nabire where several were reportedly badly injured with rattan canes and coal.

An estimated 5,000 people have been arrested in protests since April and Koman said activists were arrested last week while applying for permits to protest.

She said the National Committee for West Papua in Jayapura, Papua’s capital, was vandalised during a police raid on Monday.

In Wamena, 165 Papuans were arrested, of whom 15 were understood to have been released.

An estimated 126 arrests were made in Merauke with all later released.