Arrests as Papuans protest Indonesia Independence Day

Police break up two rallies in Jakarta and in Papua province
Arrests as Papuans protest Indonesia Independence Day

Papuans stage a rally in Jayapura on Aug. 15 to protest Indonesian Independence Day celebrations. (Photo by Benny Mawel)

At least 28 people were arrested when police dispersed more than 1,000 Papuans who rallied in Jayapura, in Papua province, and Jakarta earlier this week to protest against Indonesian Independence Day celebrations on Aug 17.

At least six people were detained in the Papua provincial capital Jayapura, while 22 were held in Jakarta during the rallies on Aug. 15, activists and police said.

Papuan pro-independence activists opposed to Indonesian rule called the protests.

"Indonesian Independence Day is a celebration only for Indonesian regions," Bazooka Logo, spokesman of the pro-independence, National Committee for West Papua, told the Jayapura rally shortly before police moved in.

Logo and other Papuans who back independence say Indonesia’s claim over Papua is based on a flawed 1969 referendum on independence in which only a small number of local people were allowed to take part.

Although admitting the demonstrators had no permit to stage the protest, Logo condemned the way police dispersed the protesters.

"Two people were hit by rubber bullets when police personnel fired warning shots to disperse us, and a person was hit by a gun butt," he told ucanews.com.

Papua Police spokesman Patrige Renwarin denied anyone was shot.

"The information about the shootings simply isn’t true," he told said.

He acknowledged that six protesters were arrested.

"They were [immediately] sent home," he said, adding that around 500 police were deployed to guard the rally.

A further 22 Papuans were arrested during the dispersal of the Jakarta rally, according to a lawyer at the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute.

Activists criticized authorities over the dispersals, saying both rallies were peaceful.

"The face of Indonesia in Papua is tainted," said Jefry Wenda, coordinator of a Papuan students group. "The state apparatus went out of its way to silence democracy."

Father John Djonga from Jayapura Diocese said Papuans have a legal right to express their opinions."Expressing opinions doesn’t violate the law," he told ucanews.com.

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The existing law allows everyone to publicly express their opinions, he said.

Father Djonga, who has long fought for Papuan people’s rights, urged Indonesian President Joko Widodo to tell police to treat protesters more humanely.

"If not, violence will continue to happen. And it hurts the Papuan people," he said.

Opposition to Indonesian rule has spawned a low-level insurgency in Papua which has resulted in Jakarta adopting a more heavy-handed approach against dissidents and pro-independence activities in the province.

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